Calling BS on BDS - Israeli Apartheid

The first article in the BDS Handbook is “ISRAELI APARTHEID” by Noura Erakat (p.7-8). Ms. Erakat’s article is first because while this is put together by the “US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation,” like most anti-Israel groups, this group and Erakat have switched from advocating an end to the occupation (which westerners usually think means the one started in 1967, but really refers to the one from 1948, i.e. all of Israel) to an end to the “Apartheid State of Israel.” No one would have asked black South Africans to simply make peace with the Apartheid government if it just made a few changes because an apartheid system is beyond remedy. The only solution to an apartheid state is its total dissolution and replacement with a completely different system of government.

Erakat begins by asserting that Jewish statehood in a democratic system is impossible due to demographics that she claims will make Israel Jewish-minority state by 2025, though she of course does not provide any source for such unsupported statements. In order to deal with this impossibility, Erakat asserts that Israel has established an apartheid system in order to control the non-Jewish population an ensure Jewish rule continues.

This is of course nonsense, but we shall take on each of Ms. Erakat’s arguments one at a time to prove each and every one of them to be the lies they are.

today [Israel] has made its aversion to secular coexistence explicit in its demand for recognition of itself as a Jewish state from Palestinian leadership.

Ms. Erakat really must read our article explaining the need for Israel to be recognized as the Jewish State. Unless the Palestinian leadership recognizes the right of the Jewish People to a state of our own - without simultaneously renouncing their own right to a state of their own of course - any peace treaty will be meaningless. Unless the Palestinians teach their children that peace with Israel means accepting that the Jews have just as much a right to be here as they do, they will continue to grow up wanting to kill us and will throw out that treaty whenever they are strong enough to do so.

Despite what Erakat would like you to believe, Israel is the most secular state in the Middle East and derives its authority from Basic Law (Israel’s de facto constitution) and the will of the people, not from religious law (though that is one of many sources for some legislation.) If Ms. Erakat actually cared about separation of church and state, literally any other state in the Middle East would be a far more appropriate target. She of course doesn’t care - or mention - that the draft Palestinian Constitution lists “Palestine” as “part of the Arab homeland,” (Article 2) Islam as its official religion (Article 5) and the principles of shari’a as “a main source for legislation” (Article 7). Which only goes to show that this isn’t about religion and state, it is about a specific religion (Judaism) and a specific state (Israel).

Consider that within the Israeli legal system, there are twenty discriminatory laws—seventeen of which are discriminatory on their face in that they only relate to the rights of Jews in Israel or alternatively abridge the rights of Palestinian-Israelis.

Of course Ms. Erakat does not list or link to these “twenty discriminatory laws,” but one can assume she is referring to Adalah’s list of Discriminatory Laws. This New Israel Fund funded organization spends its resources blackening Israel’s name all over the world including at the infamous “Anti-Racism” conference in Durban back in 2001, helping to jump-start the BDS movement at a conference roundly criticized as peddling classic anti-Semitism. But even this list (which is actually more the 20 listed by Erakat) includes bills that are not even laws and many that are not racist at all. According to Adalah, making limited restrictions on convicted terrorists’ access to their lawyers is racist, despite the fact that numerous such prisoners have used these meetings to communicate with terrorist groups (something that of course Adalah fails to mention). Another “discriminatory” law sets a time period before owners are able to sell or rent to foreigners, but foreigner is defined as a non-Israeli, not a non-Jew, so there is nothing racist about this at all. How dare Israel make it more difficult for convicted terrorists to communicate with their comrades or set minor limitations on selling property to non-citizens?! The horror!

A complex web of 1,500 military laws define the fate of Palestinians in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem

Given that the West Bank is run by military administration, this is to be expected, not condemned as shocking or racist. A military administration, just like the one the United States established in Germany following World War II, would have to have thousands of laws in place governing how the administrating power and the locals must behave.

However, Gaza hasn’t been occupied by Israel since 2005 and the only Israeli laws that are relevant to the territory relate to borders and airspace, something every sovereign state has the right to dictate. Eastern Jerusalem is governed by the same laws as the rest of the State of Israel and the only reason to include it here is not to highlight separate laws, but to continue the fiction that it exists as a separate entity at all.

