Why Human Rights Watch's apartheid accusation is incorrect - opinion

The very essence of apartheid was the physical separation of people based on a legislated racial hierarchy.

Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth speaks during a interview with Reuters in Geneva, Switzerland, April 9, 2018 (photo credit: REUTERS/PIERRE ALBOUY)
Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth speaks during a interview with Reuters in Geneva, Switzerland, April 9, 2018
While Israel is accused of committing the crimes of apartheid in a Human Rights Watch report, it is imperative that the international community comprehends the extent of the accusations and how a metric, a singular standard, is used solely and uniquely against the state of Israel.
In reality, it is not that difficult to expose the cynicism of this report. All one needs to do is to prove that the accusations are not only baseless but also unheard of, literally, since South Africa.
International law Prof. Eugene Kontorovitch rightfully explains that invoking the heinous crime of apartheid to criticize Israeli policies is a form of classic antisemitic rhetoric: it accuses Jews, uniquely among peoples of the world, of the most heinous crimes, while also judging the Jewish state by a metric not applied to any other country.
In fact, the legal standard for labeling a government an apartheid regime is set so high that no country since South Africa has ever received the distinction; despite massive systematic oppression of racial and ethnic minorities in other parts of the world.
The very essence of apartheid was the physical separation of people based on a legislated racial hierarchy. In South Africa, under The Reservation of Separate Amenities Act of 1953, grounds could be reserved for a particular race, creating separate schools, beaches, pools and parks. Needless to say there is no such law in Israel.
Israel guarantees everyone’s equal treatment before the law and has proved its democratic nature in all possible fields: from parliamentarians in the Knesset to free speech, judges residing on the Supreme Court to Israel’s national soccer team; you name it, Israel has proven to be as diverse as they come. As a blunt example that says it all: former Israeli president Moshe Katzav was sentenced for rape allegations to seven years in prison by an Arab judge.
“Then why the report?” one might think. Perhaps, it is not merely meant to exert pressure on the international community so that on its turn it will exert pressure on Israel to give in to Palestinian demands, but it is also meant, more accurately, to delegitimize the state of Israel entirely. And for that to happen, HRW has decided to demonize the state of Israel by calling it an apartheid state. Because what else should be done to an apartheid regime other than dismantle it and replace it?
In reality, HRW is well aware of the very complicated situation in which Israel finds itself. On one hand, Israel is considered to be the occupying power and expected to administer military law per The Fourth Geneva Convention, and on the other hand, Israel is expected to abide by the Oslo interim agreement. Yet HRW does not hesitate to omit all of that in order to falsely label Israel an apartheid regime because in essence the authors of the report want to achieve political aims as opposed to – what they pretend to be – legal aims.
In fact, The HRW report says the following: “Israelis are granted superior status under the law as compared to the Palestinians living in the same territory when it comes to civil rights, access to land and freedom to move,” but conveniently omits to explain that the Israelis as well as the Palestinians have mutually agreed to this arrangement as part of the internationally recognized Oslo Accords.
Since the Oslo Accords, the West Bank has been split in three areas: A, B and C. In areas A and B, the Palestinian Authority has full civil rights, meaning building permits fall solely under the PA’s authority while in area C it is Israel that retains the authority.
This is why the Palestinian population in areas A and B fall under a different set of laws than the Israeli civilians in Area C. That said, if HRW suggests one civil law for all, it would mean a de facto annexation. As for freedom of movement; the restrictions are solely in place out of security considerations and not based on any racial discrimination.
It would be ludicrous to claim otherwise since 20% of Israel’s population is in fact Arab and are free to move anywhere they please. And to completely expose the hollowness of the accusation of apartheid: Jews and Arabs alike are able to visit the same restaurants and shops in area C, exactly like anywhere in Israel.
Moreover, the HRW uses Israel’s basic law of The Nation-State Law to strengthen the apartheid accusation. Yet by invoking The Nation-State Law, it is, on the contrary, proving once again that the actual aim is to delegitimize and ultimately abolish the state of Israel in its entirety.
Otherwise why mention it? Would the Palestinians in the territories obtain more rights if Israel’s nation state law is removed? The Nation-State Law was passed as Israel’s sole law that guarantees the Jewish character of the state of Israel. The Hebrew language, the anthem and its flag are subsequently reinforced by law which enact the purpose of the establishment of a Jewish state.
Nevertheless, it is important to highlight that this law does not abolish nor does it contradict any of the existing basic laws ensuring minority rights and equality before the law. Arabs still reside on Israel’s Supreme Court and obtain seats in Knesset, study at Israel’s universities, exercise any profession they like and pray at the numerous mosques all across the state of Israel.
Although it is widely considered among moderate voices that the HRW has taken a leap into the unknown with a report that is slanderous at best, it is wrong to assume that the truth will prevail. HRW knows all too well that it has a strong backing, as its authors have watched the UN and its multiple bodies single out Israel systematically for targeting.
Therefore, refuting the 200 pages of the HRW report by coming forward with the truth, will not suffice. There is a whole system in place on the international platform to delegitimize the state of Israel by standards applied solely to Israel. HRW has just taken it a step further.
The writer is the director of Golden Gate Public Affairs who advises on EU-Israel affairs and works with European Union institutions in Brussels.