Logan Rossiter | Opinion
Monday the 16th of March marks ‘Israel Apartheid Week’. However, the reality is clear; Israel is in no way an apartheid state. Even if you deny Israel legitimate recognition, there is no basis for calling it an apartheid state. The events this week are organised by the pro-Palestinian BDS movement, in spite of the fact that economically damaging Israel also damages Gaza and the West Bank and does nothing to advance peace or the establishment of a state of Palestine.
‘Israel Apartheid Week’ tries to present anti-Semitism as legitimate geopolitical concern and is deeply offensive to those who have lived under real apatheid. Not only that, but it demonstrates poor historical scholarship and misunderstands what apartheid is really about.
Apartheid, in its original definition, referred to the historical oppression of non-white ethnic groups by the white minority in South Africa. The Afrikaans word specifically means ‘separation’, and is now more broadly used by the UN to refer to any state that performs ‘inhuman acts’ in the context of the ‘systematic oppression’ of one particular racial group by another.
‘Systematic oppression’ requires there to be laws that would discriminate based on no characteristic other than race. Israel has no such laws. In fact, the Israeli declaration of independence commits to the protection of both the political and civil rights of all citizens. Groups making the claim that Israel is an apartheid state often cite the difficulties that can be encountered moving between the West Bank and Gaza into Israel respectively. These measures are not due to any racist policies, but are there to ensure the safety of all citizens, regardless of race, in the face of potential terrorism. The Israeli government even sees this as a problem and this is part of why Israel still keeps up hope that a peaceful two-state solution can be agreed.
To justify the claim that Israel is structurally oppressive, the common argument is made that Zionism itself is a racist ideology and that, as Zionism is the foundation of the establishment of Israel, Israel itself must be racist. To make this claim fundamentally misunderstands Zionism – it is simply the return of the Jewish people to the land of Israel, with the desire to for self-determination.
Jewish people are not bound by ethnicity, at least not nationality or race. This is in part how Israel became a truly multi-cultural nation in that part of the world. Zionism does not forget the rights of the Palestinians to self-determine either, and when a peaceful two-state solution is reached, the Palestinians will have self-rule in the West Bank. The common retort is usually that Israel is a colonial state and, as the common correx board phrase goes, ‘Zionism is colonialism’.
Making this claim erases the thousands of years of Jewish history from the Levant, which not only relies on poor historical scholarship, but is a textbook example of anti-Semitism. It also presumes that the founding settlers had a nation that they wanted to expand. One of the reasons a Jewish state was needed was that, throughout history, Jewish people felt as though they had no homeland and that persecution was sweeping across every nation.
Why, then, would Jewish people want to expand into nations that did not accept them in the Levant? The answer is simple: they didn’t. Israel has always been an independent nation state foundationed upon self-determination. One of the markers of a colonial state was the lack of self-determination – the complete opposite of Israel.
Compared to neighbouring countries, Israel is extremely ethnically diverse and tolerant. Israel stands as a beacon of Judeo-Christian values and democracy, where different sectional groups are represented. There are even anti-Zionist politicians in the Israeli Parliament.
Under apartheid in South Africa, Black citizens could not sit in Parliament and only a few could vote. To compare Israel to the apartheid past of South Africa is both offensive and incorrect. Israel also happens to be one of the only nations in this region where it is not uncommon to see open campaigning against the Government.
Overall, I hope it is apparent that one can see how inaccurate it is to call Israel an apartheid state. The ‘Israel Apatheid Week’ events are underpinned by ignorance and anti-Semitism, although I would assume many are unaware of this. While I respect free speech, it is our duty to call out anti-Semitism when we see it and ‘Israel Apartheid Week’ is a blatant example of this.