When the “A” Word is Simply NOT Appropriate

Amongst critics of Israel as of late, there has been a stepped up effort to label Israel as an “Apartheid State”. Now this meme has been circulating around the Far-Left for a while and now it has been picked up by the Rightist Haters as well in their unholy alliance with the leftist fringe. It has become yet another distortion in the anti-Semitic quiver of weapons against Israel and by extension the Jewish people. According to the dictionary “Apartheid” means:

1: racial segregation; specifically : a former policy of segregation and political and economic discrimination against non-European groups in the Republic of South Africa

2: separation, segregation <cultural apartheid> <gender apartheid>

But it means much more than just “racial segregation” or “separation”. Apartheid has come to be associated specifically with the brutal segregation of races that took place in South Africa. It has gone beyond being a just a word and has become a term associated with a criminal regime that created racial separation on the perceived basis of racial superiority. Nothing more, nothing less. MOREOVER, the word came to symbolize an oppressive minority population holding a vast majority population in thrall and using that population as close to slave labor. And that is the image that those who would de-legitimize Israel want to promote concerning not just Israel but of Jews in general.

And how best to promote this meme… by simply repeating it over and over again (btw, we see this same defamation on the other side of the political spectrum by Republicans and those suffering from Obama Derangement Syndrome but, this article / diary is not about that). But also by cherry picking quotes from Israeli and Jewish leaders / writers and carrying them completely out of context.

But this is the problem with using the “A” word. It is such a charged word that it renders any discussion of the issue meaningless. It reduces the discussion to a simplistic, cartoon like version of two children saying “Yes, You Are” and “No, I’m Not –¬† you are”. In general using the term “Apartheid” to describe the Arab-Israeli or Israeli-Palestinian conflict shows either an amazing ignorance of the situation or an incredibly deceptive, Machiavellian streak in one’s political life.

NOW… before anyone goes on to talk about how the Israelis use the term when talking about themselves that is completely a contextual thing. Just as some Israelis will call other Israelis “Nazi’s”, and they do, there is a whole other context where people talking about themselves will say harsher things to make a point. That, though, is another topic regarding language. BUT these Israelis in the Jewish establishment that do use the “A” word use it in a far different manner than those (both Jewish and non-Jewish) do.

Even then I think it important NOT to use that term because the situation in the Territories between Jews and Palestinians (and even should Israel annex the Territories) is very different from the racially charged premise of South Africa and it’s relations of Whites and Blacks. First let’s look at these differences:

1. In South Africa Whites were 12% of the total population. In Israel proper Jews (the supposed minority group) are approx. 76% of the population. Even with the Annexation of the West Bank, Jews would still be 55% of the population in Israel.

2. In South Africa, Blacks were not allowed any integration whatsoever with their fellow South African White citizens. Pools, Education, drinking fountains, even bathrooms were completely segregated. Blacks had no place in South African political life and were not even allowed a vote. On the other hand, in Israel, Arabs and Jews attend school together (in mixed neighborhoods), Israeli Arabs are not segregated at restaurants or for medical care or in public beaches. Arabs vote and participate in the Israeli government and have three parties in the Knesset that represent their interests. In fact, when Israel annexed Jerusalem, Arabs were offered the opportunity to become full Israeli citizens and they refused. I don’t think during Apartheid that Blacks were ever offered that opportunity.

3. Israel was not created on a basis of racial superiority nor is the idea of a Jewish Homeland or State based in an ideology of superiority. The Palestinians that live in Israel are not seen as “sub-human” by law despite what some of the nuttier Rightists spout. Israel was formed as a recognition of the need of the Jewish people after being scattered to the “four corners of the Earth”, to be able to express their legitimate right to self determination. AND it was recognized that the Jewish People should have this homeland in part of their ancestral lands in the Middle East.

I cannot imagine that the Dutch or British colonists heading for South Africa felt that they were actually returning to their “roots”. I mean, last I checked White people were not really from anywhere near there. And while they had their reasons for going there in the first place their treatment of the black population there was solely based on racial memes. I cannot imagine that the South African Declaration of Statehood had these words in them:

THE STATE OF ISRAEL will be open for Jewish immigration and for the Ingathering of the Exiles; it will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.

