Apartheid Ambiguity

Palestine Center
Brief No. 250 (5 November 2012)

By Yousef Munayyer

When an Israeli newspaper recently ran a front page article entitled “Most Israelis support an apartheid regime in Israel,” it was not surprising that it drew considerable criticism from Zionists. But one does not need a poll to directly ask about it to determine that most Israeli Jews support Apartheid. Apartheid is a system of policies already practiced by successive Israeli governments.

This is not the first poll that suggests strong racist trends in Israeli society.

Polls in the past have shown that “a majority of the Jewish public today do not favor the formal definition of Israel as Jewish and democratic but instead opt for other definitions, with the preference for the democratic component noticeably weaker than that for the Jewish aspect.” This is how the 2012 poll of the “Israeli Democracy Institute” put it. They asked Israeli Jews whether the Jewish definition or democratic definition is more important to them. Only 22 percent said democracy was more important, 34 percent said the Jewish definition was more important, and 42 percent could not choose between the two, responding instead that both were “equally important.”

What was so interesting about the poll Gideon Levy wrote about in Haaretz is that it did not allow respondents an opportunity to say both were equally important. In effect, the poll forced the 42 percent of undecided Israeli Jews to choose, which was more important. Well, the jury is back and it is quite clear, if forced to choose, most Israeli Jews would chose Apartheid.

What some Zionists objected to was not the responses but rather the way the question was posed, they reject the premise that such a choice has to be made. They presuppose that the option of demographic engineering through some sort of political agreement can put off ever having to make that choice. The idea that Israeli Jews would have to choose between democracy and Zionism is “hypothetical.”

But there is nothing hypothetical about the Israeli state’s control over Palestinians, their lives and their territory. There is nothing hypothetical about Israeli colonies dissecting and bisecting the West Bank and constantly growing. There is nothing hypothetical about the encirclement of Jerusalem by colonies intended to permanently sever it from the Palestinian population of the West Bank. There is nothing hypothetical about a stratified system of laws for people based on their ethnicity. There is nothing hypothetical about the increasing entrenchment of the Israeli presence in the West Bank.

Zionists argue that polls have shown Israeli Jews favor a “two-state solution” but if you dig deeper you find that they also do not support the key elements necessary for achieving one. A majority of Israeli Jews “oppose” or “definitely oppose” withdrawing from “most of the settlements in the territories as part of a peace agreement with the Palestinians.”

What a majority of Israelis support is the principle of separation that the “two-state solution” affords. That separation, however, is also achievable via Apartheid policies already in place, which is why there is very little underlying political will to change the situation. They want the geography without the demography.

These policies make clear that Israeli Jews have heretofore made two important choices:

Choice #1: To perpetually entrench and continue colonization of Palestine without affording equal rights to the native inhabitants.

Choice #2: To pretend never to have made choice #1.

It is when respondents are told they can’t pretend any more that the Apartheid colors come shining through.

When it comes to nuclear weapons, Israel has long practiced a policy of “nuclear ambiguity” wherein officials neither confirm nor deny the existence of these weapons to evade international obligations and scorn. No one is fooled, however. With Israeli Apartheid a similar policy of Apartheid Ambiguity is in place. While practicing de facto apartheid, the state avoids formal annexation to reap the benefits of Apartheid policies while hoping to evade the opprobrium that comes with it.

Every video of settlers beating Palestinian farmers while Israeli soldiers stand by, every image of expanding colonies, every story of justice denied in Israel’s courts, every picture of lines at checkpoints where humans of a different ethnicity wait for hours like cattle to pass through metallic turnstiles is another Vanunu. No one is fooled.

The bottom line is this: mainstream Zionism values Jewish majoritarianism over democracy and pretty much everything else. This probably would not be as problematic in practice if Israel was established in “a land without a people” as Zionist mythology long peddled. In reality, of course, this was not the case. Palestine was a land with a people, native non-Zionist Palestinian Muslims, Christians and Jews.

The sooner we stop pretending Zionism and Democracy can coexist in a land wrought by settler-colonialism, the sooner we can move toward solving the real, not just hypothetical problems.

A majority of Israeli Jews have already identified the problem when told they can’t be ambiguous: Apartheid.

Now it is time to end it.

This article originally appeared on Newsweek/The Daily Beast.

Yousef Munayyer is Executive Director of the Palestine Center. This policy brief may be used without permission but with proper attribution to the Center.

The views in this brief are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The Jerusalem Fund.