Apartheid in Israel?

Is the Nation-State Act, approved by the Israeli parliament last week, really as bad as its critics suggest?  Jonathan Freedland, Guardian journalist and occasional writer in the Jewish Chronicle, clearly thinks so.  Neither he nor the Chronicle have been willing to criticise Israel very much in the past, but this has been changing in recent weeks.  His article of 27 July lays it out clearly:

“It… (the Act)…says that the right to self-determination in Israel is a right that applies to Jews only and that Hebrew is the state’s only official language, with Arabic now granted merely a “special status”. The combined effect of those two moves is to tell the one-fifth of the country that is not Jewish and whose mother tongue is Arabic that they are second-class citizens.”

Israeli newspaper Haaretz, which is always very critical of its government’s treatment of Palestinians, had an article the following day with the sub-heading The nation-state law is a sickening rejection of equality for all of Israel’s citizens. 

Many are now saying that Israel itself, and not just the Occupied Territories, now meets the UN Definition of an Apartheid State.  Article II of the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid (1973) defines Apartheid as follows:

“The crime of apartheid” means inhumane acts….committed in the context of an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime.

Reaction to the new law has of course been greeted with anger by Arabs, dismay by European governments (whose concerns are as usual ignored by Israel) and, significantly, there has been strong criticism in Israel itself.

Daniel Barenboim, one of the most famous Israelis alive today and one who has done so much to try and promote reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians describes the new laws in forthright manner.  His words speak for themselves. 

The founding fathers of the state of Israel who signed the declaration in 1948 considered the principle of equality to be the bedrock of the society they were building. They also committed themselves “to pursue peace and good relations with all neighbouring states and people”.

Seventy years on, the Israeli government has just passed a law that replaces the principle of equality and universal values with nationalism and racism. This law states that only the Jewish people have a right to national self-determination in Israel.

It fills me with deep sorrow that I must today ask the same questions that I asked 14 years ago before the Knesset: can we ignore the intolerable gap between what the declaration of independence promised and the realities of Israel?

Does occupation and domination over another people fit the declaration of independence? Is there any sense in independence for one at the expense of the fundamental rights of the other? Can the Jewish people, whose history is a record of continued suffering and relentless persecution, allow themselves to be indifferent to the rights and suffering of a neighbouring people? Can the state of Israel allow itself the unrealistic dream of an ideological end to the conflict instead of pursuing a pragmatic, humanitarian one based on social justice?

* John Kelly is vice-chair of Liberal Democrat Friends of Palestine

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20 Comments

  • It’s good that discussion is now being lead from inside Israel as will provide best chance of heard criticism and have the best chance of changing political policy.

  • Joe OttenJoe Otten 29th Jul ’18 – 11:26am………………..I agree this is a terrible abandonment of democratic values that Israel has hitherto respected and should have been given some credit for…………….

    ‘Hitherto respected’? This act is merely the latest in a long line of treating Palestinians as second class citizens.In matters such as criminal law (UN report 2007), education, access to water ,illegal settlements, confiscation of Palestinian homes and land, etc. etc. Israel has been, for many years, an apartheid state.
    As far back as 2008 a group of ANC veterans said “In many ways Israeli apartheid towards Palestinians is worse than that of SA” and, in 2012, Desmond Tutu “accused Israel of practicing apartheid in its policies towards Palestinians…

  • Lorenzo Cherin 29th Jul '18 - 1:59pm

    I welcome this approach, as someone who views the State of Israel and the constitution referred to in a positive way.

    I welcome the quote from a man I admire culturally.

    The State of Israel must be seen as different or not the same as the Government of Israel, the people of Israel, and the Jewish people.

    It is the awful conflating of these that is leading to the horrific growth in antisemitism being casual or acceptable to extremists who mix them up in an unintentional ignorant way or an intended planned ideology.

    The State of Israel, its developed and advanced democracy, must not continue down the rather terrible path of the governing right wing party, and the Israeli electorate must be convinced of it in a future election, just as the American people should re: Trump.

    As far as whether the wretched Act passed in the Knesset, liberals and that as Liberals too, of which there are many in Israel, must gain and increase and repeal a lousy and unnecessary law.

    Apartheid though is about partition and withdrawal of rights. This terrible Act does not do this however bad, so the description is not necessarily properly ascribed.

  • Richard Underhill 29th Jul '18 - 4:36pm

    Jonathan Fryer’s expertise must be respected, but perhaps the word “annex” should be reconsidered in the context of the West Bank, which Israeli PMs have seen as part of their own country, unlike the Golan Heights, which are formerly part of Syria.
    In the UK former PM Gordon Brown was in favour of a two-state solution at PMQ in 2010, amid fading hopes among realists. Numerous incremental steps, known as “facts on the ground” make his optimism increasingly unrealistic. The Labour Party’s current internal turmoil make his optimism increasingly impractical.

  • Steve Trevethan 29th Jul '18 - 4:42pm

    It is reported that the Palestinian population now has less than 10 per cent of the land it owned and worked before the original division of Palestine into about 45 per cent for the Palestinians and 55 per cent for the Israelis. Conditions in Gaza are reported to be going from bad to worse.
    What, as a party, might we suggest to help both the Palestinians and the Israelis improve this unsustainable set of situations/behaviours/policies?

