by: Rev. Cheryl Hauer, Associate Editor
Every so often, a word makes its way into the public consciousness, stepping from the shadows into the forefront of discussion, debate and media attention. “Apartheid” is just such a word, coming originally from Afrikaans where its literal meaning is “the state of being apart.” It is used to describe the system of racial segregation in South Africa from 1948 to 1994 that stemmed from deeply held racist beliefs among the ruling white minority. Today, Israel’s enemies have resurrected the word, tweaked its definition and are using it widely in an attempt to delegitimize the Jewish state.
The International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid officially defined apartheid as “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 1998 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Courts went further with their definition: “the crime of apartheid is defined as inhumane acts…committed in the context of an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime.”
Since neither of these definitions can legitimately be applied to the State of Israel, the meaning has had to be tweaked in order to make such an accusation seem plausible. In so doing, much of the horror of real apartheid has been lost, leaving one on-line dictionary to define it simply as “a political system in which people of different races were separated.” Politicians, reporters, commentators and bloggers the world over are using the term to attack Israel when they unfortunately don’t seem to know what it really means. In so doing, they are insulting the true victims of South African apartheid in the worst possible way by minimizing their pain and suffering.
South African apartheid was an officially structured policy with legislation that institutionalized bigotry and the oppression of minorities. Throughout the course of its existence, dozens of laws were passed to define and enforce systematic segregation and deprive minorities of social and civil rights. Four racial classifications were instituted, separating “blacks, coloureds, Indians and whites.” Over three million non-white South Africans were relocated to segregated neighborhoods where they were confined with no freedom of movement. Blacks were deprived of their citizenship and had no right to vote. They were prohibited from running businesses in, or even entering white areas. Beaches, schools, buses, drinking fountains, public restrooms and benches were strictly segregated, as were public swimming pools, graveyards, theaters and parks. Medical care and education at every level were well below standard for non-whites. The Churches Native Laws Amendment Act of 1957 prohibited blacks from attending white churches. Legislation strictly prohibited dating, cohabitation or marriage between whites and non-whites, and efforts were even made to restrict the number of black and coloured births.
Israel’s Declaration of Independence clearly states that minorities will be protected, ensuring complete equality of social and political rights to all its citizens irrespective of race, religion, language or culture. Today, Israel’s non-Jewish minority enjoys full citizenship with voting rights, representation in the Knesset and participation in the political system. Israeli Arabs also serve in senior diplomatic and government positions including the military and as Supreme Court justices.
It is illegal for employers to discriminate on the basis of race. All citizens are protected by fair employment practices legislation and minorities are guaranteed a fair and impartial hearing should they feel they have been discriminated against. Medical care is also provided for Israeli citizens, and a recent survey among Israeli Arabs indicated that the level of care is satisfactory and the same for all citizens. Further, Jewish and Arab students study together in universities across the nation while Arab professors study, research and teach freely as well.
The fact that Israel is a Jewish state does not make it an apartheid state. It merely means that the identity of the majority determines national character, much like America as a Christian nation. The traditions, language and customs of the majority are given full expression while the rights of minorities are fully protected. Israel is a thriving democracy where non-Jewish citizens have an equal right to express traditions and customs. For example, Israel’s civil service allows non-Jewish employees to celebrate their own religious holidays without loss of pay or leave time.
Although Jews and Arabs often choose to live separately because of cultural and religious differences, that is freedom of choice and not segregation. Schools are sometimes separate as well, as Arab parents exercise the right to educate their children in Arab or Muslim schools. But every day, parks, walking trails, doctors’ waiting rooms, malls and restaurants are filled with Jews and non-Jews, living their lives side by side.
The disputed territories are a different story, however. The majority of Jewish Israelis are willing to surrender parts of these areas such as Gaza and the so-called “West Bank,” in return for true peace. Israel has repeatedly sought to end the situation by working toward an agreement that would create a Palestinian state while giving recognition and security to Israel. In the interim, Israel faces an ongoing dilemma. Granting rights of citizenship to Palestinians in these areas would be tantamount to annexation and would end any prospect for Palestinian statehood. While Palestinians in Gaza and PA-controlled areas have the right to vote, their leadership has not held elections in several years, thus depriving them of a voice in their own government.
In addition, on-going terror activity constantly forces Israel to make decisions, such as occasionally closing certain roads, limiting travel, or building a security fence, that are labeled “apartheid” actions. But these are security measures. South African Judge Richard Goldstone has written, “[In the West Bank] there is no intent to maintain an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group. South Africa’s enforced racial separation was intended to permanently benefit the white minority to the detriment of the other races. By contrast, Israel has agreed to the existence of a Palestinian state in Gaza and almost all of the West Bank, and is calling for the Palestinians to negotiate the parameters.”
And so Israel struggles on, a Jewish state, a democratic state, a state with some big problems to solve. But an apartheid state? Not on your life, as the facts reveal.
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