Israeli Aparthied?

By , May 27, 2011 4:02 pm

That’s right, I’m wading back into Israel. Not satisfied with my recent post about Israel, Obama’s speech, and the 1967 borders/lines/whatever, an article I saw in my Google News feed caught my eye. The Sacramento Bee disappointingly reprinted a total fluff piece entitled “New York LGBT Center Taking Sides of Anti Semites.” The subtitle is “Michael Lucas Organizes Boycott,” and the piece is by none other than one Michael Lucas. Way to be classy. I’m not linking to the piece, since it’s total propaganda, but it did make me really curious about the organization being referenced, Queers Against Israeli Apartheid. And, more broadly, is Israel supporting a state of apartheid?

(For the record, I do think this discussion and disagreement is newsworthy, I just think it’s really poor reporting to reprint a biased self-written press release supporting a specific position. So I’m not opposed to the Sacramento Bee reporting something,  just on how they chose to report.)

Lets define apartheid first. According to the International Criminal Court (according to Wikipedia…)  apartheid is defined as a crime against humanity:

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.

Admittedly, lots of countries haven’t signed on to the document with this definition, because they aren’t members of the International Criminal Court: the US, Canada, and most of Western Europe. Likewise, a definition created in the 1970s was not signed onto by the US and others. The US Ambassador  at the time said, “[W]e cannot…accept that apartheid can in this manner be made a crime against humanity. Crimes against humanity are so grave in nature that they must be meticulously elaborated and strictly construed under existing international law…”

But whether or not there’s an agreed upon legal definition, I think that definition – of systematic oppression by one racial group, over another, with the purpose of maintaining the former’s regime – seems generally agreed upon. (Though feel free to disagree in the comments.) But is Israel committing acts of apartheid against the Palestinians?

From Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA, and obviously a biased source, but I need to start somewhere):

Israel is a country founded on the idea of different rights for different people, based on race. The first difference is that Jews, wherever they live, have the right to “return” to Israel, but the Palestinians who were expelled from their homes in 1948 do not have this right; in fact, they are explicitly denied Israeli citizenship, and denied the right to return to their homes. This is racist.

The second form of apartheid is the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, which denies Palestinians living on those territories full political rights, even while Israelis living there have full political rights in Israel. (The political rights of citizens of the Palestinian Authority, like the rights of apartheid South Africa’s bantustans, are empty and of no effect.) The apartheid wall, which cuts Palestinian communities off from each other and creates tiny Palestinian enclaves; the hundreds of checkpoints Palestinians have to cross to travel their own land; and the different access to highways, water, and land accorded to Jews and non-Jews are all forms of apartheid. Gaza is an open-air prison whose inhabitants live in constant misery because of the illegal Israeli siege.

The third form of apartheid is in the different treatment of Palestinians inside Israel proper. While Jews hold Jewish nationality, so-called “Israeli Arabs” have a separate category of citizenship – Israeli citizenship. Palestinian communities in Israel proper are consistently underserviced by government in relation to the rest of population, and because most Palestinians refuse to serve in the occupation army, they are denied many educational and employment opportunities. (Emphasis added)

My limited understanding of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians is that all three claims are true. That said, it’s really hard to go from action to intent; that is, I agree with QuAIA’s analysis of Israel’s actions, but I’m hesitant to go the step further and say those actions are specifically carried out with the intent of subjugating Palestinians, something which seems to be necessary to move from “acting like an asshole” to “imposing an apartheid regime.”

For those who are interested, Wikipedia has a fascinating list of folks who support calling Israel’s actions apartheid (including the UN, Jimmy Carter, and others) as well as arguments criticizing the analogy.

What really pisses me off, though, is how Michael Lucas and others equate “criticism of Israel” with “antisemitism,” something that causes me no end of frustration. Being critical of Israel – even saying straight out “Israel is stupid and should be dissolved, because religious states are inherently problematic” – is not antisemitism! Antisemitism is specifically anti-Judaism, and Judaism and the State of Israel should not be viewed as equivalent.

So there.

The QuAIA FAQ also has a really interesting answer to “Do you support Israel’s right to exist?

It’s hard to answer this question without making clear what exactly it means. For example, when apartheid ended in South Africa, did South Africa cease to exist? Or did only apartheid South Africa cease to exist? Did apartheid South Africa have a right to exist? Does Canada have the right to exist? Do states, in general, have the right to exist? Or is this a right that only people and peoples have?

It is a strange and specious wording, superficially plausible, that originates with and is used by defenders of apartheid Israel to frame the debate in a tendentious way. The phrasing does not come from any left-wing group that criticizes Israel on the basis of human rights, justice, and equality. The question is, does Israel recognize the Palestinians’ right to exist as a people? The answer reflected in Israel’s every deed on the ground seems to be NO.

