Israeli Apartheid topic of serious discussion in Israel - updated 5/3/14

Sheila Musaji

Posted May 3, 2014      •Permalink      • Printer-Friendly Version
Bookmark and Share

Israeli Apartheid topic of serious discussion in Israel

by Sheila Musaji

The word “apartheid” is making a comeback in relation to Israeli policies regarding treatment of Palestinians.  This week, American Christian Religious leaders ask Congress to condition Israel military aid on human rights compliance, resulting in a great deal of controversy, including a call by the Israel lobby for Congressional Investigation of Churches calling for restricting U.S. military aid.  In the past few weeks, we have also seen the escalating ad wars across the country with the Israel-Palestine crisis as their foundation, and painting the issue as a black and white, good versus evil, civilization versus savages conflict.  Also, this week, a new Israeli poll was released that once again raised the issue of whether or not “apartheid” is a fair description of Israeli policies.

When this issue has been raised previously, Israeli’s strongly objected saying that Israel cannot accurately be called an apartheid state because Israeli law guarantees Arab citizens of Israel the same rights as other Israeli citizens.  Apartheid By Any Other Name by Ronald Bruce St. John is an example of the discussion around the use of this term in the title of President Jimmy Carter’s 2007 book Palestine Peace Not Apartheid .  Those who have used the term “apartheid state” to describe Israeli policies have often been accused of being anti-Semites. 

This past week, Gideon Levy published two articles on Haaretz regarding a recent poll in which a majority of Israeli Jews expressed their support for discriminatory measures, not only in the West Bank and Gaza (the occupied territories), but also in Israel itself, seems to cast doubt on Israel’s claim that the use of the term “apartheid” is unfair or even anti-Semitic.  Levi’s articles are beginning to receive a lot of attention.

The first article Survey:// Most Israeli Jews would support apartheid regime in Israel is very detailed and includes a helpful chart with questions and answers.  The survey, conducted by Dialog, and commissioned by the Yisraela Goldblum Fund (New Israel Fund) was based on a sample of 503 interviewees.  Here is part of that article

...  The majority of the Jewish public, 59 percent, wants preference for Jews over Arabs in admission to jobs in government ministries. Almost half the Jews, 49 percent, want the state to treat Jewish citizens better than Arab ones; 42 percent don’t want to live in the same building with Arabs and 42 percent don’t want their children in the same class with Arab children.

A third of the Jewish public wants a law barring Israeli Arabs from voting for the Knesset and a large majority of 69 percent objects to giving 2.5 million Palestinians the right to vote if Israel annexes the West Bank.

A sweeping 74 percent majority is in favor of separate roads for Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank. A quarter - 24 percent - believe separate roads are “a good situation” and 50 percent believe they are “a necessary situation.”

Almost half - 47 percent - want part of Israel’s Arab population to be transferred to the Palestinian Authority and 36 percent support transferring some of the Arab towns from Israel to the PA, in exchange for keeping some of the West Bank settlements.

Although the territories have not been annexed, most of the Jewish public (58 percent ) already believes Israel practices apartheid against Arabs. Only 31 percent think such a system is not in force here. Over a third (38 percent ) of the Jewish public wants Israel to annex the territories with settlements on them, while 48 percent object.

The survey distinguishes among the various communities in Israeli society - secular, observant, religious, ultra-Orthodox and former Soviet immigrants. The ultra-Orthodox, in contrast to those who described themselves as religious or observant, hold the most extreme positions against the Palestinians. An overwhelming majority (83 percent ) of Haredim are in favor of segregated roads and 71 percent are in favor of transfer.

The ultra-Orthodox are also the most anti-Arab group - 70 percent of them support legally barring Israeli Arabs from voting, 82 percent support preferential treatment from the state toward Jews, and 95 percent are in favor of discrimination against Arabs in admission to workplaces.

The group classifying itself as religious is the second most anti-Arab. New immigrants from former Soviet states are closer in their views of the Palestinians to secular Israelis, and are far less radical than the religious and Haredi groups. However, the number of people who answered “don’t know” in the “Russian” community was higher than in any other.

