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Can you call Israel an apartheid state?

Posted by Don McLenaghen on June 21, 2010

As some of our of you may know; recently the Toronto Pride Committee (TPC) denied the group QAIA (Queers Against Israeli Apartheid) to participate in the Pride Day parade. TPC was forced to do this because of intensive pressure and legal intimidation from hawkish Israeli lobbyists and a threat to cut funding from a similarly intimidated Toronto city council.

Those who are against the Israeli treatment of non-Jews in Israel or the Palestinians in the occupied territories, claim Israel is an apartheid state. Those who support the official Israeli lines, condemn those who use this term, apartheid, as being anti-Semitic and are misusing the term to denigrate and vilify “the Jew!”

The conflict in Palestine/Israel has been a long and bloody one. It seems uncontroversial that Israel has used disproportionate force but it is also true that most Israelis genuinely live in a constant state of fear from deadly violence. Both sides have an agenda and have shown in the past little reluctance to use whatever event to gain propaganda points. Skepticism can help here, by separating the rhetoric from the ‘facts’…creating at least the environment for honest debate on the issues.

So back to the TPC, QAIA and skepticism; I wanted to check out the claim that Israel was participating in apartheid. So I thought I could make it a case study in political skepticism.

The first thing we need to do is define what apartheid is. Fortunately for us (and not so much Africa) South Africa, in its horrible racial discrimination, forced the UN to codify (in the resolution “International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid”) what exactly defines apartheid. It is divided into five parts: (paraphrased)

1) Denial to a racial group of life or liberty by the use of harm (physical or psychological), arbitrary arrest or the denial of freedoms or dignity

2) Deliberate Impositions on a racial group living conditions designed to physically destroy that group in whole OR in part

3) Legislative measures intended to deny a racial group political, economic or social participation in the country and deliberately preventing that group’s full development.

a. Denial of the right to leave or return

b. Denial of the right of freedom of movement

c. Among others (these seem most salient to our analysis)

4) Any legislative measures intended to divide the population alone racial lines

a. Isolating racial groups into separate geographic enclaves or reserves

b. Prohibitions of legal marriage between racial groups

c. The expropriation of land belonging to one racial groups for the use of another

5) Persecutions of groups or organizations, by the denial of rights, because of their opposition to apartheid.

From this we see on important theme, that of ‘racial group’. We also see a reference (both explicit and implicit) to country or nation. In that, apartheid is inflicted on the citizens of its own nation. This leads us to our first fact/propaganda distinctions. The West Bank and Gaza are technically occupied territory and not part of Israel proper. If those who desire a ‘greater Israel’ (which would see the annexation of the occupied territory) get their way, then the territory recognised now as Palestine, would count in our discussion; however for the moment it does not. This does not mean one cannot condemn Israel’s actions in the occupied territories but one cannot use those actions to support a claim of apartheid…yet.  We shall still continue our analysis but our now limited to Israel proper.

So, if we are going to apply the term “apartheid” (leaving the other aspects for now) to Israel, we must answer the question – is it a racial state? We must ask, does the government see Israel as a ‘Jewish’ state in the sense of the religion or as a race? Does it provide preferential treatment of one racial group (let’s assume those of Jewish decent) and disadvantageous treatment of those of another racial group (those of Arab/Palestinian decent).

First, we shall look at Israeli marriage laws. These laws forbid the marriage of people outside their religious group. So a Jew may only marry a Jew, a Muslim to a Muslim…etc. “Mixed” marriages performed outside Israel are recognised in Israel. Now for Jews, this law is interpreted harshly for only orthodox (or religious) Jews may be married; secular or ‘converted’ Jews are seen as ‘not Jewish enough’ to be married. This seems to make it look more religious than racial.

Second, there is the “Law of Return”, which makes it a right of any one of “Jewish ancestry” to emigrate to Israel. The term ‘ancestry’ is a racial term. This seems to provide preferential treatment to ‘racial’ Jews to both immigrate to Israel and, at least in the past, to become automatic citizens. This is in stark contrast to the policy towards Palestinians or Arabs. In the “Prevention of Infiltration Law”, it strictly prohibits Palestinians (and Arabs) from ‘re-entering’ Israel.

The “Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law” (although not using racial terms) denies the spouse of an Israeli citizen, citizenship themselves IF they are from the West Bank or Gaza. Because the bill affects almost exclusively Israeli Arabs (those being the ones to marry Palestinians) it may be seen as adding some support to the racialization of Israel.

