Is Israel an Apartheid State?

Secretary of State John Kerry has referred to Israel becoming an Apartheid state. Given John Kerry’s background and education he must know what the word means and how it was enforced in South Africa. Is he right? I will analyze this statement against my own personal experiences in Israel to decide if he is right.

For close to a decade, since the Gaza Withdrawal, I have been hearing a slow and growing effort to ascribe the term ‘Apartheid’ to Israel. I first heard this college campuses, what do students know? Their professors? Even less. Slowly, references flowed, as they often do, from the naive college crowd to more establishment sources like the Secretary of State.

When Israel is building houses (settlements) in “occupied” territory it is an evil, aggressive state built on destroying the so called Palestinians. When Israel withdraws from this “occupied” territory it becomes instead an Apartheid state. It’s yet another example of how Israel can’t win. One might be forgiven for arriving at the conclusion that those who are “anti-Israel” might have more bigoted reasons for opposing Israel’s existence.

While studying business at Bar-Ilan University, I had the opportunity to travel around Israel and see what tourists rarely experience. After one religious study session in Ofakim, my teachers and my fellow students went out to buy some chickens to learn about shechita (slaughter). We drove to a small Bedouin community called Rahat, just north of Beer Sheva. The green dome of a Mosque dominated the skyline as we drove to the chicken facility there. As we purchased the chickens, I struck up a conversation with a young man there (with the help of a translator) whom we will call “Habib” (real names are not relevant).

After some small talk I asked what Habib thought of Israel. His response has given me pause on every occasion that it has come to mind: “Israel is my home. It is the best place for the Bedouin, here we have justice. Everywhere else, they shoot us.” This incredible response is borne out in history. The rise of the Heshamite Kingdom in Jordan and Egyptian history are replete with bloody massacres of Bedouins. Even today the standard response of these governments to trouble in or around Bedouin encampments is to shoot first and never bother asking questions later.

Another perspective that comes to mind is that of “Michael”, a cab driver in Jerusalem. He used to plant himself at the New Dominion Mall adjacent to the Jaffa Gate. Michael gave me several rides from the Old City to the central bus station. One day I posed a similar question to him. Michael smiled slyly, he told me that he is an Orthodox Christian. He assumed that, like many Americans, I was not familiar with Arab Christians. Actually, I have several friends who are Arab Christians. Theirs is a tough lot.

“I grew up with my family here in Al-Quds, in Jerusalem. I used to think Lebanon was the best country for Arab Christians. I would visit my Uncle in Beirut in the summers. One year, all at once, a new guest joined us at the dinner table: his rifle. We could not eat dinner without our new guest for fear that we might have unwelcome guests. Soon after that, the Civil War started there and I stopped visiting. Israel is the only country in the Middle-East where Christians are free and safe. This is G-d’s land, He has returned it to His people.”

According to Census data collected by the British during the mandate, Christians used to be 27% of the Arab population in the region. Today, fewer than 2% of “Palestinians” are Christian. What happened? I wish I could say that they all moved away, but the truth not so pleasant. Michael was certainly right, in Egypt the Copts are under constant threat of violence. The same is true for Iraq’s Chaldeans, Lebanon’s Maronites, and the Orthodox Christians who live in the region. Michael seems to be under the impression that Israel is a place where Arab Christians enjoy a security and freedom unparalleled in neighboring countries. In Sudan, a Christian woman is facing execution because her father was a Muslim.

In 2010 a group of “activists” gathered on boats and ships and sailed for the Gaza Strip to break the blockade. When I visited the Gaza Strip (very briefly) there did not seem to be any want of food, clothes, or even luxury items. There was certainly no shortage of AK-47s on the shoulders of men wearing Hamas paraphernalia. The infamous Mavi Marmara incident soon followed in which several Israeli sailors were severely beaten. Several “activists” who were beating these sailors and attacking them with knives were killed.

Among the “activists” on one of these vessels was Haneen Zoabi, a Member of the Knesset from Balad, an Arab party. Balad is an acronym that stands for National Democratic Assembly. Shortly after the incident Zoabi returned to Jerusalem and addressed the Knesset. Many of us stood watching, our faces red. The tension was so palpable that it could stand beside us. Many members of the Knesset did not want to hear what she had to say. Some yelled from the floor as she spewed propaganda and hate against the Jewish Democratic State beneath the portrait of Theodore Hertzl.

For a comedy flotilla throwback see We Con The World.

As I watched in the heat of anger, a thought came to me. I was standing in the hallway near the floor of the Legislature of the only Jewish state in the world watching on a screen as a member of that Legislature who represented a minority of the nation’s citizens expressed her thoughts and concerns with the same freedom of speech granted every Israeli citizen. A freedom that does not exist just a few miles north in Ramallah. In what Arab capital could a Jew serve in the legislature or speak so freely? Not many, considering that Jews were forced to flee these countries en masse. As painful as it was to experience that event, it was also a wonderful expression of freedom. In the 18th Knesset there were eleven members from Arab parties, nearly one-tenth of the body.

When I went shopping for groceries at my local Super-Sol in Ramat Gan, (a suburb of Tel Aviv) I would often find a cashier in a hijab who would ring up my purchases. “As-salamu aleikum” I would greet her with a smile, “wa aleikumu s-salam” she would reply with likewise with a smile. Aside from her manor of dress she was like any other employee along side her Haredi, Ethiopian, and Russian coworkers, a diverse group.

From my own experiences it is obvious that Secretary of State and presidential runner up John Kerry must be right, Israel is dangerously close to becoming an Apartheid state. One in which Arab Citizens live and work freely, hold seats in the national legislature, and can safely profess a faith other than Islam. Even for the Bedouins life is better in Israel. Some Apartheid, Mr. Secretary.

As a final note, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has stated clearly that no Jews will be allowed to remain in any future Palestinian State. Clearly, he seeks the moral high road.


About the Author
Isaac Kight earned his MBA at Bar-Ilan University in 2010. He served as a volunteer for the Knesset State Control Committee from 2009 to 2010. Isaac has a broad experience of Jewish community and religion in the US and Israel.