Former Ambassadors Call It Like They See It
Apartheid in Israel is controversial when it comes to contemporary discussions of the country. Apartheid is a system of rule that is inherently unequal and discriminatory anathema to a free and democratic society. Systematic inequality and discrimination should not be permitted, much less condoned, in a civilized, enlightened country that claims democratic ideals.
Since its founding in 1948, Israel has maintained a parliamentary democracy as its system of government. But there are disparities in Israeli policies governing Jewish settler and Palestinian communities in the West Bank.
And that’s not just a fringe opinion.
Is Israel an Apartheid State?
“For over half a century, Israel has ruled over the occupied Palestinian territories with a two-tiered legal system, in which, within the same tract of land in the West Bank, Israeli settlers live under Israeli civil law while Palestinians live under military law. This system is inequal… Settlements are built and expanded at the expense of Palestinian communities, which are forced onto smaller and smaller tracts of land.”
If you’re expecting these words to be ascribed to some radical, far-left activist group, you may be surprised. These words, published on an independent South African news blog, belong to former senior members of Israel’s foreign service.
What International Law Says
Dr. Alol Liel, a former Director General of Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Ilan Baruch have observed first-hand the results of apartheid laws and inequality in official government policy during their service as Israeli ambassadors to South Africa.
In their June 2021 GroundUp post, Baruch and Liel conclude that Israel’s “occupation is not temporary, and there is not political will in the lsraeli government to bring about its end.” Their words echo and reference an April report from Human Rights Watch, which found that Israeli policies in the West Bank now meet the legal definition of apartheid under international law.
“Israel is the sole sovereign power that operates in this land, and it systematically discriminates on the basis of nationality and ethnicity. Such a reality is, as we saw ourselves, apartheid,” write the former ambassadors.
More recently, a former Attorney General of Israel, Michael Ben-Yair, went a step further to say that policies in Israel-proper, not just the West Bank, amount to apartheid.
“The apartheid regime is in all areas controlled by Israel, between the sea and the Jordan River,” said Ben-Yair in remarks translated from Hebrew. “The distinction… between democratic Israel and the West Bank that it controls is wrong.”
Thinking Beyond the West Bank
Many have argued that Israel’s policies in the West Bank equate to apartheid. But what about its policies beyond the West Bank, within its own borders?
The 2022 Amnesty International report entitled “Israel’s apartheid against Palestinians: a cruel system of domination and a crime against humanity” details the way Israel “enforces a system of oppression and domination against the Palestinian people wherever it has control over their rights,” including in Israel, in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and even in other countries where displaced Palestinian refugees reside.
Reconsidering the Status Quo
When Israel’s own ambassadors and premier legal authorities are using “apartheid” to describe its governance within and beyond its borders, it might be time to stop claiming that it is anti-Semitic to call the unequal system of laws a form of apartheid. In doing so, we may want to follow the words of Baruch and Leil, who encourage us to “work towards building a future of equality, dignity, and security for Palestinians and Israelis alike.”
To learn more about the plight of the Palestinian people, please visit the Promised Land Museum.
Plus, discover more resources about the Israel-Palestine conflict here.
PDF of Amnesty International 2022 report “Israel’s apartheid Against Palestinians: Cruel System of Domination and Crime Against Humanity”