I was shocked to see these walls, it’s a new apartheid, barbaric behavior: How can you impose such a collective punishment and separate people? After all, we are all living on the same planet. It seems to me the world should have already learned from what happened in South Africa.
– Nigel Kennedy
Opposition to apartheid from Israel’s inception
Even before the State of Israel came into existence, the pioneers in Zionist thought consciously sought to avoid the situation that prevailed in South Africa.
We do not want to create a situation like that which exists in South Africa, where the whites are the owners and rulers, and the blacks are the workers. If we do not do all kinds of work, easy and hard, skilled and unskilled, if we become merely landlords, then this will not be our homeland.
– David Ben-Gurion, first Prime Minister of Israel 2
Does segregation exist in Israel?
For decades Israel’s detractors have tried to delegitimise Israel by calling it an apartheid state. The gross misuse of the term is malicious and insults those who suffered under the real apartheid.
The term apartheid refers to official government policy of racial segregation. In South Africa whites dominated the non-white population, especially the indigenous blacks, and discriminating against people of colour in the political, legal and economic sectors:
Whites and non-whites lived in separate regions of the country;
|Non-Whites in South Africa||Arabs in Israel|
|Could not vote, become citizens, run for office or form political parties.||20% of Israelis are Arab, they are citizens with full voting rights and political parties.|
|Prohibited from running businesses in white areas without permits.||Free to trade anywhere in Israel, there is no such thing as a “Jew area”.|
|Separate beaches, buses, benches, drinking fountains, restrooms, etc.||Same amenities as Jews, it is illegal to discriminate or segregate within Israel.|
|Inferior and segregated education, medical care and other public services.||Public services are equal, in education Christian Arabs outperform every other religious group (including religious Jews).|
In Israel it’s illegal for employers to discriminate on the basis of race, the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs states that “The only legal distinction between Arab and Jewish citizens is not one of rights, but rather of civic duty. Since Israel’s establishment, Arab citizens have been exempted from compulsory service in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).3 Arabs are exempt from military service because it would be unjust to force Israeli Arabs to join the armed forces, as it could mean pitting them against Palestinian family members. Even though it is not compulsory, many Arabs (particularly Druze) choose enlist in the IDF and defend their nation.4
Equally, it is illegal to discriminate within the education system. The Israeli Pupils’ Rights Law of 2000 prohibits educators from establishing different rights, obligations and disciplinary standards for students of different religions. Educational institutions may not discriminate against religious minorities in admissions or expulsion decisions, or when developing curricula or assigning students to classes.4 Arab students and professors study, research and teach freely at Israeli universities. At Haifa University, for example, approximately 20 percent of the students are Arabs.
Arabs serve in some of the most senior diplomatic and government positions in Israel, here are just a few examples:
- There are currently 16 Arab Members of Parliament 5
- 52 of Israel’s judges are Arab 6
- The third largest political party in Israel is an Arab party,
- Salim Joubran – currently serves as a justice on the Supreme Court
- Ayoob Kara – currently serves as an MP and Deputy Minister of Regional Cooperation
- Hamad Amar – currently serves as an MP and on the Knesset Finance Committee
- Ali Yahya – Israeli ambassador to Greece
- Yusef Mishleb – IDF General
- Ishmael Khaldi – diplomat in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, former Israeli Vice-Consul to Greece
There are also numerous positive affirmation policies in Israel, such as when in 2004 Prime Minister Ariel Sharon declared that every state-run company must have at least one Arab citizen of Israel on its board of directors. 7 Another example is Israel’s government budgeting $739 million to economic development of the Arab sector between 2010 and 2015. 8
In apartheid South Africa, laws dictated where Non-whites could live, work and travel and the government imprisoned, and sometimes killed, those who protested against these policies. By contrast, Israel allows freedom of movement, assembly and speech and some of the government’s harshest critics, whom in less tolerant nations would be arrested for treason, are Arab Knesset members.
What about Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza?
The situation of Palestinians in the territories is different. Many Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip openly refuse to recognize Israel’s right to exist; by contrast, non-whites never sought the destruction of South Africa, only of the apartheid regime.
Unlike South Africa, where restrictions were totally racially motivated, Israel’s restrictions in the territories – such as checkpoints and the security fence – was forced by incessant Palestinian terrorism. Israel has consistently demonstrated a willingness, however, to ease restrictions when violence subsides.
Meanwhile, Palestinians from the territories are allowed to work in Israel and receive similar pay and benefits to their Jewish counterparts. They are allowed to attend schools and universities. Palestinians have been given opportunities to run many of their own affairs. None of this was true for South African blacks.
Even such, 98% of the Palestinians in the territories are governed by the rules of the Palestinian Authority, which amazingly do not permit their own resident with freedoms of speech, religion, assembly or other rights taken for granted by Westerners and guaranteed in Israel.
The clearest refutation of the calumny against Israel comes from the Palestinians themselves – when asked what governments they admire most, more than 80 percent of Palestinians consistently choose Israel because they can see up close the thriving democracy in Israel, and the rights the Arab citizens enjoy there.
Israeli society is not perfect – discrimination and unfairness exist there as it does in every other country. These differences, however, are nothing like the horrors of the apartheid system. Moreover, when inequalities are identified, minorities in Israel have the right to seek redress through the government and the courts, and progress toward equality has been made over the years.
Expose more lies of Israeli discrimination:
- Is Israel a racist or apartheid state?
- Is the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions movement just?
- Do Palestinians have the lowest standard of living in the world?
1. Nigel Kennedy, First violin / Prelude to dialogue, Noam Ben Zeev, Haaretz, 24/12/07
2. David Ben-Gurion addressing Musa Alami in 1934, as recorded by Shabtai Teveth, Ben-Gurion and the Palestinian Arabs: From Peace to War, 1985, p140.
3. Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs website, Israeli Arabs
4. Israeli Pupils Rights Law
5. Wikipedia: List of Arab Members of the Knesset
6. “Only 7.7 percent of Israeli judges are Arab, new study finds”, Revital Hovel, Haaretz, 2/6/15
7. PM Sharon convenes meeting of ministerial committee on Non – Jewish Sector Prime Minister’s Office, 24 January 2005
8. “Israeli Arabs seeking greater share in country’s tech start-up success”, Tova Cohen, Reuters, 4/6/15