No comparison between Israel, South African apartheid

As someone who grew up in apartheid South Africa, I found Amnesty International's report to be disingenuous and dangerous.

 Nelson Mandela dons a kippa during his visit to Yad Vashem in 1999 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Nelson Mandela dons a kippa during his visit to Yad Vashem in 1999
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Jerusalem Report logo small (credit: JPOST STAFF)Jerusalem Report logo small (credit: JPOST STAFF)

The Amnesty International (AI) report, “Israel’s Apartheid Against Palestinians” published on February 1, is worth close scrutiny. The PDF of its 280 pages can be downloaded from the website of the international human rights organization headquartered in the UK.

After a detailed survey of what it perceives to be Israel’s “apartheid” policy, the report states: “Amnesty International has analyzed Israel’s intent to create and maintain a system of oppression and domination over Palestinians and examined its key components: territorial fragmentation; segregation and control; dispossession of land and property; and denial of economic and social rights. It has concluded that this system amounts to apartheid. It has also documented unlawful acts committed by Israel against Palestinians with the intent to maintain this system, including forcible transfers, administrative detention and torture, unlawful killings, denial of basic rights and freedoms and persecution. It has concluded that such acts form part of a systematic as well as widespread attack directed against the Palestinian population and amount to the crime against humanity of apartheid. Israel must dismantle this cruel system and the international community must pressure it to do so.”

As someone who grew up in apartheid South Africa, I found the report to be disingenuous and dangerous. The word “apartheid” (pronounced apart-hate in Afrikaans) should be reserved for South Africa. There is no comparison between the Jewish state and South Africa’s evil policy of institutionalized racism, even in the eyes of the man credited with ending apartheid there. “We recognize the legitimacy of Palestinian nationalism just as we recognize the legitimacy of Zionism as a Jewish nationalism,” Nelson Mandela declared. “We insist on the right of the State of Israel to exist within secure borders, but with equal vigor support the Palestinian right to national self-determination.”

Human Rights Watch and B’Tselem have already equated Israel with apartheid, but AI went overboard: It blamed Israel for operating an apartheid system not only in the territories it captured in war but inside the country itself. Ultimately, it does not believe that the Jewish state  has a moral right to exist within any borders.

Ironically, the Palestinian Authority’s policy to bar Jews from living in its territory is more reminiscent of apartheid than Israel.

 Mansour Abbas February 22, 2022. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM) Mansour Abbas February 22, 2022. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

It was particularly encouraging to hear Ra’am party head Mansour Abbas speaking out against labeling Israel as an apartheid state. “I would not call it apartheid,” Abbas said in response to a question during an online event organized by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “I prefer to describe the reality in objective ways. If there is discrimination in a certain field, then we will say that there is discrimination in that specific field.”

“Here you have the head of a Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated party that is in the government speaking the truth about what Israel is,” remarked William Daroff, CEO of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice chairman, said he was more concerned about the open-ended commission of inquiry being set up by AI.  “It’s like creating a law firm just to beat up Israel,” Hoenlein warned. 

How then should Israel counter Amnesty? Perhaps the best gambit has been proposed by my British-born colleague Neville Teller, who wrote that the report “libeled the State of Israel. Libel is a criminal offense in the UK. Israel should seek the remedy of British justice. It should charge Amnesty International with criminal libel. AI should be forced to try to prove its monstrous assertion in a court of law.”     Anyone who really cares about Israel, the Palestinians and human rights should be battling discrimination in all sectors of society while promoting peaceful coexistence and solidarity, particularly in these trying times.