People are eager to throw monickers around. Nazi, Socialist, Apartheid…while it’s cynically satisfying to throw zingers at your foes, sometimes, doing so legitimizes your foe. Can’t quite see it? Let’s look at Israeli “apartheid” as a case in point.
Apartheid, as it was practiced in South Africa, is characterized by the following major pieces of legislation:
- The Population Registration Act of 1950-South Africans over 18 were issued identity cards indicating the carriers ethnic and racial background.
- The Group Areas Act of 1950 that determined where South Africans could live according to race.
- The Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act of 1949 prohibited the marriage of people from two different races, further enforced by the Immorality Act of 1950, which criminalized sexual relations between Whites and Blacks.
- The 1951 Bantu Administrations Act, created separate administrative structures to deal with Black and White citizens, paving the way for complete ethnic separation between whites and blacks.
- Reservation of Separate Amenities Act of 1953, which allowed municipalities to declare city centers and municipal areas as segregated by race, akin to Jim Crow Segregation in the United States (Whites Only, Coloreds Only).
- The 1953 Bantu Education Act, which ran different curriculums for Blacks and Whites, preparing Blacks for menial, working class labor in White service, with separate universities for blacks, Indians and colored people.
- The 1970 Black Homeland Citizenship Act, stripped black South Africans of South African citizenship, making them citizens of the ten autonomous regions or bantustans that were allocated to South African blacks.
I didn’t mention the legal trickery used by the Nationalist party to strip blacks, and coloreds from voting, leaving Whites the sole voting demographic in South Africa (Asians did not have right to vote), you get the point…
How does this compare with Israel today?
The Declaration of Independence of the State of Israel called for the establishment of a Jewish state with equality of social and political rights, irrespective of religion, race, or sex. As Israel doesn’t have a constitution, the rights of citizens are determined by Israel’s Basic Laws, which the Supreme Court has ruled as guaranteeing the same rights to all citizens.
Israeli Arabs are citizens of Israel, have the right to vote, and have been represented at the Knesset since the very first Knesset in 1949. Some may argue that representation is low (11/120), and that only “good” (understand Uncle Tom) Arabs are promoted. Another topic for another day.
In practice, discrimination between Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs is reflected in education, housing, employment, access to services and civic duty. Military service guarantees benefits that Israeli Arabs are exempted from mandatory military service. A rule that NGOs are pushing to change, not only for Israeli Arabs, but also Ultra Orthodox Jews.
These discriminations are one of practice (intractable from the communitarian tensions of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict transpiring into political decisions and allocations) but are not part of a legal complex meant to guarantee discrimination, and/or separate development between Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs. One could argue that institutional practice over time amounts to unofficial policy. It’s a very valid argument.
The more contentious aspects, that could be construed as elements of an Apartheid system, are the prohibition of intermarriage, but this does not single out Israeli Arabs, and the ethnic reference on identity cards, which was removed in 2005, Arabic is also one of the official languages, portions of TV slots allocated to Arab language programs, and legal documents (not always consistently) made available in Arabic.
Clearly, the State of Israel cannot be accused of segregating it’s Arab population, but the outcry of course is not over Israel, but over the West Bank, and here is where this claim of apartheid is both a potent political tool, and a short-fused firecracker in your palm.
This is not a conspiracy theory.
Palestinians living in the West Bank (and not all Israeli-Arabs are Palestinian) are not Israeli citizens, the West Bank was wrestled from Jordan in 1967, is not ruled by Israeli Law (although the military occupation includes legal aspects under Martial Law), but a combination of various legal codes, such as the Basic Laws of 2002, governing the West Bank. Scholars argue that Jordanian Law still applies (as well as aspects of British Law) over the West Bank. That is true for instance, in the case of the Jordanian Penal Code, covering such things as honor killings, which was recently discussed by PA officials.
Palestinians in the West Bank are not Israeli citizens and are not ruled under Israeli Law, what then is the point of throwing apartheid around when it is so easily disproven?
