Brief No. 225 (22 March 2012)
By Yousef Munayyer
Apartheid. This word conjures up specific images and ideas: Mandela, Sharpeville, De Klerk, pariah status, divestment and perhaps most importantly, South Africa. Thus, discourse about Israel’s status as an Apartheid state devolves into discussions about the similarities and differences between Israel and South Africa.
Such debate is unhelpful and distracting. Apartheid, like genocide, has an internationally recognized legal definition. For genocide, the definition was institutionalized in the aftermath of World War II. Obviously genocides differ with respect to policies, severity, and method: compare the Rwandan genocide and the Nazi Holocaust, for example. But few would argue that what happened in Rwanda was not genocide because it looks different from other genocides.
And given the definition of Apartheid, Israel’s domination of the Palestinians fits the bill.
The 1998 Rome Statute to the International Criminal Court defines Apartheid as actions or policies “committed in the context of an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime” (Emphasis mine).
Richard Goldstone and others who argue against the Apartheid designation try to separate Israel from the West Bank. But anyone who has traveled through Israel and the West Bank knows that the green line exists on paper only. In every other sense, between the river and the sea, there is one state, there is one regime, and that is the Israeli regime. The policies of perpetual occupation, soon entering its 45th year, effectively result in the Israeli regime’s total domination of the territory, its borders, its resources, the use of force within them and the continued colonization of that territory.
Across the entirety of the territory ruled by the Israelis there are 12 million people. Half of these people are Palestinian and 1.7 million of them are relegated to second-class citizenship through a system of direct and indirect discrimination. Another 4.3 million living in the West Bank and Gaza have no right to vote for the ruling regime at all. Further, the Israeli government refuses the human rights of approximately 4.6 million Palestinian refugees—many in refugee camps just across the border—to return to their lands.
And why is that? Why doesn’t Israel grant voting rights to all the Palestinians it rules? Why does Israel systematically prevent Palestinian refugees from exercising their human right to return?
Former Israeli prime ministers agree on the answer. Ehud Olmert explained that voting rights for Palestinians would mean that “the State of Israel is finished.” Ehud Barak said, “The simple truth is, if there is one state, it would have to be either binational or undemocratic.”
American Zionist leaders like Abe Foxman, the National Director of the Anti-Defamation League, recently wrote in a letter to Harvard’s president opposing a conference proposing a single state with equal rights because such an outcome would “result in the end of the Jewish character of Israel.”
This is common Zionist parlance in response to the idea of equal voting rights or repatriation for Palestinians. Ironically, Zionists themselves provide the strongest support for the applicability of the Apartheid designation for Israel. They make it clear that equality for all in territories governed by Israel would mean the ethno-religious group in power (Israeli Jews) compromising on its domination of political affairs.
The question of Apartheid in Israel, or in any place for that matter, comes down to a simple test based on the Rome Statute: Would merely granting full human rights (including suffrage) to persons of all ethnic and religious backgrounds ruled by a regime, or whose human rights are systematically denied by that regime, fundamentally challenge the regime itself? If the answer is yes, then it is Apartheid. If the answer is no, then it is not.
Zionists, including Olmert, Barak, Foxman and countless others resoundingly agree that the answer, when it comes to Israel, is an unequivocal yes.
And what Israel’s position on the Rome Statute? Well, after initially becoming a signatory, Israel never ratified it and instead sent a letter to the Secretary-General in August of 2002 explaining: “Israel does not intend to become a party to the treaty. Accordingly, Israel has no legal obligations arising from its signature on 31 December 2000.”
One need not wonder why.
To paraphrase what the Israeli Prime Minister recently told AIPAC: If it walks like a duck, if it looks like a duck, if it quacks like a duck, what is it? It’s a duck.
This duck is an Apartheid duck.
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.