Shayna Abramson
Shayna Abramson

Please Drop the A-Word

Once, a friend of mine used the word “apartheid” to describe Israel. We had a discussion about it, and then he said, “Even if Israel isn’t technically apartheid, its actions are morally as bad as apartheid, so I want to use that word to convey how bad it is.”

This response really bothered me, not just because I disagreed with it, but also because I believe in trying to accurately describe situations, not in using words that you acknowledge as inaccurate, in order to stir up moral furor. To do so, strikes me as misleading.

Today, I read an article about the Arabic-language PJ Library in Israeli public schools, geared towards the country’s Arabic-speaking population. 70% of the funding comes from Israel’s Education Ministry, and 30% from a non-profit foundation. Other articles I’ve read recently have mentioned:

  • The first female Muslim diplomat to serve Israel’s Foreign Ministry in a foreign country (She is the second female Arab diplomat to be appointed by Israel)
  • Salim Joubran, the Israeli Arab Supreme Court Justice
  • The right-wing Netanyahu government’s 15 billion NIS plan to increase spending on education, economic, and physical infrastructure in Arab towns and cities
  • Various Israeli Arab members of Knesset – there are 15 in total, out of 120 Knesset Members

To call Israel “apartheid” is to ignore these facts, to offer a gross simplification. Using that simplification in order to make Israel look worse than it is makes me extremely uncomfortable. It is, if not maliciously lying, then – willfully misleading.

The word “apartheid” also tends to alienate Israelis, and make the Israeli public feel alone and afraid. These feelings are then exploited by right-wing politicians, who prey on the Israeli public’s fears and use them in order to continue the Occupation. I’m assuming those who agree with you will work with you even if you don’t use the word “apartheid”, but using that word alienates some potential allies and, by giving fodder to the right-wing Israeli politicians’ portrayal of the world as hopelessly anti-Semitic and anti-Israel, ultimately empowers the faction within Israel that seeks to continue the policies you qualify as “apartheid”.

So why not drop the A-word? It might actually allow us to have a more direct, open conversation about the real issues at hand.


About the Author
Shayna Abramson, a part-Brazilian native Manhattanite, studied History and Jewish Studies at Johns Hopkins University before moving to Jerusalem. She has also spent some time studying Torah at the Drisha Institute in Manhattan, and has a passion for soccer and poetry. She is currently pursuing an M.A. in Political Science from Hebrew University, and is a rabbinic fellow at Beit Midrash Har'el.