It is claimed that Israel exercises apartheid over Palestinians in the West Bank, by discriminating in favor of Israeli settlers, but it isn’t apartheid unless you consider that not only Israel, the state, but also the West Bank as Israeli soil. This is exactly what supporters of the One-State Solution would like to argue: that the confluence of interests in the West Bank, and the reality of the occupation preclude a two-state solution, and advance one state for all people without religious or ethnic affiliation. Accusations of Apartheid, influence popular opinion’s mindset into considering Israel and the West Bank as de facto, one state, and one of legal and institutional segregation.
The viability of such an option is often argued as naïve, idealistic, a tad hippie-ish, and impossible given the current state of affairs, and I would agree.
Yitzak Rabin’s, ever a pragmatist, realized that if the Jewish state wanted to remain Jewish and democratic (and thus able to apply its principles of non-discrimination, and equality before the law), two states were inevitable, many Zionists argue this today, and even more so, withdrawal from Gaza in ’05, and Barak’s proposal before the 2nd Intifada speak to that as well. Mahmud Abbas’ successful push for state recognition at the UN suggests that Palestinians don’t believe in it either, and I doubt that Khaled Meeshal has any intention of living side by side with a Jew that isn’t within knife’s reach in the middle of the night.
But, more than just contradicting facts on the ground, contending that there is only one state, in the current state of affairs, backfires against its proponents.
Considering that there is only one state (Israel), and not two (Israel and Palestine), legitimizes all settlements heretofore illegal as legal on Israeli soil, and supports hardline settlers in the assertion that the land of Israel is theirs and theirs alone, and will not halt settlements, or the occupation but encourage and accelerate them.
Given the persistence of the occupation, the consolidation of settlements (such as Ariel University-already criticized as a political rather than academic tool), and the government’s pursuit of new settlements since November, it appears as though the current administration intends to annex as much of the West Bank as possible, some will say all, given free rein.
Whether this is true or not, it does not speak of the democratic pluralistic state that proponents of a one-state solution fantasize about, but rather of the apartheid state which Israel is wrongfully accused of today. And that’s what should be borne in mind when making hyperbolic comparisons: the real life consequences of a one-state solution for two people engaged in one of the most protracted conflicts on the planet. I’ll give you a hint: Democracy and We Are the World are unlikely to be either the founding principles or national anthem.
It is satisfying to call Israel an Apartheid state, it would be mush less satisfying if it were one.
With the upcoming elections, the question of minority rights is certain to hit the forefront, and are already a contentious issue for Israeli-Arab, especially those who consider themselves Palestinian. It is essential that the stakes in addressing discrimination, and increased representation, are made clear to those who would abstain. Their non-participation, is unlikely to bring about an awareness of their demands, but increase the sense that they obstinately refuse to participate in Israeli politics, and that plays into the hands of Shas and Ozma Leyisrael, who argue just that.
Let me suggest some political trickery: Israeli-Arabs should vote, en masse, but not for Balad, or other minority parties, but for Jewish parties most likely to break Likud’s control over the Knesset. Why? First, because stopping far-right extremists is a much more pressing matter than voting for minority parties with very little influence, out of ethnic affiliation. Second, because it will make Israeli-Arabs a major voting block of an elected party, which means more influence and political agency, than they could achieve by voting for Israeli-Arab parties. As long as Israeli-Arab parties champion Israeli-Arab rights, you can always argue that it’s a minority asking for favorable discrimination; if it’s Tzipi Livni who argues that to keep her constituency, watch other parties jockey with her for votes.
While this may not pan out in the 2013 election, it could pay to keep on eye on political changes over time, and use the vote strategically. It worked in 1999 (94% of the Arab electorate voted for Barak), and led to the last proposal to date made over the West Bank. That it failed, and hello Second Intifada is besides the point: mass mobilization by Israeli-Arabs can make a difference, but without fairness in return from majority parties, the whole process is moot.
Being the underdog is tough, you don’t get many bones thrown your way is what I’m saying. South Africans, and African-Americans fought for the right to vote under apartheid and segretationist systems. Israeli-Arabs have the right to vote, they should use it.