More broadly, apartheid refers to any social system that separates and discriminates against people based on race or ethnicity when that system is institutionalized by laws or decrees.

Of course when painting Israel as an apartheid state, Erakat her ilk must resort to “broad” characterizations that pervert the term and rob it of all significance. Whereas South Africa was run by a system of countless laws regulating what non-whites could or could not do, where they could go or live, which hospitals they could use, which doors they could enter through and which doctors could treat them, that prevented them from voting, holding office or citizenship, restricted their professions and much more, Israel has no such laws at all. All of Israel’s citizens have equal rights before the law, though it does, like all other countries, at times have difficulties translating these rights into reality.

Not only does Israel not have a South African-style quota system for the number of Arabs allowed to be employed in certain professions or departments, Israel has actually engaged in affirmative action campaigns for university admission and state workers with great success in some areas (universities) and minor but growing success in others (employment).

All countries would be deemed apartheid states if they were held to the Israel standard, but of course no other country needs to worry about this because the issue at hand is not apartheid, but Israel itself.

Whereas in South Africa, apartheid distinguished between whites and non-whites, in Israel the parallel categories are Jews and non-Jews.

This is pure fantasy. Does Israel maintain demographic records of its citizens and residents including their religion and ethnicity? Sure it does. Many if not most countries do. One’s status as a non-Jew, however, does not prevent one from using any state service (unless it is explicitly a religious service, in which case they would use the one for their religion), any job (government or private), or attending any school (although, one would imagine it would be difficult for a non-Jew to gain entry to a religious Jewish school just as it would be difficult for a Jew to gain entry to a religious Muslim school). If anything, recognizing Israel’s minority populations allows for the communities to run their own affairs and schools in a way that would not be possible otherwise. There is a legitimate case to be made for a more equitable distribution of state-funds, but that is a matter for the Knesset to fix, not the UN.

The US government has a hard enough time balancing its own budget, it is hard to see how it would be easier with an international organization sticking its proverbial cook in the Washington kitchen.

In application, the main difference between the two case studies is that in South Africa, the system was created primarily to exploit non-white labor, while in Israel it is implemented in order to control as much land as possible for exclusive Jewish use, however in both cases the purpose and effects of apartheid policies are the exploitation of both land and labor.

Here, Ms. Erakat stumbles over one of the biggest problems: colonial and apartheid systems have traditionally be based on the idea of exploiting the locals for cheap, if not slave, labor. However, in Israel, early Zionist pioneers specifically set out to do the labor themselves, to redeem themselves and the land through work and attempting to turn the anti-Semitic canard of the exploitative Jew on its head.

Therefore, after consciously ignoring Israel’s history of Jews working the land themselves, she tries to paint Palestinians working in Israel as tools in a colonial enterprise. According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics over 100,000 Palestinians currently work in Israel with roughly 70% doing so legally and the rest working without the required permits. It is important to remember that none of these Palestinians are forced to work in Israel at all. These Palestinians choose to do so because they can make often make at least three times the pay they would receive for the same job in Judea and Samaria, while also getting health insurance and other job benefits. Those working illegally also make more money than they would at home, but are often subject to worse working conditions, lower pay and an obvious lack of job security. This should come as no surprise given that the US and all other Western countries have the exact same problem with illegal immigrant workers. Israel has taken steps to curb illegal hiring with mixed success, much like other countries grappling with the same issue.

The idea that Israel should be condemned as an apartheid state because it is struggling with the same exact illegal labor issues as most other democracies is hypocritical at best and anti-Semitic at worst.

The pillars of Israeli apartheid are the The Law of Return (1950) and The Citizenship Law (1952), which allow Jews to freely immigrate to Israel and gain citizenship, but simultaneously deny Palestinians [sic] refugees that same right as guaranteed by United Nations Resolution 194.

There are five main issues that make this entire statement a lie:

  1. There is a big difference between a law giving preferential or different treatment for one group of people than a law that specifically targets another group for exclusion or harm. If any law giving preferential treatment was illegal, then affirmative action programs in Israel and other countries would be illegal as well.

