The difference between occupation and apartheid

Since this is my first post, before I get started I would like to introduce myself.

My name is Clifford Rosen, but you can just call me Cliff. I live in the New York City borough of Queens in a predominantly Jewish neighborhood. I grew up in a conservative Jewish family. I went to a conservative synagogue, where I attended Hebrew school and was Bar Mitzvahed. I have many hobbies such as travelling, baseball, hockey, American football, talking politics, and learning about Israel. I am currently in my final semester of college, double majoring in geography and political science. I had the pleasure of visiting Israel on a Birthright trip back in the summer of 2013.

My Birthright trip got me interested in the situation in Israel. The fall after I got back from Israel is when I really started getting familiar with the anti-Israel movement rearing its ugly head on American campuses, including mine. This movement is spearheaded by Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), a group I would argue is blatantly anti-semitic.

Why are they anti-semitic? Because they deny a group of people their right to self-determination, the right to govern themselves, while insisting self-determination for another group. And they do not deny self-determination for just any group of people, but arguably the most persecuted and oppressed group of people in history, the Jewish people, which I proudly identify as, despite now being a devout atheist. One of SJP’s arguments is that Jews are a religious group, so they do not deserve their own state. However, most scholars argue that Jews are more than just a religion, but an ethnicity. An ethnicity that has its own history and own language, which is one of the oldest still in existence today. I would also like to point out the long list of atheists and agnostics who consider themselves Jewish despite being godless.

Speaking of SJP, let me get to the topic of this post. Perhaps their most common (and annoying) argument is that Israel is occupying and practicing apartheid against the Palestinians. I will argue why the two words occupation and apartheid contradict each other when used in regards to Israel and the Palestinians.

Apartheid was a system of racial separation maintained by the National Party in South Africa from 1948 to 1994. During this time, the white Afrikaner minority ruled over the black majority in South Africa. Blacks were not allowed to vote, among many other things.

SJP likes to argue that since Israel denies Palestinians the right to vote in Israeli elections, Israel is an apartheid state, and must be boycotted, divested from, and sanctioned. However, this argument is superficial and ignores several key realities. While black South Africans lived in sovereign South Africa and were South African citizens, they were denied the right to vote. Palestinians cannot vote in Israeli elections, because they are not Israeli citizens and do not live in sovereign Israeli territory. The West Bank (or Judea and Samaria if you prefer to call it that) is not officially part of Israel. Whether Israel has a right to the West Bank is a totally different argument and is irrelevant to this issue. The fact is Palestinians are Palestinian, not Israeli. They are called Palestinians for a reason. Black South Africans were South African, not Bantustani. Additionally, Palestinians do not pay taxes to Israel. While Israel collects taxes from Palestinians, it keeps a small portion of it as payment for water and electricity, and forwards the rest of it to the Palestinian Authority, which uses that money (as well as money from international aid) to pay convicted terrorists, instead of using that money to better the lives of Palestinians. Yes, the same Palestinian Authority that hasn’t held an election in 10 years.

Meanwhile, in sovereign Israel, over a million Israeli Arabs have the right to vote, a right unheard of in many Arab countries. A right they exercised this past week when they voted to form the third biggest party in Israel today, the Joint Arab List, which is opposed to Zionism. The fact that Israel allows a hostile party to serve in its parliament demonstrates how democratic it is. Compare that to the fact no Blacks were permitted to serve in the government during apartheid rule in South Africa.

But then SJP argues that since Israel occupies the West Bank, Palestinians should have the right to vote in Israeli elections. This is another superficial argument. Occupation is when one country occupies a land that is not part of its sovereign territory. Since the West Bank is not part of sovereign Israeli territory, it is occupied. Note that I said the West Bank is occupied, not Palestine. The Palestinians never had their own state. The Palestinians are not occupied in the same sense that that Tibet is occupied by the Chinese. Whether or not the Israeli occupation of the West Bank is justified or not is irrelevant here.

Being occupied by a foreign power does not grant a people the right to vote in the occupier’s elections. Did the US grant Iraqis and Japanese the right to vote in US elections when the US occupied their territories? Name me one other country that allows non-citizens to vote in its own elections? Demanding Palestinians be given the right to vote in Israeli elections would be like demanding citizens of the Bahamas be given the right to vote in US elections. This would never happen, even if the US were to occupy the Bahamas.

I have also heard arguments that the Gaza Strip is also occupied by Israel, even though the Gaza Strip is currently Judenrein. SJP will argue that since Israel maintains a blockade (that is maintained to prevent Iranian rockets from being smuggled in), Israel is occupying the Gaza Strip. This argument ignores the fact that Egypt is also a party to this blockade. I don’t remember the US giving voting rights to Cubans when it blockaded Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. Or Egypt giving voting rights to Israelis when they blockaded the port of Eilat in 1967.

Speaking of the US, residents of US sovereign territories, such as Puerto Rico and Guam, are not allowed to vote in federal elections. Furthermore, residents of Washington, DC are not given representation in Congress, despite paying federal income taxes. Talk about a denial of voting rights.

So how do occupation and apartheid contradict each other? Apartheid is only possible when residents of a sovereign country are denied the right to vote in their own elections. Occupation is when there is a military presence in a place where the occupying power has no sovereignty. In a nutshell, apartheid is when there is sovereignty and occupation is when there is no sovereignty. Therefore, they are contradicting terms. If Israel were to annex the West Bank and then deny Palestinians the right to vote, then Israel would be an apartheid, but that is not currently not the case. And let’s hope it never gets to that.

About the Author
Cliff, a recent college grad, lives in the NYC borough of Queens. Raised in a reform Jewish household, he now considers himself a secularist Jew who unequivocally support Israel's right to exist and defend itself against its sworn enemies.
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