US Secretary of State John Kerry was not the first to use the “A-word” with regard to Israel. Former prime minister Ehud Barak used it in 2010 in Herzliya. Justice Minister Tzipi Livni used it last year in Eilat. Even David Ben-Gurion used the word in a statement broadcast on the radio back in 1967, according to journalist Hirsh Goodman in his memoir, Let Me Create a Paradise, God Said to Himself.
Then-prime minister Ehud Olmert came close, warning in a 2007 interview with Haaretz that without a two-state solution, Israel would “face a South Africa- style struggle for equal voting rights, and as soon as that happens, the State of Israel is finished.”
Kerry used the “A-word” in a similar way to these Israeli statesmen. The US secretary of state did not say we are an apartheid state. He said we are liable to become one: “A two-state solution will be clearly underscored as the only real alternative,” Kerry told a closeddoor meeting of senior officials and experts from the US, Western Europe, Russia and Japan. “Because a unitary state winds up either being an apartheid state with second-class citizens – or it ends up being a state that destroys the capacity of Israel to be a Jewish state.”
Before he issued a semi-retraction in which he said, “If I could rewind the tape, I would have chosen a different word,” a number of Jewish organizations in the Diaspora condemned Kerry.
“Any suggestion that Israel is, or is at risk of becoming, an apartheid state is offensive and inappropriate,” the American Israel Public Affairs Committee said.
“Israel is the lone stable democracy in the Middle East, and protects the rights of minorities regardless of ethnicity or religion.”
AIPA C noted that Barack Obama, when he was running for president in 2008, argued that injecting a term such as “apartheid” into the discussion does not advance the goal of a two-state solution. “It’s emotionally loaded, historically inaccurate, and it’s not what I believe,” Obama said.
We reject any double-standard claim to the effect that Kerry’s use of the word is fundamentally different and more pernicious than its use by prominent Israeli personalities.
We would argue, however, that anyone who uses the “A-word” to describe the political relationship between the Palestinians and Israelis does not know what he or she is talking about and is exhibiting intellectual sloppiness, if not dishonesty.
Doing so belittles the sheer evil of the Apartheid regime in South Africa. That regime was based on systematic racial discrimination and was set up by white supremacists to segregate and demean non-white populations.
Secondly, using the “A-word” in the Israeli-Palestinian context ignores the circumstances of the conflict.
Palestinians and their Arab allies have repeatedly carried out military and terrorist attacks against the Jewish presence in the Land of Israel before, during and after the creation of the state, as well as before and after Israel took over control of the West Bank as a result of its victory in the Six Day War, a war Israel did not initiate.
Palestinians have consistently rejected numerous attempts on the part of Israel at a peaceful resolution to the conflict, starting with the 1947 UN Partition Plan, continuing through the 2000 Clinton parameters and the generous 2008 proposal presented by Olmert, and as recently as last week with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s signing of a reconciliation agreement with Hamas, a terrorist organization that refuses to recognize Israel and is committed to violent struggle against the Jewish state, no matter what its borders are.
While seeking to protect itself from Palestinian aggression – including a wave of suicide bombings – Israel has taken what it sees as the steps necessary to protect its citizens. Some of these steps, such as the erection of the West Bank security barrier, have been unpopular on the international stage. It is, however, inaccurate and unfair to call this apartheid, no matter who you are.