The Russians register the highest rate of satisfaction with life in Israel (77 percent ) and the secular Israelis the lowest - only 63 percent. On average, 69 percent of Israelis are satisfied with life in Israel.

Secular Israelis appear to be the least racist - 68 percent of them would not mind having Arab neighbors in their apartment building, 73 percent would not mind Arab students in their children’s class and 50 percent believe Arabs should not be discriminated against in admission to workplaces.

The survey indicates that a third to half of Jewish Israelis want to live in a state that practices formal, open discrimination against its Arab citizens. An even larger majority wants to live in an apartheid state if Israel annexes the territories.

The survey conductors say perhaps the term “apartheid” was not clear enough to some interviewees. However, the interviewees did not object strongly to describing Israel’s character as “apartheid” already today, without annexing the territories. Only 31 percent objected to calling Israel an “apartheid state” and said “there’s no apartheid at all.”

In contrast, 39 percent believe apartheid is practiced “in a few fields”; 19 percent believe “there’s apartheid in many fields” and 11 percent do not know.

The “Russians,” as the survey calls them, display the most objection to classifying their new country as an apartheid state. A third of them - 35 percent - believe Israel practices no apartheid at all, compared to 28 percent of the secular and ultra-Orthodox communities, 27 percent of the religious and 30 percent of the observant Jews who hold that view. Altogether, 58 percent of all the groups believe Israel practices apartheid “in a few fields” or “in many fields,” while 11 percent don’t know. ...

The second article Apartheid without shame or guilt summarizes the results of the poll and is Mr. Levy’s analysis of the meaning of these results. 

Richard Silverstein on Tikkun Olam wrote Israeli Poll: Israelis Support Ethnic Cleansing, Annexation and Apartheid State in which he characterized the poll results as having “alarming findings concerning the deterioration of democratic values in Israel’.  Mr. Silverstein says:

... The clarion call for liberal Zionists (including the New Israel Fund, which sponsored this poll) has always been that Israel is a “Jewish democratic state.”  No one was allowed to separate those two words and say Israel was only a Jewish state or only a democracy.  It had to be both.  We can no longer say this is true.  The majority of Israeli Jews hold views that are clearly antithetical to democracy.  In fact, they’ve largely embraced the agenda of Meir Kahane, who held that democracy was a type of illness imported from the west and alien to the Middle East.  Kahane favored a Jewish state that offered no democratic rights to non-Jews.  This poll shows that Israeli Jews are rapidly flocking to this point of view.

Jews favor superior rights for themselves over non-Jewish citizens.  They favor denying Palestinian citizens the right to vote.  They favor preferences to Jews over non-Jews in awarding government jobs.  They favor an apartheid transportation system.  They support the ethnic cleansing of non-Jewish citizens from the State.

...  I find it astonishing that a majority of Jews explicitly accept the term “apartheid” to describe what Israel is.  Also interesting is the finding that while 40% favor annexing the Territories, 48% oppose this.  That does not mean, of course, that this group is willing to return the Territories.  More likely it means they want to retain the status quo in which the West Bank is neither a Palestinian state nor annexed to Israel.

I do not believe Israel is a country that can save itself.  Once it has stopped being a democracy, the solution to its problems cannot come from within.  I’m afraid that we must wait for a dysfunctional country to perpetrate an act so heinous that the rest of the world cannot help but intervene to prevent something much worse.  Serbia brought such a fate upon itself through the massacre of Srebenica and subsequent genocide in Kosovo.  Syria is coming to such a crossroads with its recent likely assassination of Lebanon’s security chief.  Israel will follow in Assad’s footsteps.  It’s only a question of when.  And how much bloodshed can the world absorb before it calls Israel out for its behavior. ...

Noam Sheizaf in the article Poll:// Israelis support discrimination against Arabs, embrace the term notes about his reaction to the results of this poll

...  A note about the meaning of this poll. From my own personal impression on life in Israel, the findings are very consistent with the views you encounter in the public sphere. They reflect the widespread notion that Israel, as “a Jewish State,” should be a state that favors Jews. They are also the result of the occupation, which has completely dehumanized the Palestinians in the eyes of Israelis. After almost half a century of dominating another people, it’s no surprise that most Israelis don’t think Arabs deserve the same rights.

