Israel is an apartheid state, B’Tselem said Monday for the first time in its 31-year history. In response to its statement, the left-wing Israeli NGO was accused of being antisemitic.
“Israel is not a democracy that has a temporary occupation attached to it; it is one regime from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, and we must look at the full picture and see it for what it is: apartheid,” B’Tselem executive director Hagai El-Ad said in explaining the policy change.
“The fundamental tenets of Israel’s regime, although already implemented for many years, have recently grown more explicit,” he added.
Prof. Eugene Kontorovich, head of the Kohelet Policy Forum’s International Law Department, said B’Tselem’s charge of apartheid was akin to an antisemitic “blood libel.”
“Apartheid is an extraordinary accusation because there is an international crime called the crime of apartheid and an international treaty against the crime of apartheid,” he told The Jerusalem Post.
No country has ever been deemed by the international community as an apartheid state since South Africa, not even China and Iran, he added.
B’Tselem has a right to disagree with Israeli policies toward the Palestinians, and it is not antisemitic for it to protest those policies, Kontorovich said.
By labeling Israel as apartheid, however, B’Tselem is “treating Israel the way no other country would be treated,” he said.
It is among the worst accusations one can make against Israel, somewhat akin to stating that the “Jews killed Jesus,” Kontorovich said.
Created in 1989 during the first intifada, B’Tselem documents human-rights abuses in the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza.
In submissions and oral testimonies to the United Nations, European governments and the European Union, it has alleged that Israelis have committed human-rights violations and at times war crimes.
B’Tselem has accused Israel of apartheid-like practices in the past and spoken out against a two-tiered system: one for Palestinians and one for Jews. But it has never crossed the line to denounce the entire state as an apartheid one. Nor has B’Tselem looked at it as a single geographic entity that includes both the areas within and without sovereign Israel.
B’Tselem’s apartheid decision comes as the UN has inched closer in past years to such language with regard to Israel.
The apartheid decision followed statements by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu regarding plans to annex West Bank settlements, a move that was suspended by Israel last summer, El-Ad said.
The apartheid label was in reaction to the Nation State Law passed in 2018, he said. The law was intended to shore up Israel’s identity as an ethnic national Jewish state that provides a homeland for the Jewish people. But its critics have charged that it helps institutionalize discrimination against minority populations in Israel, such as Arabs.
The Nation State Law “took the existing discrimination against Palestinians and turned it into an open constitutional principle,” El-Ad said.
In a report it published Tuesday, B’Tselem listed other instances in which Jewish rights were prioritized over those of Palestinians in areas over the pre-1967 lines and over those of Israeli-Arabs within sovereign Israel.
“One organizing principle lies at the base of a wide array of Israeli policies: advancing and perpetuating the supremacy of one group – Jews – over another – Palestinians,” B’Tselem told the media.
It included within this land possession, freedom of movement, citizenship policies and political participation. This included the inability of Palestinians governed by the Palestinian Authority to vote in Israeli elections.
The report did not mention PA discriminatory practices toward Israelis or the inability of Israelis to vote in its elections.
B’Tselem said it had concluded that there “are not two parallel regimes, but a single one, governing the entire area and all the people living in it.”
Kontorovich said it was impossible to compare Israel to apartheid South Africa, a regime that classified the races and “enforced segregation of those races in all public places.”
If one has ever been to the Rami Levi in the Gush Etzion junction where Israelis and Palestinians mix, it is obvious that this is not the case, he said.
South Africa stripped black residents of citizenship and deported them to special areas called Bantustans, while Palestinian in the West Bank were never citizens of Israel, Kontorovich said.