  2. The Law of Return and the Citizenship Law does not prevent non-Jews from applying for or receiving Israeli citizenship. Anyone can apply to move to Israel, but Israel is under no obligation to simply open its borders to anyone and everyone any more than other countries are.

  3. There are many countries that give preferential treatment to ex-patriot non-citizens for immigration purposes without being charged with racism or apartheid. Additionally, Germany, Portugal and Spain have laws easing the path towards citizenship for Jews. Not only are these laws systematically ignored by the BDS Movement, the only time they are referenced is when they demand the same exact laws for Palestinians to Israel or Muslims to Iberia. The hypocrisy inherent in this contradiction shows that BDS-holes don’t actually care about these laws and instead only use them as an excuse to demonize Israel.

  4. Between 1967 and 2001, over 250,000 Palestinians have gained Israeli citizenship through the Laws of Family Reunification (LFR). So over the course of 34 years, Israel took in 1/3 the number of the original Palestinian “refugees” that Erakat claims Israel bars from “returning.” She would likely retort that Israel has since altered the laws of family reunification substantially reducing the number of Palestinians gaining citizenship. However, this law was only amended (to exclude members of enemy states) during the Second Intifada when a significant number of Palestinians who received citizenship under LFR engaged in terrorism (40% of all attacks). If a significant number of North Korean spouses of Americans were engaging in espionage or terrorism, one would expect the US government to pass similar restrictions, without any international outcry.

  5. United Nations Resolution 194 does not guarantee the right of Palestinians to immigrate to and gain citizenship in Israel. Rather, it states (in a non-binding General Assembly Resolution):

refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which, under principles of international law or equity, should be made good by the Governments or authorities responsible.

While Israel rejects the idea of the “Right of Return” for Palestinian “refugees,” it has many times offered to allow a significant number to immigrate to Israel (on top of allowing over a quarter of a million to do so under existing law between 1967 and 2001). The part of UNGA 194 that is never addressed is the part that says those who wish to “return” must also “live in peace with their neighbors.” Such a scenario is impossible without a larger peace treaty in place. This was the Israeli position at the 1949 Lausanne Conference when it offered to take in 100,000 Palestinians (really an additional 80,000 since it had already unilaterally allowed in 20,000). Had the Arab states agreed to this proposition or negotiated under the premise that additional Arab immigration could only happen as part of peaceful relations - as UNGA 194 states! - those 80,000 Palestinians (or more under negotiations) and their descendants would not be in refugee camps but equal citizens of Israel. Israel has offered to take in varying numbers of Palestinians in each subsequent peace offer and has also offered compensation as stipulated by Resolution 194, only to be rebuffed each time.

If “pro-Palestinian” advocates like Noura Erakat actually want to help the Palestinians and see at least some of them “return” to Israel (or get compensation), the most effective way to do so would be to encourage their leaders and people to make peace. However, “activists” like Ms. Erakat are more interested in using the Palestinians as a tool to destroy Israel than helping them realize their “rights.”

According to Azmi Bishara, exiled Palestinian-Israeli politician and scholar, this constitutes a meta-form of apartheid wherein the forcible separation upheld by decree is that which prohibits the return of Palestinians to their lands.

The real “meta” aspect of this accusation is a former Israeli Knesset member asserting that Israel is an apartheid state. Of course there were no black parliamentarians in South Africa and a very limited number of “coloreds” and “Asians,” but all Israeli citizens regardless of race, religion, gender or sexual orientation can both vote and be elected to the Knesset.

What’s more, Bishara isn’t “exiled,” he had to flee Israel after the police opened a criminal investigation based on his “alleged” transferring of sensitive material to Hezbollah during the Second Lebanon War. He then has the audacity to say that “forcible separation [is] upheld by decree” when this is merely Israel maintaining control of its borders. Is America practicing a “meta-form of apartheid” by forcibly separating Mexican families by not just opening its southern border completely?

Today, nearly 5.5 million Palestinians constitute a global diaspora who have the right to return to their home as enshrined by international law but lack the international political will necessary to do so.