These positions are the result of legal discrimination and the status quo on the ground. While the Israeli government is ready to try and advance Palestinians on some fields, the dehumanization narrative dominates the political conversation, and there is zero readiness to challenge the inherent discrimination in the system itself (not to mention the occupation). This poll is therefore not a failure of education – as some might want to see it – but a problem inherent in the system itself. Only an end to the occupation and a move towards an egalitarian model of citizenship – “a state for all its citizens” – can bring the desired change in attitude by Jews. When the system treats Arabs as equal, public perception will follow.

The Israel Hayom site reports that

... Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter said Monday during a visit to Jerusalem that the prospect of an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord is “vanishing,” blaming Israeli settlement of the West Bank.

Carter, a longtime critic of Israeli policies, called the current situation “catastrophic” and blamed Israel for the growing isolation of east Jerusalem from the West Bank. He said a Palestinian state has become “unviable.”  “We’ve reached a crisis stage,” said Carter, 88. “The two-state solution is the only realistic path to peace and security for Israel and the Palestinians.”

Carter is currently on a two-day visit leading a delegation known as the “The Elders,” which includes the former prime minister of Norway and the former president of Ireland. The group met with President Shimon Peres and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. ...

The NY Times reported that “Mr. Carter said Monday that the situation is “worse now than it’s ever been for the Palestinians” because of the expanding settlements and lack of prospects for change. Describing himself as “grieved, disgusted and angry,” he said the two-state solution is “in death throes,” which he called “a tragic new development that the world is kind of ignoring.”  Surveys show Palestinians and Israelis overwhelmingly support a two-state solution, but intellectuals on both sides have increasingly been talking about a binational, single state. But models for such a state generally either imagine Israel losing its Jewish character, or ruling over a Palestinian majority in an undemocratic way. Mr. Carter called the one-state option “a catastrophe — not for the Palestinians, for Israel.”

It is past time for a nuanced and reasonable discussion about what influence the U.S. might have that could result in a just and peaceful solution for both the Israelis and the Palestinians.

Originally published 10/23/2012

UPDATE 5/3/2014

Here we go again, John Kerry is taking a lot of abuse for using the word apartheid in relation to Israel.  As Paul Waldman notes Kerry “apartheid” controversy shows limits on debate over Israel:

John Kerry has offered us a reminder that in American politics, the debate about our closest ally in the Middle East has all the candor and thoughtfulness of a cabinet meeting in North Korea. In this case it was the mention of the word “apartheid,” which he used in a private meeting — not saying the situation in Israel is apartheid, but saying it could one day become apartheid. So last night, Kerry performed the appropriate ritual of repentance, issuing a statement walking back his previous statement.

Like others before it, this controversy played out according to a familiar script: 1) Official says something uncomfortable but true about Israel; 2) The Anti-Defamation League and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) condemn the statement, pretending to be shocked and appalled that anyone could ever criticize Israel; 3) Democratic and Republican senators rush to condemn the statement as well, with the Republican response a little more intense, and a little more stupid; 4) Official issues an apology, pledging not to criticize Israel so sharply in the future.

But let’s back up. Here’s what Kerry originally said, as reported by the Daily Beast:

“A two-state solution will be clearly underscored as the only real alternative. Because a unitary state winds up either being an apartheid state with second-class citizens—or it ends up being a state that destroys the capacity of Israel to be a Jewish state,” Kerry told the group of senior officials and experts from the U.S., Western Europe, Russia, and Japan. “Once you put that frame in your mind, that reality, which is the bottom line, you understand how imperative it is to get to the two-state solution, which both leaders, even yesterday, said they remain deeply committed to.”

