Israel’s Illusionary Democracy: Beyond Apartheid

In a recent statement issued by the Movement for Black Lives, a coalition of 60 grassroots organizations within the Black Lives Matter movement, describe Israel as “an apartheid state with over 50 laws on the books that sanction discrimination against the Palestinian people”.  Recognizing this shared history with Palestinians has generated a huge backlash primarily for its use of the words “genocide” and “apartheid” to describe Israel’s system, as well as its support for BDS. Jewish groups of all stripes are ‘stunned’ and ‘outraged’ and even, in many cases have rejected the entire statement altogether.

The saying that occupation exists best in the dark, explains the level of controversy surrounding use of the word genocide and apartheid to describe the Israeli system. It also explains why, what is a simple fact to those acquainted to the reality on the ground, has caused so much confusion and strife to those who are not. When generalities are made, distinctions are muddled and those with the best of intentions are left to interpret meanings, or completely confused by all the insidious details.

Generally speaking there are three views about using ‘apartheid’ to describe Israel’s political system, as compared to South Africa. Zionist defenders are completely against use of the term, charging it as ‘anti-Semitic’, with no meaningful discussion of the issues. By dismissing the criticism, they fail to account for the basic facts on the ground, and reveal their limitations in understanding or wanting to know the severe injustices taking place, in their name. Then there are activists, academic and legal experts who support use of the term. As a matter of convenience, they borrow it from South African apartheid, which most people know to be reprehensible, to make the Palestinian case. They say though it is not entirely representative, the underlying racism and discrimination are the same and due to advances made in South Africa, it is politically expedient to leverage the parallels and draw on the advances of the anti-Apartheid movement, as a case for boycott. Finally, even among Palestinians and solidarity activists, there are internal disagreements by those that argue that, because it is borrowed from South Africa, the term fails to portray the complex nature of the Israeli system and therefore leads to more confusion, instead of further understanding.

Most people would agree that the only way to create a solution and put an end to the violence, is to first engage in an honest analysis of the situation. Still generalities are made, distinctions are muddled and those with the best of intentions are left to interpret meanings, or worse, completely confused by all of the insidious details of the system at work. This can be seen with Jimmy Carter’s well intentioned book titled, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, which actually feeds into these misconceptions. Carter’s assertion is that Apartheid is alive and well in the West Bank and Gaza, but he sidesteps the system within Israel implying that the situation is generally fine. Yet, within Israel, the parallels more accurately represent Apartheid, and the case can be made originating from the basic laws alone; and the effects lead to the cultural genocide2 of Palestinian-Israeli identity. In fact, the system of domination and militarized control of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, more accurately reflects one on the path of a slow, but very real ethnic cleansing3.

Regardless of one’s opinion of how to frame the political situation – according to international law, article 1 “apartheid is a crime against humanity and that inhuman acts resulting from the policies and practices of racial segregation and discrimination”. In other words an official policy of separation and “economically and politically oppressing the nonwhite population” in South Africa. So actually from within Israel, the parallels more accurately represent apartheid, and the case can be made originating from the basic laws alone.

In addition to the legal system of segregation, it becomes necessary to engage in ethnic cleansing or “mowing the lawn” every few years, as some Israeli lawmakers honestly put it. In fact, the system in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, more accurately reflects one on the path of a slow, but very real genocide which is defined under international law as: “any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part1; imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; [and]forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”

Still Israeli leaders know to the outside world, they must walk the fine line of upholding the appearance of a democracy, while maintaining its Jewish character. Thus, the conflict for both, extremely dependent peoples – becomes ultimately, a war of public opinion. Perhaps Israel’s main success in battle, lies in its public relations campaign. Since its inception in 1948, it has waged in the world’s most cunning PR campaign in history. How to make it possible for Jews escaping transfer, persecution and genocide, would flee directly to a land where they committed transfer, persecution and genocide – of millions of Palestinians – which continues today.

Just last week such a public relations stunt designed to make the Israeli government appear to show compassion (for animals) and win global support, was the rescue of zoo animals from besieged Gaza. In the article Israel helps evacuate animals as ‘world’s worst zoo’ in Gaza closes Vienna-based animal rights group declares, “Due to poor conditions and the lack of ability to continue proper care for the animals in the zoo of Khan Yunis, we were asked to assist and coordinate the transfer of these animals to zoos in Israel and around the world.” The implication is that Palestinian savages can’t even take care of animals. Meanwhile there’s not one single mention of the completely debilitating siege, lack of access to food, clean water and building supplies, or the indiscriminate bombings. “All the while there were sounds of explosions in the background, reminding us where we are and what the animals had to endure” fully displaying who the true savages are by prioritizing rescuing zoo animals, from their own barbarity; over the starved and besieged people of Gaza.

