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No, Apartheid is NOT just a word

From one who grew up in South Africa, the comparison with Israel is entirely wrong and deeply offensive

Rebecca Rachmany asserts that Israel is an Apartheid state because after all, Apartheid is just a word:

I don’t know why people get all upset when people say Israel is an apartheid state. Like it’s some kind of curse or something. It’s just a word, and it has a specific meaning. Come to think of it, that’s how it is with curse words, right? If someone uses the correct terminology for a person born out of wedlock, the person will most certainly feel offended, whether or not they were born out of wedlock.

This opening salvo is so unbelievably trite and offensive that as a former citizen of South Africa, one who grew up bearing witness and yes, as a white child of privilege, I feel compelled to respond. I benefited from the system that was designed to oppress the majority of my countrymen based on their race. I am not proud of this but I am proud of South Africa’s transition to democracy, the same as I am proud of Israeli democracy.

The definition of Apartheid is not the diluted version included in Rachmany’s blog. Rather it pertains to the legislated laws of discrimination based on race that deemed non-white citizens of South Africa to be second class citizens. The Apartheid laws also pertained to forced removal of people from their homes and their relegation to inferior neighbourhoods.

A fundamental fact: there are two judicial systems in Israel and the West bank because one people is governed by the State of Israel and the other the Palestinian Authority.

Ms Rachmany, Apartheid is not merely a word or label as you imply. For the millions of South Africans who suffered under the  regime, Apartheid meant oppression and segregation, racial discrimination  and inferior rights. Apartheid was forced removals from homes and for some, forced exile from their country. Apartheid was loved one’s mysteriously disappearing after arrests and never coming back.

No, Apartheid is not a word to be bandied around like “bastard.” You say that Arab beauty queens are “irrelevant” and so is the assistance we give to Syrians in need of medical help. The Apartheid laws permeated every aspect of society in South Africa. The idea of medical assistance to citizens of an enemy country or beauty queens who were not lily white was unthinkable in Apartheid South Africa. So were black entrepreneurs, mixed schools and universities, equal opportunity employment, voting rights, serving in the army and representation in government.

I grew up believing that there was no such thing as black children, because I never saw any. They were forbidden to attend my school, play in the same park, attend the same ballet lessons as me. I also thought that “nannies” (domestic workers) did not like park benches and preferred to sit on the grass. My childish brain could hardly compute an idea that black people were forbidden to sit on the same park benches as white people.

This is just a snippet of what it was like. Imagine if you will, what it was like to grow up in a shack, without plumbing, to study in the language of the oppressor and to be excluded from every facet of society including using the same toilet.

THAT was Apartheid Ms Rachmany. Oh, and in Apartheid South Africa, you would not have been allowed to write the above -mentioned blog post. You would have been arrested and subjected to a very harsh interrogation.

Yes there is racism in Israel. The same as in any other country. It is heinous and unacceptable. But to accuse Israel of being an Apartheid State based on the arguments and definitions that you use belittles the suffering of its victims.

If you are going to use labels, you may want to be more aware. Apartheid is synonymous with suffering and oppression and while it has become trendy among the anti-Israel camp, it has very serious ramifications. Don’t dishonour the victims.

Rolene Marks is a South African olah and volunteer member of the Media Team Israel and Truth be Told, an advocacy body that fights media bias. She has appeared on radio, television and has been published in numerous global publications. Visit her

About the Author
Rolene Marks is a passionate advocate for Israel and has appeared on radio, television and has been published in numerous publications. Rolene is a member of the Media Team Israel, an advocacy body that fights media bias against Israel.