“The people who are talking about apartheid[1] in Israel are talking nonsense.”  So declared a black South African pastor who, after an accident, found himself hospitalized in Israel alongside Palestinian Muslims and Jews, all receiving equal care.

Characterizing Israel as an apartheid state is a charge frequently heard from the numerous churches, religious organizations, and NGOs that endorse the BDS movement.  It often appears explicitly in their official documents and resolutions. The “apartheid state” mischaracterization is one of the presupposed assumptions underlying the BDS movement, a complete fiction that is uncritically accepted by many of its followers as well as many naïve church-goers.

Other religious leaders in the BDS movement are not naïve but simply dishonest and cynical ideologues who want to bring down Israel the same way economic tactics succeeded in bringing down the old South Africa in the 1990s. More to the point, they really don’t want to change Israel. Their real agenda is to eliminate Israel entirely.  Author Gerald Steinberg writes, “The attempt to label Israel as an illegitimate ‘apartheid state’ is the embodiment of the new anti-Semitism that seeks to deny the Jewish people the right of equality and self-determination among the nations.”

Kenneth Meshoe, a black member of the South African parliament, states emphatically, “I know that nothing is happening in that country [Israel] that can be compared to apartheid in South Africa.” Meshoe, who was born in Pretoria under apartheid, speaks from experience.  “We know what apartheid really was.  What we suffered in South Africa is not being suffered by anyone in Israel….  Non-Jews in Israel have everything that we non-whites in apartheid South Africa never shared with the white South Africans.”

Meshoe adds, “The charge that Israel is an apartheid state is a lie about Israel, and it is a lie about the real apartheid.”  To those who propagate the slander, he says, “You are damaging the chance for peace in the Middle East and… you are destroying the memory of the real apartheid.”  As Gerald Steinberg puts it, “In reality, the analogy and rhetoric are absurd, and they demean black victims of the real apartheid.”  He points out, too, that “the ‘Zionism is apartheid’ propaganda is also used to justify Palestinian terrorist attacks and the efforts to deny Israelis the basic human right of self-defense….”[2]

The comparison between apartheid South Africa and Israel is ridiculous, a case of apples and oranges.  As Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz says, “Israel is not like South Africa in any way.” Yet the “apartheid” slander persists, facts notwithstanding, because it is a useful propaganda theme for the purpose of demonizing and delegitimizing Israel as well as denying Israel’s right to exist.

Author and journalist Benjamin Pogrund was born in Cape Town in the 1930s and left South Africa only after being forced out for his critical journalism.  Since then he has lived more than a dozen years in Israel.  He writes, “I am acutely aware of Israel’s problems and faults, but it is nothing like South Africa before 1994.”  He cites “pass laws” that limited where blacks were allowed to live and work, torture and detention without trial by the security police, and starvation and malnutrition in the rural areas.

In apartheid South Africa, any black who needed medical treatment and was fortunate enough to find a white doctor willing to treat him had to enter the clinic or hospital through the back door and get inferior treatment.   There is no such discrimination in Israeli medical facilities.

In Israel there are non-Jewish judges, teachers, professors, even members of Knesset, as well as others holding high positions in all professions and occupations.  In apartheid South Africa, non-whites were systematically banned from all such opportunities.   They were deprived of the right to vote and choose their own leaders.  Israeli citizens, both Jews and Palestinians, have these civil rights in full.

Blacks under apartheid were the overwhelming majority of the population of South Africa. Yet they were not citizens and they lived under severe restrictions.   Even the basic right to life was trampled on.  The government disrespected their human rights so much that blacks could be killed for protesting against its policies.  In Israel, on the other hand, Arabs are a minority, but they have equal rights as citizens.

“Zionism and the revival of national sovereignty in the Jewish homeland are not manifestations of European colonialism, in contrast to the white settlers… who created Johannesburg and Pretoria,” writes Steinberg.  And while black labor was exploited in slavery-like conditions under apartheid, in contrast, Palestinians are dependent on Israeli employment….”

As black South African parliament member Kenneth Meshoe observes, there would have been no need for armed struggle in South Africa, and no need for Nelson Mandela to go to prison, if conditions under apartheid had been comparable to the human rights situation in Israel.  In addition to the right to vote, Mandela fought for fundamental rights including freedom of movement and travel, freedom to live where one chooses, freedom of access to medical facilities, and the right to education.  In Israel, those rights are already in effect for all Israeli citizens without discrimination.

From its beginning, the Zionist movement has held an egalitarian mentality, rejecting social class hierarchy structures.  The idea was that no one, no social elite, was above doing useful labor.   Otherwise, said Ben Gurion, “this will not be our homeland.”  That egalitarian ideal has continued to shape Israeli society and culture.  It stands in stark contrast to the racially oppressive and brutal, rights-denying character of apartheid.  The two models of society could hardly be more opposite.

There is a caveat, though, when it comes to the West Bank and Gaza, the Palestinian territories as differentiated from Israel per se.   Those areas have their own governing authorities whereby they manage their own affairs.  In fact, they don’t just want their own separate state.  Disputing Israel’s right to exist, they advocate Israel’s destruction and refuse to give up terrorism.  As a result of this hostile intransigence, Israel cannot take the self-destructive step of extending citizenship to the Palestinians in the territories, which would amount to de-facto annexation.  But the fact that the territories are governed separately from Israel does not imply by any stretch of the imagination that Israel is an apartheid state.

Benjamin Pogrund, after acknowledging some of Israel’s faults, writes: “But from my perspective, there is none of the institutionalized racism, the intentionality that underpinned apartheid in South Africa. So why does the BDS movement insist otherwise?”  His conclusion: “For them to propagate this analogy in the name of human rights is cynical and manipulative.  Their aims would eliminate Israel.”[3]

[1]        Apartheid, of course, is an Afrikaans word meaning racial segregation.  But it denotes a whole system of brutal oppression.

[2]          Steinberg, Gerald, “The Apartheid Propaganda,” Jerusalem Post, 24 August 2004.

[3]           Pogrund, Benjamin.  “Why Israel Is Nothing Like Apartheid South Africa.”  New York Times Op-Ed, 31 March 2017.

Designed by: Studio Reut Tucker Built by: Wordpress Development