  • nvelope2003 29th Jul '18 - 4:44pm

    Israel is a democracy so presumably the voters must support this legislation ?

  • We need to speak out clearly against the ongoing frantic attempts by hardliners to impose the IHRA Israel-related “examples” throughout politics and the media. If we let this pass without challenge, criticism of this discriminatory Israeli law, including by reference to racism and apartheid, would be in danger of being prohibited entirely. This is already stating to happen in universities, with pro-Palestinian human rights advocates being censored.

  • nvelope2003 “Israel is a democracy so presumably the voters must support this legislation ?” Netanyahu’s Likud and his ragbag of rightwing coalition partners seems to be doing just fine in the opinion polls. Although there is a growing critical opposition among Jewish Israelis it is still a minority and the majority seems to think it can get away with this without any serious international consequences.
    Jonathan Fryer’s suggestion of banning trade with illegal settlements is a good one, because that could have serious economic consequences for Israel. Apartheid in South Africa started to crumble only when the sanctions started to really bite.

  • Yeovil Yokel 29th Jul '18 - 8:25pm

    I think that we have more power as consumers than as voters, so I’m careful about the sources of what I buy – for example, I’m happy to buy Palestinian olive oil (which is some of the best I’ve tasted so I’m not sacrificing quality to make a political gesture) – at least when I can get it – whereas I won’t touch anything from Israel.

  • nvelope2003 29th Jul ’18 – 4:44pm………….Israel is a democracy so presumably the voters must support this legislation ?…………..

    Whatever happened to ‘Israel should be held to the same standard as other nations”? When I read such statements I realise that it isn’t.

    Would you use the same arguments about ‘civil rights’ in the 1960’s USA? Even today Trump’s blanket actions against Muslims draws condemnation from across the world and, the last time I looked, the USA was still a democracy.
    I’m sure any similar actions against ‘travellers’ in the UK would meet with widespread support; would that make such actions acceptable?

    I trust every liberal (with, or without, a capital ‘L’) will condemn, without ‘conditions,’ the latest Israeli action.

  • Toby Keynes 30th Jul '18 - 9:20am

    I try to avoid produce from a number of countries, as well as from occupied territories (Israel and Russia being the main offenders), but am all to often stymied by labels bearing the text “Produce of more than one country”.
    I wonder how many countries take advantage of such labelling to circumvent boycotts.

  • Denis Mollison 30th Jul '18 - 9:20am

    I think we have to abandon any thought that a two-state solution can work; the Israeli government’s view is clearly that `two-state’ means apartheid for some and `bantustans’ for the rest. Israel was founded as a secular state and needs to stay true to that ideal: Gaza and the West Bank should be incorporated into a unified secular country with international guarantees of the rights of all cultural/religious groups. I appreciate that we’re currently a long way from that being possible, but it’s a clear ideal we should stand up for.

  • Richard Fagence 30th Jul '18 - 9:37am

    Like Yeovil Yokel, I do not buy anything that is identifiably of Israeli origin. Fresh produce is a major area that can be easily identified in supermarkets. Tesco often has packs of mixed coloured peppers and it is important to read the country of origin label which is a legally required source of information. I recently found packs containing three peppers, one from Spain, one from Holland and one Israeli. I didn’t buy it and I’m sorry Spain and Holland lost out. Once they have sold their produce in bulk, they appear to have no control over where it ends up. You will also find produce items labelled as ‘West Bank’ in origin. Fresh cut herbs in Waitrose can include this description. Their staff, when challenged, said they had no idea where ‘West Bank’ might be. And you’re right about Palestinian olive oil from verified sources. And if, like me, you adore Medjool dates these too can be sourced from verified Palestinian growers, rather than Israeli sources. I haven’t knowingly spent any money on Israeli products for over twenty-five years. I encourage those who feel as I do about the illegal Israeli occupation of Arab lands to do the same.

  • Peter Hirst 30th Jul '18 - 2:45pm

    The government of Israel needs to be made to realise that its treatment of its non-Jewish inhabitants and near neighbours is severely detrimental to its status as a partner in civilised nation states.

  • Richard Underhill 31st Jul '18 - 10:57pm

    Apartheid in South Africa was undermined by a wide variety of factors including sport, in a country very keen on sport. Reportedly our Prime Minister’s husband was very keen that a rugby tour should continue. Successful West Indian cricketers were reluctant to tour until after South Africa had a general election on a universal franchise.

  • Helen Dudden 1st Aug '18 - 6:37am

    I believe in Zionist principles, I repeat them every day in my prayers. It is a little unfair to ask Waitrose staff questions, on where the produce was grown, I would not expect them to know.
    For many years there has been unrest, the issue is complex to say the least. Jews returned to Israel after the horrendous actions towards them, in the last war. I know one Jew whose family suffered terribly.
    I look forward to peace, it’s awful to see conflict and deaths, and the destruction of a beautiful land.
    What is the answer? A positive approach to a difficult situation. The world situation in general is not the most stable.

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