From the Israeli Declaration of Establishment of State.

But let’s take the “worst case scenario” and assume that something like the Bennett plan (HaBayit HaYehudi) or the Rightists in Likud gets their way and Israel decides to annex the Occupied Territories. That still could not be considered “Apartheid. One may disagree with it and find it morally wrong (as I do). One would have a good case arguing that the disenfranchisement¬† of a sector of the population would destroy the very notion of “Jewish Democracy”, and be a clear violation of human rights and they would get no argument from me whatsoever. BUT.. It would still not be apartheid. For instance, under the Bennett Plan (a plan that I vehemently stand against), the Palestinian population in Area C and Jerusalem would be granted full Israeli citizenship whether they chose to exercise it or not. Area’s A & B would be under autonomous control of the Population and would not have any local Israeli presence (though this does resemble the concept of “Bantustans” that the South African Apartheid regime enacted).

Even the reasoning behind such extreme measures does not measure up to the term. While I would never and will never agree that these are necessary steps, the fact of the matter is that Zionism is simply not about the subjugation of other peoples. It is about the necessity of the Jewish people to have a State and Homeland. I would further argue that the measures for forced security that the Bennett Plan or what Likud-Betainu offer are severely oppressive and in my mind pose a threat to the integrity of the State, they are not based on some notion that Jews as people are superior and that Arabs should not have rights (as neither plan takes away rights of Arab Israelis) despite what a small minority in both of those groups believe.

Still, the Apartheid government of South Africa never offered any of the Black Population full citizenship or equal citizenship as it did to White South Africans.

The situations and charged verbiage of “Apartheid” simply don’t match up to the reality of the situation no matter what anyone wants to call it. Thus, the term “Apartheid” when used here should be completely and totally rejected for the canard that it is. It simply is inapplicable to the situation.

Moreover, I would say that the majority of the opposition to Israel’s existence IS based on anti-Semitism and a feeling that Jews as a people are intrinsically inferior. I say this from both reading AND from personal experience. Certainly there are a few deluded individuals who think that they can create a society based on total equality in an Arab run polity in Palestine however, there simply is no background nor historical precedence to back this idea up.

More disturbing is this poll from the Palestine Research Center which finds only 27% of Palestinians support a One State solution where Jews and Arabs would be equal, where 51% of respondents support attacks on Israeli civilians inside of the “Green Line” and where if elections were held today Hamas (an organization that has as part of it’s charter that Israel should be destroyed and all Jews should be hunted down and killed) would win.

So, honestly, unlike Whites in South Africa, Jews in Israel DO face an existential threat to their nation and very lives.

I do want to make clear though that despite my rejection of the use of the term “Apartheid” this does NOT mean that I think the situation as it exists is either tenable nor moral. Further, I believe that disenfranchisement of a large portion of the population of a nation IS oppression and unjust. I think that it destroys the very fabric of the concept of Israel (or at least what Israel’s Labor Zionist founders envisioned), and I think it goes a ways towards destroying the nation of Israel itself.

And to the critics of this… I don’t care what the Arabs do or don’t do in their own societies. I am not one of them, that is for them to reform or not – it’s up to them not me. What I do care about is how we as Jewish people deal with ourselves and our situation. THAT is my concern. I think that becoming like our enemies simply defeats the purpose of what I believe and that belief is that we need to be the best we can be as both a society and as individuals. I do not want to treat others as I would not want to be treated. I want to strive for the nation that Ben-Gurion envisioned when he sought a nation that would be “a light unto all nations”.

Use of the term “Apartheid” for the Israeli Palestinian situation is simply intellectual laziness and exposes complete weakness in persons argument. I believe that it is important that we fight the “Apartheid meme” with all of our abilities and with logic and reason. Even when those who use it obviously are not drawing parallels to South Africa, it is important that we simply but forthrightly stand up against that meme. It is simply wrong to use that term and for this situation highly inappropriate.

About the Author
Jon Segall is creator of the blog The Progressive Zionist. Jon has lived in Israel and studied Israeli and American Policy in the region. Currently Jon, is re-learning Hebrew, and is an active practitioner of the Israel Self Defense Martial Art Krav Maga.