Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Tyler Levitan Headshot

Israel's Actions In Palestine Are The Definition Of Apartheid

Posted: Updated:
LorenzoPatoia via Getty Images

As Israel deepens its 48-year military occupation over the Occupied Palestinian Territory, continuing to deny millions of Palestinian civilians rights equal to those of the Israeli civilians living in colonies within their midst, the phrase "Israeli apartheid" will undoubtedly become more widely used by the Canadian public.

I noted in my previous commentary for HuffPost Canada that use of the term apartheid in reference to Israel is by no means uncommon within Israeli society itself -- both among leading politicians and the Israeli public. In Canada, however, the term has been the subject of enormous controversy, where Israel's advocates have expressed outrage towards use of the label, and have made consistent efforts to disparage both the phrase "Israeli apartheid" and those who dare to utter it.

Among HuffPost Canada bloggers alone, there are at least six individuals who have written or spoken disparagingly about the use of the term apartheid in reference to Israel.

Mike Fegelman's HuffPost piece describes it as a "myth;" Diane Weber Bederman's describes it as a "false accusation;" Bernie Farber refers to those who use the phrase as "anti-Semites" and claims the term apartheid made in reference to Israel is a form of "libel;" Avi Benlolo's HuffPost blog refers to it as "hateful;" Michael Coren's describes it as "grotesque;" and Shimon Fogel condemned Queen's University for issuing an honorary doctorate to Jimmy Carter, based on Carter's claim from a book published six years before that Israel's policies in the Occupied Palestinian Territory constitute apartheid.

With the plethora of opinions out there expressing outrage toward the use of the phrase -- mainly coming from defenders of Israel in the Canadian Jewish establishment -- an innocent onlooker might conclude that the term "Israeli apartheid" is absurd, a malicious fiction that has been contrived by those who hate Israel because of its self-declared Jewish character.

But for individuals willing to look critically at the issue, it doesn't take long to discover that the arguments used against the phrase "Israeli apartheid" have virtually nothing to do with the points made by those who choose to employ it.

The arguments against the phrase can be summed up as follows: "Israel is a liberal democracy where Arabs have the right to vote, hold public office and use the same beaches as Jewish citizens, so it can in no way be accused of practicing apartheid, which is a system of racial domination used during minority white rule in South Africa."

All of the arguments used by Israel's advocates are variations of this theme, often with the additional claim that its use trivializes the suffering of black South Africans under that country's apartheid system.

The term apartheid comes from the Afrikaans word translated into English as "apartness." While the term originated in South Africa, it has been defined more widely and considered a crime under international law in all of its forms since the UN's adoption of the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid in 1973.

"Noam Chomsky -- the world's most cited living author -- has stated that Israel's actions in Palestine are 'much worse than Apartheid' in South Africa."

It cannot be said to apply solely to the former situation in South Africa, so it is erroneous to compare the situation in Israel-Palestine to the particular version of apartheid that existed in South Africa in order for the use of the phrase "Israeli apartheid" to be valid. (Nonetheless, interesting comparisons have been made, including in this film and this article). Since the term exists independently of apartheid-era South Africa, we should be judging the phrase "Israeli apartheid" based on apartheid's legal definition.

The 1973 UN convention outlawing apartheid states that the term "shall apply to the following inhumane acts committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons and systematically oppressing them."

The convention then lists a number of acts targeting a racial group (the UN definition of "racial group" includes ethnic, religious, or national groups), among them but not limited to the use of torture; arbitrary arrest and illegal imprisonment; denial of freedom of movement, expression, assembly and association; separation of the racial group into defined areas; expropriation of property belonging to the racial group; and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.

No less an authority than South Africa's national social science council -- the Human Sciences Research Council for South Africa (HSRC) -- has found that Israel is guilty of all of these inhumane acts (and others) in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.

In 2009, HSRC published an extensive research report which outlines explicitly the ways in which Israel is committing the crime of apartheid in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. The reality is that the majority of instances the term apartheid is leveled at Israel, it is being used in reference to the Occupied Palestinian Territory, over which Israel has maintained control for nearly 50 years. Israel's defenders can cite the rights of the country's Arab citizens, but this argument becomes irrelevant if the focus is on Palestinians in the occupied territories.

Regardless of the term one uses, Israel's human rights violations -- which make life unbearable for the vast majority of Palestinians in the Occupied Palestinian Territory -- coupled with its ongoing demolition of Palestinian houses (over 26,000 in the Occupied Palestinian Territory since 1967), destruction of olive trees (over 800,000 razed by Israel since 1967) and routine violence of its colonists with impunity, constitute callous, criminal acts and have nothing to do with Judaism.

They are designed not simply to maintain Israeli domination over Palestinians, but to literally drive them off their lands -- or, to put it more bluntly, to ethnically cleanse them so that Jewish people from anywhere in the world can take their place.

It is for this reason and for the sheer scale of violence systematically directed against Palestinians by the Israeli military goliath, that Noam Chomsky -- the world's most cited living author -- has stated that Israel's actions in Palestine are "much worse than Apartheid" in South Africa. He points out that Apartheid-era South Africa depended on blacks for their labour, but that Israel has no need for Palestinians. The Israeli government simply wants them to leave.

Other authorities made similar statements about Israeli behaviour, including former UN-special rapporteur and South African John Dugard. Dugard stated that he has "... no hesitation in saying that Israel's crimes are infinitely worse than those committed by the apartheid regime of South Africa."

With the establishment of a viable and contiguous Palestinian state realized through a two-state solution becoming increasingly unlikely in the face of Israel's expanding colonization of the Occupied Palestinian Territory, not to mention the brutal system of domination and oppression it administers there, even U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has noted that "current trends are leading for a one-state reality."

The one-state solution has been the de facto reality in Israel-Palestine since 1967. Israel has been the sole sovereign power from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River for most of its existence.

Given all this, could it be that this system of rule can accurately be labeled by the term apartheid?


Palestinian protesters clash in the West Bank
Share this
Current Slide