The word “apartheid” has been used, misused and abused for decades. It is a ubiquitous favorite of the current woke mob composed of misguided so-called humanitarians popping up on American college campuses and in cities around the globe. Words matter. Throwing around “Apartheid” is not just another barely understood hashtag. It is damaging beyond repair and dishonors the efforts of millions who fought to eradicate a hideous political regime.
The word Apartheid refers to the South African government’s sanctioned policy of racial segregation, which finally ended in the early 1990s. Under the oppressive Apartheid regime, blacks and non-whites, who accounted for 90% of the country’s population, were racially oppressed and subjected to the harshest laws. By law and in practice, the Apartheid policy was akin to the Jim Crow Laws of racial segregation in the United States.
I lived in South Africa for two years during the height of Apartheid and still feel visceral apprehension at the sound of that word. When we moved to Johannesburg, my mother had no choice but to get a job to help support our family, and the only babysitting services available were via black African nannies. I remember walking to the playground with our nanny, Anna. My sister and I flanked the baby stroller and asked her endless questions, trying to understand this strange land we were now living in. I remember that when a young white boy approached us on the sidewalk, this grown babysitter of ours stepped off the sidewalk in deference. I remember Anna taking a sip of water from the black fountain in the park, and when I tried to do the same, she rushed me towards the white fountain. I remember when she asked me to take my younger sister into the bathroom, and when I protested, she explained that it was not a choice: Anna was not allowed into the white bathroom and my sister was not allowed into the black bathroom. That was the law. On the way home, I remember asking if she could take us to the zoo sometime and she explained that she was not allowed to take the white bus. The same was true for the white swimming pool in town and any restaurant. I remember the evening she was beaten on the street by the Afrikaner policeman who unjustly accused her of stealing. When my dad ran out to intervene and explain that he had given her money to go to the store, he accused my dad of supporting a black woman and threatened to arrest him. One of my dad’s jobs included working in Baragwanath Hospital, the then-designated hospital for blacks, where they received less than sub-par healthcare. Racial segregation and injustices permeated every aspect of our lives, but only as white temporary guests of that country.
I was only a teen back then. But I remember only too well.
Throwing around the word Apartheid without understanding the ramifications and history behind it is irresponsible and immoral; it propagates hate, misinformation and a disassociation from reality. Calling Israel an Apartheid state became a favorite soundbite among not-so-veiled antisemites, who, until recently held themselves out as “mere” anti-Zionists. For the record, there is no difference between antisemitism and anti-Zionism. Holding Israel to a different standard than any other nation is blatantly antisemitic. Is the same woke mob concerned about the treatment of Uyghurs in China? For years now, the Chinese government has forcibly incarcerated over one million Uyghurs, who are a Muslim minority in “re-education camps” where torture and starvation are the norm. Are women’s groups protesting the rampant rapes of Uyghur women in Chinese prisons? Not only is the answer a resounding no, but their voices rise to deny the sexual violence perpetrated against women on October 7th. Are “humanitarians” marching in the streets waving flags, often violently, to support the plight of thousands of people in Yemen, Syria, Ethiopia, Sudan, Nigeria, and Pakistan, to name a few regions where thousands of innocent civilians have been murdered? Where were they, and where are they now when so many marginalized groups are being harmed?
Israel, like every nation, has its problems, but in Israel, there are no laws that officially segregate Jews and Arabs through a legally sanctioned system. Arabs have the right to vote, buy property, obtain an education, and have access to healthcare. They serve in the government, in the courts, hold offices in the banking system and serve in the military. The Ra’am party is an Islamic, conservative party that serves in Israel’s government and is duly elected under a democratic system.
Recently, MK Iman Khatib-Yassin, who is part of the Arab Ra’am party had the audacity to deny the October 7th massacre (for which she was sanctioned). To say this added insult to injury is an understatement. Her behavior stands in sharp contrast to the countless Israeli Arabs who rescued Jews on that horrific day and continue to serve in Zaka (search and rescue), Magen David Adom (ambulance services) and the IDF. Regardless, Khatib-Yassin, as a Knesset member, has the right to be elected, to serve, and express her opinions, repugnant as they may be because Israel is not an Apartheid state.
Are there problems in Israel? Sure. Can things be better? No doubt. But systemic racial issues do not amount to Apartheid, just as deep-seated, systemic racial issues do not amount to Apartheid in the United States. Throwing around that term is not only a malicious lie intended to inflame and spread misinformation but dilutes and denigrates the years-long struggle that Africans fought to eradicate in South Africa. Yet today, under this new hyper-vigilant form of act-first, think-later social justice, historical facts don’t matter, and legal definitions are irrelevant.
Words matter. When all this is over, and it will be, millions of people will wake up to find themselves on the wrong side of history and morality. But Jews and Israelis will find themselves stronger and more united. We will continue to disagree and scream at each other from both sides of the aisle in Israel and abroad, but we will emerge stronger and better-informed. We know where we stand: On the right side of history and with one another.
Am Israel Chai.