You’ve asked me how to respond to your close friend who says Israel is an apartheid state, just as Amnesty International has claimed. You’ve visited Israel and you’ve read my book, which is why you wrote to me, but you feel that since you don’t live here you can’t know for sure that your friend isn’t right.
In the book I included the charge of apartheid among the ways that Israel is accused of being the worst place in the world. It’s nothing new, as you know, for Jews to be maligned like this. At different times in history we were considered responsible for deicide, plagues and all the evils of the world. Now the Jewish state, where more Jews live than in any other country, is perceived as the world’s worst place. The United Nations, much more influential than Amnesty International, treats Israel this way. Every year the UN censures Israel far more than any other country.
There’s a very detailed and accurate analysis by NGO Monitor that explains all that is false in the Amnesty International report. One of the most striking observations of their analysis is that Amnesty International chose not to compare Israel in any way to apartheid South Africa. Yet, the term apartheid has only been used to describe what life was like in that one country. Amnesty International simply applies the label without having to acknowledge that there is no comparison possible.
In fact, people who lived under apartheid in South Africa are outraged that apartheid is trivialized by mislabeling Israel in this way. The terms Amnesty International used such as apartheid and occupation were ways of denigrating Israel without having to provide evidence. In fact, since Jimmy Carter published his book, Peace, Not Apartheid and since apartheid weeks began on campuses in the US, UK, Canada, and EU, apartheid has been the favored accusation against Israel. It’s the current worst thing in the world, the modern version of considering Jews to be the murderers of Jesus, the cause of the black plague, or responsible for all the evils afflicting Germany during the time of the Holocaust.
But, what can you say to your friend? Telling her about the Israel you experienced when you visited here probably won’t help. She may already know that Israel is actually the only country in the Middle East where Jews, Muslims, Druze and Christians are living together with full rights and freedom, where all professions and buying property are open to any citizen. She’s likely aware that members of all these groups serve in the Knesset and that everyone can freely practice their religion or not practice any religion. Why would Israel be rated the ninth happiest country in the world, and why would Arab Israelis report such high degrees of life satisfaction and belonging if it were an apartheid country?
I’ll take a guess that when your friend talks about Israel she is simultaneously talking about Palestine, and that she is really referring to all the area “from the river to the sea.” I’m sure you’ve heard the anti-Israel slogan “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.” Have you heard the newer slogan? “We don’t want two states; we want all of it.” This one is not as catchy as the first, but it is less ambiguous.
The accusation of apartheid requires pretending that Gaza, which is controlled by the Palestinian government of Hamas, and the Palestinian territories that are under the control of the Palestinian Authority, are actually controlled by Israel.
But, no Jews live in or can visit Gaza. No Israelis live in or can visit Area A of the Palestinian territories, where all the Palestinian towns in Judea and Samaria (also called the West Bank) are located. The other areas are Area B, which is under full Palestinian civil authority and militarily managed jointly by Israel and the Palestinian Authority, and Area C where there are Jewish towns managed by Israel.
These three areas were set up during the Oslo Accords in order to lead to a full Palestinian state in Gaza and the West Bank. But, the requirement for an end to terror was not kept. And although many Israelis still hope that there will be a time when Palestinian leadership will choose to have a peaceful country next to Israel, many are not hopeful that this will happen any time soon. The Hamas government of Gaza is very clear that they will never accept the Jewish state next door.
I think you will need to ask your friend whether or not she is okay with the existence of the Jewish-majority State of Israel. Sadly, you may find that she is not.
The writer is author of Framing Israel, A Personal Tour of Media and Campus Rhetoric; she made aliyah from California, where she was a professor of rhetoric and composition.