The Jewish National Fund (JNF), a non-profit organization that is closely entwined with the Israeli governments is responsible for the purchase and development of ‘Jewish’ settlements. When the Supreme Court of Israel ruled that the JNF’s refusal to sell land to Israeli Arabs to be discrimination, the Israeli government circumvented the court by guaranteeing the JNF that any land it sold to Arabs would be compensated by a gift of land from the Israeli Land Authority (ILA) so as to ensure that ‘Jewish’ ownership of land is not diminished.  The JNF selects 10 out of 22 directors of the ILA, giving it huge influence over this government agency. The ILA controls 93% of the lands of Israel (either directly, through long term leases or via the JNF which controls 12% of Israeli national lands). Because the Supreme Court thought this land use discriminatory and the government’s actions to perpetuate this discrimination, based on ethnicity/race, this also adds to the evidence Israel is a racial state.

Lastly, working on the other side, the “Palestinian land laws”, perpetuate what some call the ghetto of Palestine by forbidding Palestinians to sell their land to non-Palestinians; in effect tying them to the land like serfs. Now this law is also intended to prevent the continual erosion of West Bank land to Jewish settlers but considering that the settlements are allowed to grow via other legal means, it seems the effect of this law is to ensure racial isolation.

Now, it may not be a clear cut case, but it does seem plausible (although not necessary) to claim that Israel is a racial state; that this claim is valid from a politically sceptical point of view. Those who claim that to even make such claims is innately anti-Semetic, untenable and simply propaganda are wrong.  Now, some will argue that what is in Israel now is nothing like what happened in South Africa during its apartheid period…that is true and irrelevant. The fact that one person steals $100 and another $10,000, does not mean the first is not guilty of theft; this is (thanks to the UN) not a crime of degree but of kind. So, having determined that one could claim Israel is a racial state, is it guilty of breaking any of the criteria we set out in the beginning?

Points 1(Denial of life and liberty)and 2(Physical destruction) seems very evident in the West Bank and Gaza (although Israeli officials may justify their actions, the results are the same) but as we stated earlier, until Israel annexes these territories they cannot be a part of our analysis. Point 5 (Legal suppression of apartheid groups) may be true but I have not found any evidence in Israel itself, although non-legal pressure has been evident, this also seems to not support the case.

Points 3 (right of return and movements) and 4(racial segregation), however do seem to provide some evidence of apartheid. As mentioned before, the marriage laws seem more religious based than racial but coupled with the implicit limitation of spousal immigration and land sales, it is plausible to use this as evidence. The most damning evidence of apartheid is the unequal treatment, based on race, to rights of return, immigration, internal movement, government support for housing and etc.

In conclusion, I am not saying that Israel is or is not an apartheid state but using the skills of political skepticism we have determined that it is a viable point of view. That, returning to the point of origin of this article, Toronto’s Pride Committee decision to deny Queers Against Israel Apartheid participation in the Pride Parade was unjust and censorship. Although, one may not agree with QAIA’s views, their views are possible and not hate speech or anti-Semitism. However, it is an untenable position to hold that criticism of Israel is anti-Semitism; it is possible to be both pro-Zionist and anti-Israel or to be pro-Israel and anti-Israeli policy with regards to Palestinians. Ultimately remember, keep your eyes open and minds on!

2 Responses to “Can you call Israel an apartheid state?”

  1. secular or ‘converted’ Jews are seen as ‘not Jewish enough’ to be married. This seems to make it look more religious than racial

    This would appear to be racial, and not religious: if merely religious, then it would apply equally to anyone who converted. You can look at it from a position of necessity: neither religion nor race alone constitute being ‘Jewish enough’ for this to apply, but the racial background (i.e. being born into the religion) is a necessary requirement.

    Incidentally: under UN definitions, discrimination against on the basis of religion (or nation of origin) constitutes racism. I don’t know about Israel, but Canada ratified that particular motion-thingie. I’m sure I can dig it up if you want the specific reference.

    The fact that one person steals $100 and another $10,000, does not mean the first is not guilty of theft; this is (thanks to the UN) not a crime of degree but of kind

    You’ve got ‘kind’ and ‘degree’ switched here, just a typo alert. Good point otherwise.

    but as we stated earlier, until Israel annexes these territories they cannot be a part of our analysis.

    Israel has already annexed chunks of what used to be part of Palestine. Those parts should be part of your analysis.

    I am not saying that Israel is or is not an apartheid state but using the skills of political skepticism we have determined that it is a viable point of view.

    Interesting move. “I have here a list of items that are both necessary and sufficient to be classified as an apartheid state. Israel checks every box. Therefore I cannot conclude that Israel is an apartheid state (but it’s not wrong to say that it is)”.

    Alternatively: “it looks like a duck, acts like a duck, quacks like a duck. But it still not might be a duck”. Resisting your own conclusion at this point seems a bit silly, frankly, though I can empathize with your wish to do so.

  2. […] Can you call Israel an apartheid state? « Radio Freethinker […]

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