Even some well meaning supporters of a ‘two-state solution’, point to Palestinians within Israel who are allowed to vote, as if this act alone implies a functional democracy. Adding to the profound confusion, is that it appears to be one of the most multi-racial places on earth! Of course racism against Black Jews within Israeli society is well documented, yet largely dismissed. While in South Africa, the practice of racism was much easier to identify, due to separate laws for “Whites”, versus “non-Whites”. Yet in Israel, despite the color of your skin — your status under law is determined if you are Jew, (whether you are religious or not-making it a definition of race) or non-Jew.

The Formula for Dispossession
Since its inception, the very basis of Zionist ideology is personified in the Israeli ‘Law of Return’ of 1950, which states very clearly that any Jew in the world – spanning three generations, are allowed to ‘return’ to the ‘promised land’ of over 2000 years ago. This law stands in stark contrast to laws for Palestinians which forbids 6 million Palestinians who were displaced in the wars of 1948 and 1967, from returning to their own homes of less than several decades ago.

Jewish returnees need a place to live! Since 1950, the “Absentee Property Law”, has ensured the new immigrant settlers a comfortable home, initially fully in tact with its cherished former inhabitants belongings. by applying this law transfer was ensured, for those forced to leave their property after 1948,  and the same law was later applied to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza after the 1967 war.

Meanwhile Palestinian residents of Jerusalem experience the destruction of property and economic opportunities, cultural identity and heritage. Under occupation, they are considered “permanent residents,” whose residency permits can be taken away if they go abroad for more than 7 years or without a re-entry permit. Jews may have dual citizenship, but a non-Jewish Jerusalemite loses their residency if acquiring additional citizenship.

Palestinian communities in East Jerusalem also endure the same systematic process as the West Bank, in which the Wall which leads to house demolitions, property confiscation, forced displacement, isolation and a complete denial of access to social services etc. Such practices found in Jerusalem, can be widely seen extending from the Galilee, to the Nakab and the Jordan Valley, also known as the ‘Judea Triangle’ – and are entirely indicative of what is taking place in the West Bank. When added with the sum of its parts, the greater context and an objective analysis, the recipe is clear to see.

It does not take a mathematical genius to recognize the agenda at work, once the practices and the formula is understood. Since the founding of Israel in 1948, the writing was on the wall as the basic laws supplemental policies equal the clearing of Palestinians, while populating the land with Zionist settlers. An objective analysis is critically needed to see beyond the smokescreen of misinformation.

Despite minor differences in practice, Zionists across the board agree on one thing: the right of a Jewish state to exist. For Palestinians here in lies the fundamental, inherent contradiction: Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish democracy, unequivocally means a disaster for Palestinian identity, culture, sovereignty and equality – both within Israel and the oPt. Expansionist and exclusionary policies, do not differentiate within or outside the green line – and they are made possible only through expulsion and marginalization of the natives. In addition to ‘regular’ apartheid of separation – or Palestinian banto-state hood, it becomes necessary to take it beyond Apartheid – in order to fulfill the divine prophecy of ‘Eretz’, or Greater Israel of which Zionism is based.

Despite minor differences, Zionists agree on one thing: the right of a Jewish state to exist. Here in lies the fundamental, inherent contradiction: Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, unequivocally means a disaster for Palestinian identity, culture, sovereignty and equality. Expansionist and exclusionary policies, do not differentiate within or outside the green line – and are made possible only through expulsion and marginalization of Palestinians.  What is obvious, is that Israel as a state ‘for the Jews’, leads directly to the oppression and subjugation of Palestinians. Herein, lies the inherent contradiction and underlying racism: the implication is that it is naïve, unrealistic, perhaps ideal but definitely impossible, to live as equals on this land, if Israel continues to be allowed to define itself exclusively as a Jewish state.

The struggle for justice is universal and one need not be Palestinian or Black to see the truth, as honest Israeli editor stated in his article  Zionism Today is an Illusion “the occupation and apartheid will necessarily lead to the creation of a binational state — one that is, in essence, anti-Zionist. Anyone ever expecting Israel to end the occupation, either voluntarily or via international pressure, needs to think again. We are on course to become a binational state, and Jews should plan accordingly.  And any Jew who believes this binational state will necessarily be a hell of religious, tribal and fundamentalist war will just have to go back to the Diaspora.”

After decades of complete ineptitude of so called global ‘leaders’, Palestinians, #BLM and our supporters, are done relying on others for a solution – to the illusion of democracy, in Israel or the US. Towards that end the Movement for Black Rights has declared its support for Boycott Divestment Sanctions and #Arabs4BlackLives has responded with its unequivocal support. It is due time for those on the front lines, to define in our own terms and claim our rights, in practice, as recognized by all human rights and international law standards-and end the acquiescence of apartheid and genocide, in part and in full–both here, in historic Palestine and beyond.


A shortened version of this article can be found originally published at TeleSur English here.