The first thing to understand about this statement is that everything in it is completely true. You have, right now, Israel presiding over a population of Palestinians in the West Bank who lack political and human rights. They are under Israeli rule, but are not Israeli citizens. The future prospect of apartheid comes from what is sometimes called “the demographic problem,” which is that Palestinian birth rates are substantially higher than Jewish Israeli birth rates, and eventually the number of Palestinians will exceed the number of Israeli citizens, at which point you have a minority government ruling over a majority population without citizenship rights. The second thing to understand is that the eventual creation of two states in order to avoid that apartheid kind of situation is something that all responsible parties agree must happen.

It’s perfectly legitimate to argue that the current situation in Israel is not comparable to apartheid in South Africa. But when people bring up the specter of a future apartheid — as Kerry did – what they’re referring to is that the number of Palestinians is destined to outnumber the number of Jews in Israel. And this observation is a common part of the debate within Israel; Kerry using the term isn’t some far-out, crazy thing that nobody has done before. For instance, just four days ago, an Associated Press story described the situation this way:

Some of the Arabs under Israel’s control, in pre-1967 Israel, have citizenship, while those in the West Bank — whose land and entry points and water resources are controlled by Israel — do not. Even though the West Bank is formally not in Israel, the country builds settlements there and their residents vote in Israeli elections. The settlers can freely enter and leave the West Bank, while Palestinians cannot. The situation seems unsustainable, and is starting to draw comparisons to apartheid-era South Africa even in Israel itself.

Kerry made note of that in the statement that he issued last night, specifically reminding people that apartheid comparisons have been been made by top Israeli officials, including prime ministers. While I’ve seen a number of headlines this morning beginning with the words “Kerry Apologizes…”, the statement he released isn’t really an apology. It does say, “if I could rewind the tape, I would have chosen a different word,” but it also notes that “while Justice Minister Livni, former Prime Ministers Barak and Ohlmert have all invoked the specter of apartheid to underscore the dangers of a unitary state for the future, it is a word best left out of the debate here at home.”

That’s fair enough — it’s perfectly legitimate to say that the word gets people too riled up and ends up distracting from the real issues at hand. But this is a reminder of just how absurdly constrained our debate about Israel is. There’s no other country in the world for which any criticism of the policies of that country’s current government will immediately be met with charges of insufficient loyalty to that other country and the insistence that only supportive statements may be made. Nobody would accuse an American Secretary of State of being “anti-British” or “anti-Japanese” if he said a decision of one of those governments was problematic, but people are routinely called “anti-Israel” if anything but full-throated support for whatever the current Israeli government does should pass their lips.

You can see it in the statement from the ADL about Kerry’s remarks. While the condemnation is more restrained than it could be, it ends with, “Such references are not seen as expressions of friendship and support,” as though “expressions of friendship and support” are all that is permissible when it comes to Israel. After Kerry’s comments were reported, you not only had liberal Democrats like Barbara Boxer condemning it, Ted Cruz actually called for Kerry to resign because of his intemperate words. I can’t wait to hear the thoughts of Sarah Palin, who used to hang an Israeli flag in her office.

So it’s less important to consider what Israel’s future is and what kinds of changes must be made than to monitor whether all public officials are being sufficiently “pro-Israel” in their every utterance, public and private. What we have in American politics when it comes to Israel is a system of censorship that requires occasional controversies like this one to remind everyone what the rules are.



All Israel, No Palestinians

Jimmy Carter: Israel has dropped the two-state solution for a ‘Greater Israel’, Allison Deger

Jimmy Carter Says Middle East Peace Is ‘Vanishing’ During Jerusalem Speech

The death of the Israel-Palestine two-state solution brings fresh hope, Rachel Shabi

The Galilee First: Equal rights for Palestinian citizens of Israel is essential for peace and reconciliation, Sam Bahour

In Jerusalem, Carter Derides Netanyahu and Obama

Israelis favour discrimination against Arabs - poll

Israeli poll finds majority in favour of ‘apartheid’ policies, Harriet Sherwood

Netanyahu visits Gilo to defend Jerusalem construction

The new Israeli apartheid: Poll reveals widespread Jewish support for policy of discrimination against Arab minority

Survey reveals anti-Arab attitudes in Israel,  Gabe Fisher

Survey of Israeli Racism: 58% of Jews Label Their State ‘Apartheid’, Richard Silverstein

New Israel Fund site