Simple labels are easy to use but are often purposely misinforming. The label of apartheid that has been put on the state of Israel is a misinformed term. As the sole Jewish and democratic state in the Middle East, Israel has always been a lightning rod for controversy. The complex issues impacting Israel including Arab rights and so called ‘apartheid wall’ have therefore been cast under the shadow of apartheid. The annual Israel Apartheid Week (IAW) that occurs at McMaster and around the world is therefore deeply disturbing as ill-informed activists simplify complex issues using a term that is purposely inflammatory.
Apartheid is an official policy of racial segregation involving political, legal, and economic discrimination. Apartheid is most commonly associated with South Africa. From 1948 to 1994, black South Africans were legally persecuted and segregated from the white population. There was an official mandate identifying blacks as second-class citizens who could not vote, hold political office and had to reside in certain locations. The people involved in IAW at McMaster try to compare the so-called Israel apartheid with the South African apartheid.
How can Israel be an apartheid state if it operates on a system in which all citizens and minorities have full rights? This means that every Jew and Arab living in Israel has the same exact freedoms. Arabs have the right to vote, the right to health care, the right to move about freely within the country and much more. Also Israeli Arabs can be seen in government, on Israeli national sports teams and even in international beauty contests representing Israel. No black South African ever had the kind of rights and freedoms that Israeli Arabs do. In fact, Arabs with Israeli citizenship are actually entitled to more rights than any Arab living in the Arab world, as Israel is the only democratic state in the Middle East. It seems that those using the term apartheid at McMaster year after year forget this fact. On this principle alone, Israel is not an apartheid state as there is no legal policy separating Jewish Israelis and Arab Israelis.
Despite the aforementioned rights and freedoms McMaster IAW still continues. Many have pointed to the so called ‘apartheid wall’ as the quintessential example of apartheid in Israel. When Arabs want to come into Israel they are subjected to security checks due to the building of the security wall that separates the West Bank and Gaza Strip from Israel. This wall was built in reaction to the abundant amount of terrorism that occurred in Israel from 2000-2005 called the Second Intifada. Since the wall has been built terrorism has gone down by 90 per cent. This wall may separate Israel from its bordering regions, however it is no different than the wall being built between the US and Mexico to stop illegal immigration. The US-Mexico security fence is not an apartheid measure and neither is the one that separates Israel from its neighbors. Therefore, the only way for McMaster’s IAW advocates to use the security wall as an argument for apartheid, which they have, as seen on McMaster’s Israel Apartheid Week 2012 Facebook page, is to suggest that the US-Mexico wall is also an act of apartheid.
The purpose of this article was not to devalue some of the points that are being brought to light due to Israel Apartheid Week because many of these issues are real and worthy of discussion. However if one wants to be taken seriously, activists must stop using apartheid as a convenient catch-all for the plight of the Arabs in Israel. When using the term “apartheid” to describe the situation in Israel, one is not using the word correctly and sounds, at best, ill-informed. Comparing the two is simply a plea for media attention, as the situation in Israel is completely different than what occurred in South Africa. A more effective way to utilize an entire week is to set aside the rhetoric and focus on the real issues that are affecting the Palestinian people.