We support any solution in which all citizens — Jewish, Arab, Christian, Muslim, or otherwise — have full legal and political equality in a secular democracy, and in which Palestinians have the right to return to their homes. We do not support any state in which different people have different rights based on their race or religion. That is why we are called “Queers against Israeli Apartheid”. (Bold added, italics from the original)

I love this answer, and it’s honestly never one that occurred to me before: States shouldn’t have rights, people should. (QuAIA also talks about whether or not being anti-Israel is antisemitic. Check out their thoughts on that, too.)

In the end, I’m hesitant to say “Yes, Israel is engaging in apartheid.” I’d want more evidence of ideological racism (like what existed in South Africa). From what I can see right now, Israel is absolutely engaging in really apartheid-like actions, but – giving them the benefit of the doubt – those actions may be performed under honest (if misguided) beliefs of security and safety.

At the same time, the way this discussion has been taking place makes me even more skeptical of Israel’s claim of a moral high ground.

And I was pretty skeptical already.

11 Responses to “Israeli Aparthied?”

  1. Sadie Vashti says:

    While I completely agree with QuAIA’s analysis, it’s worth noting that there is also disagreement within the Palestinian solidarity movement about using the word “apartheid.” Some people feel like it obscures the specificity of the Israel/Palestine situation in favor of a convenient analogy designed to play on existing political sympathies. I don’t really know where I stand on that debate, because I also understand the strategic relevance of using the word “apartheid”, but it does leave valid questions.

    • Rebecca says:

      I tend to agree – I’m hesitant to embrace the use of ‘apartheid.’ That said, QuAIA has give me a really different perspective on the entire Israeli/Palestinian discussion, which I appreciate.

  2. Darque says:

    As neither an Israeli or a Palestinian, I feel like I can be more objective – with the luxury of standing back and analyzing the situation from afar. I feel, however, that if I were a Palestinian or an Israeli, I would have a very different view of the Palestinian/Israeli dynamic. It’s hard to be objective when the other side has demonstrated the willingness and intent to kill you, your family, and your friends. (On multiple occasions, I might add!).

    This isn’t a knock against or a vindication of Israel. It’s more of a reflection that the kind of pissant political squabbles that other countries have are on an entirely different scale from the ones experienced by people in other parts of the world.

    • Rebecca says:

      It’s hard to be objective when the other side has demonstrated the willingness and intent to kill you, your family, and your friends. (On multiple occasions, I might add!).

      I’d tend to agree, from both the Israeli and Palestinian perspectives. That said, I don’t think the disagreements are “pissant political squabbles.”

  3. Darque says:

    Maybe that last sentence didn’t come out the way I intended it. What I meant to say, is that some of the things going on over there make things in the U.S. look pissant in comparison.

  4. Alyssa says:

    As someone who’s familiar with the situation both personally and academically, I would say that yes, Israel’s relationship to the Palestinians is one of apartheid. From looking at the legal definitions of apartheid, it’s quite clear that Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians meets most of the requirements: denial of right to life and liberty, arbitrary arrests and imprisonments, denial of the right to leave and return to their places of residence, denial of a nationality, denial of freedom of movement, right to peaceful assembly and association, creating seperate reserves, and expropriation of land. It seems quite clear-cut to me–I don’t really understand the hesitation to call it apartheid. The legal definitions of apartheid do not call for “evidence of ideological racism” of the type that existed in South Africa or anywhere–the actions of apartheid themselves are evidence enough.

    • Rebecca says:

      Thanks for chiming in. A few thoughts…

      I think the main hesitation to call it apartheid comes from an impression that apartheid does require racism. Even if that’s not from a legal definition, I do think that’s people’s impression. Rightly or wrongly, Israel is considered part of the Western World and seems to be held to different standards than those other ‘savage’ countries.

      Likewise, as the stuff I talk about in the post demonstrates, there are lots of people who equate disagreeing with Israel to mean being antisemitic. That leads to folks being hesitant to use charged words like apartheid for fear of being labeled antisemitic.

  5. Alyssa says:

    If you’re looking for some ideological racism, check out this article about Israel’s fear of Jewish women dating Palestinian men:

    Though it’s not illegal for Jews and Palestinians to date and marry one another, the fact that towns and municipalities are establishing teams of youth counselors to “rescue” Jewish women means that there is some deep institutionalized racism at work there (not to mention the sexism–there’s no similar effort to control the sexuality of Jewish men).

    Also, there’s this article about an anti-miscegenation demonstration in Bat Yam at which one of the protesters yelled, “Any Jewish woman who goes with an Arab should be killed; any Jew who sells his home to an Arab should be killed.”

    Unfortunately, this is just a small sampling of the racism, both state-sanctioned and individual, present in Israeli society today.

    • Rebecca says:

      Yeah, those are pretty compelling evidence of racism. And while fortunately my family doesn’t subject me to this, there’s also the (far too true) cliche of Jewish parents everywhere worrying about whether their darling child will marry a “good Jewish girl” (or boy).

  6. Alyssa says:

    Oops I forgot to add the link to that article. Here it is:,7340,L-4002085,00.html

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