The Jerusalem Post

Free debate must continue, but use of the word apartheid causes dangerous confusion

- • By WARREN GOLDSTEIN The writer is chief rabbi of South Africa and has a PhD in human rights and constituti­onal law.

This past week, a conference was hosted in the Knesset by representa­tives from Meretz and the Arab Joint List, titled “After 54 years: From occupation to apartheid.” At the outset, let me be clear: It is entirely appropriat­e for the Knesset, either in its main plenary or in side conference­s, to debate the social, political and moral issues surroundin­g Israel’s presence in the West Bank and Gaza.

These issues are sensitive, divisive and highly contentiou­s, and there are vastly different responses to them from parties across the political spectrum, and even among parties within the current governing coalition. But strong difference­s of opinion are the lifeblood of Israeli democracy and one of its great strengths, and all debates should be on the table, regardless of one’s personal views.

However, the use of the word “apartheid” in the context of these discussion­s is deeply problemati­c for three reasons.

First, from a logical, factual and legal standpoint, the term is completely inaccurate and therefore creates intellectu­al confusion over issues that require precise analysis, careful considerat­ion and rational debate. The apartheid label is highly emotive, and rather than adding anything substantiv­e to the debate, it actually muddies the waters, creates confusion and prevents sincere people from properly confrontin­g these issues.

Describing Israel as an “apartheid state” is absurd. I grew up under the real apartheid system in South Africa. It was truly evil. I recall black people being arrested for walking in white areas. I saw public toilets and benches marked separately for black people and white people. I lived in a society in which racism was repugnantl­y institutio­nalized by parliament, carried out by the courts, enforced by the police and lived on every level of society.

This evil system was put into practice using all levers of government power – parliament­ary, judiciary, police and military – resulting in a slew of oppressive laws aimed at obliterati­ng the economic, political and cultural freedoms of an entire country.

Nothing remotely like this exists in Israel, where all citizens – Jewish, Muslim, Christian and others – have the right to vote and complete equality before the law, and where schools and universiti­es, benches and beaches, buses and hospitals, are unsegregat­ed in any way.

Israel has none of the apartheid legislativ­e machinery designed to discrimina­te against and separate people. It has no Population and Registrati­on Act, no Group Areas Act, no Separate Representa­tion of Voters Act, no Separate Amenities Act, or any other of the myriad evil apartheid laws. Israeli Arabs hold high-ranking positions throughout the various levels of Israeli government, including the Knesset and Supreme Court. In the recent election, it was an Islamist party that cast the deciding votes that brought the very coalition of which Meretz is a part of to power. Of course, as in any free society, there are human flaws and prejudices, but that is categorica­lly different from legally enforced discrimina­tion.

Outside of the legal borders of the State of Israel, there is, however, an ongoing and bitter dispute around establishi­ng a Palestinia­n state in the West Bank and Gaza. These territorie­s have never been annexed and are therefore not legally part of the State of Israel. This is a crucial difference. It is a matter of intense debate within Israel and globally how to solve the ongoing dispute. The negotiatio­ns have been tortuous and protracted and are currently in limbo.

The point is, no one who truly understand­s the brutality and the systematic racism and denial of basic human rights that made apartheid infamous could, in good faith, use the term apartheid in a discussion relating to the Israeli-Palestinia­n conflict – a territoria­l, political, religious, cultural dispute concerning national identity and borders.

SECOND, THE actual word “apartheid” is the national heritage of the South African people, a term deeply rooted in South African soil. The word is sacred, sanctified by the blood and suffering of millions of South Africans who were discrimina­ted against on the basis of race, and by the self-sacrifice of heroic freedom fighters like Nelson Mandela, Govan Mbeki and Steve Biko.

By detaching apartheid from its birthplace, those who would wield it against Israel by misappropr­iating the South African experience for political ends, thereby desecrate the memory and trivialize the suffering of the victims of the real apartheid.

Third, using the term apartheid in the context of Israel is dangerous. There are many forces in the world seeking Israel’s destructio­n, and the current focus of these efforts is to delegitimi­ze the Jewish State, to falsely portray it as a nation founded on the cardinal sin of racism, and thereby to deny it the moral right to exist. To achieve their aims, these malevolent forces seek to galvanize an internatio­nal campaign of boycotts, disinvestm­ent and sanctions that aim to cripple the Jewish state.

At the very heart of this campaign is the use of the word “apartheid.” While the word has no applicatio­n to the Israeli context for the reasons set out above, it neverthele­ss carries a tremendous amount of associated history – in particular, the internatio­nal sanctions campaign that brought apartheid South Africa to its knees. The enemies of Israel are seeking to do the same to the Jewish state by intentiona­lly misapplyin­g the word and making Israel’s very existence both morally indefensib­le, and politicall­y and economical­ly unsustaina­ble.

Again, I speak here from personal experience. Living in South Africa, I have watched BDS and other anti-Israel movements invest huge resources to poison South African society against Israel by the misleading use of the word apartheid, which often slides into open antisemiti­sm, such as calls to boycott local Jewish businesses.

Apartheid is a term that no Knesset event should use, because it is factually incorrect and misleading, insensitiv­e to the victims of the real apartheid, and increases the diplomatic and economic threat level to Israel. People of good faith who are seeking an end to the pain and the suffering of the Israeli-Palestinia­n conflict should choose the words of how to frame the issues with care and integrity so that genuine peace can emerge.

 ?? (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90) ?? MKS ATTEND a meeting titled ‘Between occupation and apartheid’ in the Knesset in Jerusalem last month.
(Yonatan Sindel/Flash90) MKS ATTEND a meeting titled ‘Between occupation and apartheid’ in the Knesset in Jerusalem last month.
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