The precipitous climb in Palestinian “refugee” numbers is due to the fact that the criteria for a Palestinian refugee is different than for any other refugee in the world. Under normal circumstances, when a refugee gains citizenship in another country, they lose their refugee status and this is precisely why Palestinians were forced into camps and denied citizenship (except for Jordan which gave both camps and citizenship). If this were the case, then the millions of Palestinian citizens Jordan, the West Bank, Gaza and countries around the world may be a “diaspora” community, but they are not refugees under the standard definition of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees… which is why they keep using their own UN agency (UNRWA) that plays by its own rules and lets them keep their refugee moniker regardless.

But again, the best way to ensure any Palestinian “return” would be to encourage the Palestinians to agree to a peace treaty with Israel, something Erakat is manifestly against.

the Absentee Property Law cynically conditions expropriation of land on its abandonment while systematically prohibiting the entry of the land’s Palestinian owners thereby enforcing abandonment.

If anyone is cynically manipulating the situation here, it is Erakat. In her twisted mind, Palestinians who left are not responsible for abandoning their property, but rather Israel is responsible because it refuses to let them return after their attempt to destroy Israel through war failed. What’s more, Erakat makes it seem as though there was no war at all or any security concerns that Israel would have to take into consideration in regards to a hostile population that had just taken part in a violent attempt at genocide. The fact that many the Absentee Property Laws are based on older Ottoman and British laws is also conveniently omitted.

In effect, between 1948 and 1953, Israel established 370 new settlements for Jews only, 350 of which were located on land confiscated as “absentee” property.

There are two important points to remember here:

  1. The population of Israel more than doubled in the years cited by Erakat as the Arab and Muslim world forced out over 850,000 Jews and more Holocaust survivors were able to reach Israel’s shores. The idea that Israel would need to house these people is certainly understandable and the fact that this was often done on land that recently appropriated by the state from former residents who had just engaged in a war against the state is reasonable as well.

  2. While Arabs in Israel were granted citizenship and voting rights after the War of Independence, they remained under military administration until 1966. While this isn’t pretty, it was not done on the basis of racism (otherwise it would not have been temporary) but rather based on security concerns. No one in Israel knew exactly what was going to happen with regards to its new Arab citizens who had just attempted to destroy the nascent Jewish State. Would they be law-abiding citizens or would they be a fifth-column? Would they be loyal to Israel or the Arab states? It was only once Israel found that any threat to its security by its Arab citizens was marginal or could be easily dealt with by the security services, that the military administration was lifted. It is certainly justified to call this decision and other decisions by the Israeli government into question for their wisdom, but given the instability and very real dangers at the time, such actions were within the realm of acceptable actions and were not based on racism.

Since 1978, settlement policies inside the State have focused on settling Jewish populations in the areas outside greater Tel Aviv, especially the Galilee in order to manipulate the local demography.

Given that Israel’s reason for being is for it to be the nation-state of the Jewish people, it is completely reasonable that it would attempt to shore up the Jewish presence in certain areas. This is especially true given the international community’s focus on dividing Israel again and if certain areas of Israel have a non-Jewish majority, it is possible those areas might be earmarked by foreign powers to be taken away from the state. What’s more, Israel encouraging Jews to move to certain areas does nothing to prevent non-Jews from moving to or living in those areas as well.

Land expropriation began in the Occupied Palestinian Territories after Israel occupied the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem in the aftermath of the 1967 Six-Day War.

Yes, state land in Judea and Samaria was subsequently administered to by the State of Israel after Jordan was forced to withdraw. That is the normal state of affairs.

Since 1967, Israel has systematically confiscated Palestinian land in East Jerusalem, Gaza, and the West Bank for settlement expansion.

This is a lie. While there have been situations where Israelis have taken land owned by individual Palestinians, there are also a myriad of examples of Israeli courts forcing these lands returned or compensation paid to the owners. While there are also situations where this has not yet occurred, this is not state-guided and hardly “systematic.”

More importantly, after nearly 50 years, the built up areas of the settlements in Judea and Samaria only take up 1.1% of the land there. At that rate it would take Israel 5000 years to settle the entire territory, hardly systematic confiscation.

