Just the mention of the word is emotive, evocative and provocative. For millions of South Africans who suffered under the apartheid regime, the word is synonymous with suffering, discrimination and racism.
Today the word apartheid has been hijacked by Israel’s detractors as a way to launch a well-orchestrated assault on her legitimacy as a state. They capitalize on the emotional response that the very mention of the word and the images that it conjures up, to plan campaigns that are based on their own particular brand of racism – antisemitism.
Why has the comparison between Israel and apartheid South Africa gained so much trajectory over the last decade? The Durban Conference on Racism that was held in South Africa in 2001 became the springboard where this comparison really gained ground. Not since Nazi Germany have such nasty invective and accusations been leveled against Israel and the Jewish people.
The rationale behind this is that if Israel is compared to and demonized just as much as apartheid South Africa was, then treating the Jewish state like a pariah and meting out the same treatment in the form of boycotts, divestment and sanction policies is the logical step. In fact, if Israel is as odious as South Africa was, should it exist at all? And herein lies one of the fundamental differences. At no point during the apartheid years was South Africa’s legitimacy or existence as a state challenged, just the racist governmental policy.
Israel being singled out for opprobrium at the expense of other conflict regions and states that are guilty of human rights abuse smacks of something more sinister.
What was apartheid?
Apartheid is defined as the discriminatory and oppressive laws based on race that deemed one group of people (non-white) as inferior and legislation in all spheres to support that. It also pertains to the forced removal of people of color from their neighborhoods and relocation to less desirable areas.
Does racism exist in Israel? Yes it does. Just as it does in Canada, the U.S., Brazil, South Africa or any other country in the world. It is abhorrent and inexcusable but is it state legislated and policy like it was in Nazi Germany or South Africa? No, and to single Israel out exposes a shocking double standard. Israeli Arabs who are citizens of Israel enjoy equal voting rights, representation in government, the right to education in the same schools and universities as anyone else and all inalienable rights. Israel’s critics will argue but what about the Palestinians? Aren’t they subject to apartheid that is worse then South Africa at the hands of Israel?
Israel famously disengaged from Gaza in 2005, removing the citizens that had settled there, including the dead. Any Israeli presence was removed from the area and an opportunity was created for the Palestinians to make overtures towards peace. Instead, a vacuum was created that led to the fundamentalist Hamas taking control of the territory. This new regime persecuted and got rid of any opposition, installing an Islamist leadership that quickly imposed harsh restrictions and trampled on human rights including on the media, freedom of religion, women’s rights and sexual orientation.
Israel’s detractors make the comparison of Hamas being a liberation movement for the Palestinians but can we really compare the genocidal Hamas Charter, which advocates the destruction of the Jews and Israel, to the ANC Freedom Charter, which calls for equal rights and inclusion of all citizens of South Africa regardless of race or history? To do so maligns everything those who fought to end apartheid injustice stood for and the hard work by veterans such as Nelson Mandela to broker reconciliation.
If we are going to point a finger at any regime practicing apartheid in the Middle East, Hamas is certainly a top contender. Others include Lebanon and Jordan and others who withhold the rights of citizenship from Palestinians, relegating them to perpetual second-class citizenship status. What about Iran or Saudi Arabia whose records on human rights are deplorable?
The PLO ambassador to the U.S. famously declared that no Jews would be allowed to live in a future Palestinian state. Is this not apartheid?
The Rev. Kenneth Meshoe, leader of the African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP) had this to say about the Israel apartheid analogy:
As a black South African who lived under apartheid, …in my view, Israel cannot be compared to apartheid in South Africa. Those who make the accusation expose their ignorance of what apartheid really is. Black, brown and white Jews and the Arab minority mingle freely in all public places, universities, restaurants, voting stations and public transportation. All people have the right to vote. The Arab minority has political parties, serves in the Israeli parliament (Knesset) and holds positions in government ministries, the police force and the security services. In hospitals, Palestinian patients lie in beds next to Israeli Jews, and doctors and nurses are as likely to be Israeli Arabs as Jews. …None of the above was legally permissible in apartheid South Africa!
Despite evidence and statements to the contrary, Israel continues to to face accusations of apartheid practices. The singling out of Israel for approbation in the media, United Nations, university campuses and farcical tribunals like the Russell Tribunal reinforces the idea of an antisemitic cabal. Now that is racism.