The campaign to demonize and delegitimize Israel has recently moved into a higher gear with the increased use of one particularly vicious falsehood.
This is the claim that Israel is an apartheid state.
The claim is as fatuous as it is pernicious. Apartheid was the name given to South Africa’s systematic oppression of its black inhabitants, who were denied political, civic and human rights.
By contrast, Arab Israeli citizens have fully equal rights. They study in Israel’s universities; enjoy Israel’s beaches and parks; receive equal treatment as patients in Israel’s hospitals, and work there as doctors and other medical staff; serve as members of the armed forces and as judges; and are represented by members of Knesset who are currently lynch-pins in Israel’s governing coalition.
Those Arabs who live in the disputed territories don’t have Israeli rights—for the very good reason that they aren’t Israeli citizens. They have no civic entitlements purely because the status of those territories remains unsettled as a result of Palestinian Arab rejectionism and violence—and because Arab states regard them as a nuisance preferably to be ignored.
The “Israel apartheid” smear, however ludicrous, isn’t new. It has its roots in the infamous 1975 “Zionism is Racism” U.N. resolution. Although that was revoked in 1991, it was resurrected at the scarcely-less infamous U.N. conference in Durban in 2001.
At that anti-Jewish hate-fest, the NGO forum referred to “Israel’s brand of apartheid and ethnic cleansing methods” to justify advocating “a policy of complete and total isolation of Israel.” This spawned the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement and launched a propaganda campaign against “apartheid Israel,” resulting in grotesque campus “Israel apartheid” weeks.
But while this particular smear has a long history, its deployment has recently ratcheted up.
A week ago, Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) called Israel “a violent apartheid system.” Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) called Israel an “apartheid state,” as did Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) in May.
That month, Rutgers University hosted an Israel-bashing teach-in spewing Hamas propaganda. Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of Democracy for the Arab World Now, told the meeting that Israel’s image today had a “very clear focus on the apartheid, on the ethnic cleansing, on the land theft, on the war crimes, and over the past 10 days the indiscriminate and deliberate bombardment of the population in Gaza.”
In the same month a teachers’ union, the United Educators of San Francisco, called on the Biden administration to end all aid to Israel because, the union claimed, this involved “directly using our tax dollars to fund apartheid and war crimes.”
In June, John McDonnell, the British Labour Party’s former deputy to the party’s ousted hard-left leader Jeremy Corbyn, made a speech to a pro-Palestinian rally in London in which he repeatedly referred to Israel as an “apartheid” state, and called on bankers and the City of London to “stop funding the apartheid regime in Israel.”
This week, the Labour Party’s conference—while congratulating itself for seemingly drawing a line under the appalling anti-Jewish activity in the party under Corbyn—passed a motion accusing Israel of “practicing the crime of apartheid as defined by the U.N.” and urged support for the international trade union campaign to “stop annexation and end apartheid.”
The “apartheid” smear was given fresh impetus in April by a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report entitled “A Threshold Crossed: Israeli Authorities and the Crimes of Apartheid and Persecution.”
This claimed that Israel had “demonstrated an intent to maintain the domination of Jewish Israelis over Palestinians” in Israel, the “West Bank” and Gaza, coupled with “systematic oppression” and “inhumane acts.” “When these three elements occur together, they amount to the crime of apartheid,” it said.
HRW’s obsessive slanders and falsehoods about Israel are its stock-in-trade. But as NGO Monitor has observed, over the previous 18 months, at least 15 political non-governmental organizations (NGOs) involved in anti-Israel advocacy, as well as their U.N. allies, issued publications accusing Israel of “apartheid.”
In January, the Israeli NGO B’Tselem, which has developed from campaigning against Israel’s alleged human-rights violations to challenging the legitimacy of Israel’s very existence, launched an international campaign under the headline, “A regime of Jewish supremacy from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea: This is apartheid.”
As NGO Monitor commented, B’Tselem’s rights advocacy has been replaced by a new strategy of lobbying against Israel in Europe and the United States while forming partnerships with repressive regimes to demonize Israel at the United Nations.
HRW and B’Tselem are repeatedly referenced by the Israel-bashers. When Rep. Ted Deutsch (D-Fla.) condemned Tlaib’s “apartheid” remarks, rightly asserting that she was not telling the truth about an American ally, her adviser Rasha Mubarak tweeted that Tlaib had underscored “facts also made by Human Rights Watch & B’Tselem—Israel is indeed an apartheid state.”
And in Britain, the Labour Party’s Israel-bashing motion similarly noted the 2021 reports by B’Tselem and Human Rights Watch “that conclude unequivocally that Israel is practicing the crime of apartheid as defined by the U.N.”
A further possible linked development is this. In May, the U.N. Human Rights Council launched a commission that potentially may go even further than previous hostile U.N. initiatives against Israel. This commission is to investigate and issue annual reports on alleged Israeli offenses against Arabs not just in the disputed territories but also—just like the HRW report—within Israel itself.
Moreover, its remit goes beyond the usual claims of human-rights violations to include “all underlying root causes of recurrent tensions, instability and protraction of conflict, including systematic discrimination and repression based on national, ethnic, racial or religious identity.”
With the three members of the commission each having a record of hostility towards Israel, this remit has prompted fears that the commission is a stitch-up designed to tar Israel with the crime of apartheid—thus producing a kind of HRW report on steroids and with the imprimatur of the United Nations.
However that commission may develop, there seems little doubt that the recent blizzard of “apartheid” smears is the result of an organized strategy. And it seems likely that the source of this strategy is the Palestinian Authority.
In a speech to the United Nations last week, P.A. leader Mahmoud Abbas not only stated that “Israel is an occupying power, practicing apartheid and ethnic cleansing,” but also made no fewer than five further references to Israeli “apartheid.”
Two years ago, a report by Dan Diker and Adam Shay for the Jerusalem Centre for Public Affairs revealed that the Palestinian Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel was not, as was widely believed, a network of local grassroots human-rights groups advocating BDS to establish a peaceful Palestinian state next to Israel.
It was instead run by the P.A. in Ramallah to direct, mobilize and coordinate global political warfare campaigns with the goal of isolating, delegitimizing and ultimately dismantling the State of Israel. The current “Israel apartheid” chorus is almost certainly the product of the latest such campaign.
The “apartheid” libel is a potent weapon because it is unlike claims that Israel is practicing genocide and ethnic cleansing against the Palestinians that are demonstrably fatuous (the number of Palestinian Arabs has at least tripled since Israel’s creation).
By contrast, the “Israel apartheid” smear triggers emotions of deep anger and disgust among the shallow and ignorant, whose knowledge of Israel is entirely drawn from malicious propaganda that misrepresents the defensive measures of the Jewish state as racist aggression, but which they believe as unchallengeable truth.
South African apartheid was a system as unique as it was evil. The “Israel apartheid” libel is an evil that once again singles out the Jews for a unique level of persecution.
Melanie Phillips, a British journalist, broadcaster and author, writes a weekly column for JNS. Currently a columnist for “The Times of London,” her personal and political memoir, “Guardian Angel,” has been published by Bombardier, which also published her first novel, “The Legacy.” Go to melaniephillips.substack.com to access her work.