The situation is especially harsh in Jerusalem where Israel has embarked on a “Judaization” campaign by disproportionately serving its Jewish residents.

Using the term “Judaization” or “to make Jewish” in regards to Jerusalem or any part of Israel is a disgusting attempt to re-write history. No one would ever characterize renovations in the Vatican as an attempt at “Catholicizing” the city or building in Mecca as “Islamization,” so why is it acceptable to talk about “Judaizing” Jerusalem?

Erakat does however have a legitimate point to make regarding the fact that the municipality disproportionately serves Jewish areas. While there is no such thing as a “Jewish-only” section of Jerusalem, areas with Jewish majorities do have better access to services than those with Arab majorities. The city government has taken steps to address this problem with some success, but much more can and should be done to address this inequity.

That being said, Jerusalem is hardly the first city to have issues properly servicing its poorer and minority areas. While this is a legitimate issue to raise, if someone claims to care about the proper allocation of urban resources to minority populations but only seems to care when those are Israeli cities, then their motives are questionable to say the least. If Jerusalem is brought up as one of many examples around the world, that is certainly acceptable and could even be positive if it yields the desired results.

This is to say nothing of the complex system of Jewish-only roads, checkpoints, settlements, and the Separation Barrier, also known as the Apartheid Wall, in the OPTs which explicitly demonstrate the nature of Israeli apartheid.

This in fact does say nothing about the complex system in Judea and Samaria since none of these things actually exist. Let’s talk about each one of these false allegations individually:

####Jewish-Only Roads

This is the type of lie that is repeated over and over despite the fact that it has been completely and thoroughly debunked and forced major newspaper to issue retractions. Yishai Goldflam, Director of Presspectiva, tackled this in Haaretz (one of the prime offenders who make use of the inaccurate term), saying:

Here are the facts: the state did, indeed, impose restrictions on certain roads in Judea and Samaria several years ago and did not allow Palestinians to travel on them, especially after the eruption of the second intifada. But most of the restrictions were already removed in 2009. Today, most West Bank roads are open to the majority of the Palestinian population. And even at the time those roads were restricted for Israeli use, they were never restricted to Israeli Jews alone. The roads were open to all Israeli citizens – Muslims, Christians, Druze and Circassians. There was never a religious or ethnic-based separation on the roads of Judea and Samaria.

Any restrictions that once were in place were based on security considerations, not racial ones, and were along national lines, not ethnic ones.

There are no “Jewish-only” roads and never were! The same cannot be said for Saudi Arabia, but since the issue for Erakat is Israel and not Israel’s actions, she doesn’t care in the least.

Muslim-only roads

####Checkpoints

The first clue that the checkpoints have nothing to do with race and everything to do with security is the fact that they were first introduced during the First Intifada as violence flared. Had Israel been interested in segregating Judea and Samaria, it would have erected those checkpoints right after the Six Day War, not 20 years later.

More importantly, there is a direct correlation between the level of terrorism and the number of checkpoints. According to the IDF between July 2008 and February 2014 the number of checkpoints decreased from 40 to 13. This proves that as the terror threat decreases, so does the number of checkpoints, so if you want to see the checkpoints removed, the best course of action is to work to dissuade Palestinians from engaging in terrorism.

Anyone who has ever had to go through an airport or deal with the TSA knows that security checks are annoying, take some time and are occasionally accompanied by people in uniforms abusing their positions of power. Unfortunately, this is also the case at the checkpoints, but just like security checks at the airport, they are required to ensure everyone’s safety and were created in response to real terror threats.

While imperfect, checkpoints do save lives and are often indistinguishable from other border crossings or security checks at airports or train stations.

Are you able to tell which image is from a checkpoint and which is from a train station?

checkpoint 1 checkpoint 2

Didn’t think so.

####Settlements

Arabs can and do move to Jewish towns and neighborhoods in Judea and Samaria. The most common Israeli destination for Israeli Arabs are the allegedly “Jewish-only” neighborhoods of eastern Jerusalem that the world keeps calling settlements. However, this fact is constantly ignored by the media.

