Accusations of Israeli Apartheid Are Completely Disconnected from the Ugly Realities of South African History

January 15, 2021 | Eugene Kontorovich
About the author: Eugene Kontorovich is a professor at George Mason University Antonin Scalia School of Law, director of its Center for International Law in the Middle East, and a scholar at the Kohelet Policy Forum in Jerusalem.

This week, the Israeli human-rights group B’tselem issued a statement claiming that the Jewish state as a whole practices “apartheid,” a term it has heretofore avoided. The statement appeared in English, and was duly reported on by CNN, NBC News, and other major American news outlets, suggesting that the group, once well respected in Israel, is now engaged in what Matti Friedman has termed the “moral striptease.” Through careful comparison with the realities of apartheid-era South Africa, Eugene Kotorovich dissects B’tselem’s argument:

Despite massive systematic oppression of racial and ethnic minorities in countries from China to Sri Lanka to Sudan, the apartheid label has never been applied to those countries or any other country by the U.S. or anyone else. Invoking the heinous crime of apartheid [is to accuse] Jews, uniquely among the peoples of the world, of one of the most heinous crimes, while also judging the Jewish state by a metric not applied to any other country. And the clear agenda is to delegitimize Israel entirely: the remedy for apartheid is not reform, it is the abolition of the regime itself and a total reshaping of the government.

Under [South Africa’s] Reservation of Separate Amenities Act of 1953, municipal grounds could be reserved for a particular race, creating, among other things, separate beaches, buses, hospitals, schools, and universities. Inside of Israel there is no separation of this sort. In Judea and Samaria Israelis and Palestinians buy at the same stores, work together, etc. In South Africa public beaches, swimming pools, some pedestrian bridges, drive-in cinema parking spaces, parks, and public toilets were segregated. Restaurants and hotels were required to bar blacks. In Israel and all territories under its jurisdiction, Palestinians patronize the same shops and restaurants as Jews do.

Some policies do resemble apartheid rules—in particular, the Palestinian Authority’s prohibition, with severe penalties, of selling any real estate to Jews. Ironically, the closest thing in the region to an apartheid policy is not mentioned [by B’tselem] at all.

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