In fact, just this year Mohammed Said Ismail Musallam, an Israeli Arab, was killed by ISIS after traveling to its territory to join the group. ISIS accused him of being an Israeli spy and the reports about his execution all highlight the fact that he was Israeli, Arab, and lived in the Neve Yaakov neighborhood of eastern Jerusalem. This neighborhood has a Jewish majority but many Arab residents as well. Had Musallam been a Jew, the media would have been quick to point out that he was an “illegal settler,” but since he was Arab, this was completely ignored.

####Security Fence

It is honestly surprising that Erakat even mentions the term “Separation Barrier” at all before throwing around the libelous epithet “Apartheid Wall.” Israel uses the term “Security Fence,” for two reasons. First, it was built as a security measure during the height of the Second Intifada and was successful in stopping attacks: from 2000 to July 2003 there were 73 suicide bombings originating from Judea and Samaria, but after that initial phase of fence building, the following three years only yielded 12 successful attacks. Islamic Jihad and Hamas leaders) have openly complained that the Security Fence makes it difficult for them to conduct suicide bombing operations.

Second, while the media likes to show eye-grabbing images of the concrete wall sections of the barrier, these parts account for just 4% of the whole (6% if it’s ever finished). Hardly the defining characteristic.

If you build a castle at the beach and then use a seashell as a door, is that a sandcastle or a seashell-castle?

Sandcastle

These concrete sections were only built because there were so many shooting attacks in those areas that a simple fence would not have protected Israel’s citizens from danger. The main fence section can be moved if necessary, as would happen if a peace treaty were ever reached with the Palestinian Authority. In fact, some sections of the fence have already been moved when the Israeli Supreme Court sided with Palestinians who brought lawsuits against the state over the route it took.

Another thing propagandists like Erakat leave out is that the improved security situation brought about by fence has led to a reduction in the number of checkpoints as well.

So while Erakat would like her readers to believe that the imaginary “Jewish-only roads,” checkpoints, settlements, and Security Fence, “explicitly demonstrate the nature of Israeli apartheid,” in fact they do nothing of the kind. Her accusations are based on lies in an attempt to ascribe racist motivations for Israel’s legitimate security measures.

Israeli apartheid characterizes Israeli policies both within Israel proper as well as the OPT: in both contexts a racial hierarchy is firmly established with the primary aim of maintaining a Jewish majority within nation-state borders.

The reason why Erakat says this is because the main characteristic of apartheid is the way in which a racial hierarchy is firmly established by law and enforced through violence. Unfortunately for her, as we have shown, there are no racial laws in Israel. Jews and non-Jews live in the same towns, eat in the same restaurants, go to the same hospitals and schools, vote in the same elections, serve in the same governments and more. Whereas every aspect of life in Apartheid South Africa was governed by laws designed to prevent the mixing of races and maintain domination by the minority ethnic group over the majority, nothing remotely similar exists in Israel.

Since no such race laws exist in Israel, Erakat resorts to lies, distortions and omissions in order to force an analogy that just does not fit.

The apartheid paradigm has a profound impact on the movement, because it simply and brilliantly draws on a historical example of apartheid and calls upon the tactics used in that struggle to fight apartheid in its newest form—boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS). The apartheid paradigm allows peace and justice activists to challenge Israel’s “moral authority” and for the first time to set the terms of the debate.

This last part is key because everything before it is a complete lie. As we discussed at the beginning, while an anti-occupation movement is clearly working towards an end to said occupation (usually ambiguous to confuse the masses and make it seem as though they are referring to the one from 1967 not 1948) and would ostensibly be satisfied with a two state solution, an anti-apartheid movement can only be satisfied with an end to a state that is based at its core in racist principles (and who could be against that?). By discussing this as an anti-apartheid movement, BDS supporters are indeed “setting the terms of debate” and doing so in a way that leads to only one logical conclusion: the dissolution and destruction of the Jewish State.

If anyone ever tells you BDS isn’t about destroying the State of Israel, now you know how to call them on it.

###Back to main page: Calling BS on BDS