A guest post by AKUS
While much has been written refuting Amnesty’s report accusing Israel of imposing an apartheid regime on Arab citizens of Israel and Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza, their argument, in its declarative accusation cited below, is also a priori flawed on at least three accounts:
Israeli authorities impose a system of domination and oppression against the Palestinian people in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT), and against Palestinian refugees.
The first flaw is the use of the term “Palestinian” to refer to Arab Israelis. This represents the frequent attempt by anti-Israeli NGOs – in this case Amnesty – and media outlets to use the term “Palestinians” i.e., Arabs living in Gaza and the West Bank – to describe Arab Israelis – i.e., Arab citizens of Israel. This is an attempt to create a completely false equivalence.
The Atlantic magazine recently presented the results of research demonstrating that, in fact, Arab Israelis, by a large majority, do not consider themselves of Palestinian nationality (to the extent that a stateless group can be considered a nation, of course), but either just “Arab” or “Arab-Israeli” .
Moreover, there is a growing trend among Israeli Arabs to hold a positive view of Israel, which of course for good reason was never the case in apartheid South Africa.
In 2019, a survey by progressive pollsters Dahlia Scheindlin and David Reis found that while 14 percent of Arabs in Israel identified as “Palestinian,” 19 percent preferred “Palestinian-Israeli,” 22 percent went with “Arab,” and a full 46 percent chose “Arab-Israeli.” In 2020, a survey by Professor Camil Fuchs, one of Israel’s top pollsters, offered a few more options—and got even more remarkable results. Given the option to identify as simply “Israeli,” 23 percent of Arab respondents picked that label. 15 percent chose “Arab,” while 51 percent opted for “Arab-Israeli.” Just 7 percent went with “Palestinian.”
This growing Arab identification with Israel is part of a broader pattern. Already in 2017, polls found that 60 percent of Arab citizens held a positive view of the Israeli state, even as 47 percent felt that they were “treated unequally.” Of the Arabs surveyed, 63 percent said that Israel was a “positive” place to live, compared with 34 percent who said it was not. Another survey that year found that 51 percent of Arabs in Israel described themselves as “quite proud” or “very proud” to be Israeli, while 56 percent of Arab respondents characterized the country’s situation as “good” or “very good”—compared with just 44 percent of Jewish respondents.
The second flaw in Amnesty’s report is an attempt to conflate the situation Arab Israelis with that of Africans living in the Bantustans in South Africa.
Israel’s Declaration of Independence grants all citizens of Israel, regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, or any other definition the same and equal rights. No such document existed in apartheid South Africa, and the status of Arab Israelis cannot be compared to the dreadful situation of Africans (and other “people of color”) in Apartheid South Africa.
THE STATE OF ISRAEL will be open for Jewish immigration and for the Ingathering of the Exiles; it will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.
Africans in South Africa had no citizenship until the end of apartheid with the first multi-racial election in 1994. Arab Israelis have always been able to participate in elections. They’ve participated, formed, reformed, combined and split apart numerous Arab political parties since the State of Israel was founded, ranging from communist leaning to hard-line Islamist.
Arab Israelis are not confined to live only in designated areas or town and villages. Under apartheid, the South African government decided who could live in which mainly tribal Bantustans.
As is well known, and frequently documented in the media, there are Arab Israelis leading in every important aspect of Israeli society – government, as stated, but also medical, judicial, technological education and other fields. Obviously, there is no comparison of this situation with that of South African.
The third flaw is to refer to the situation of Palestinians living in Gaza and the West Bank as living under an apartheid regime.
Gaza, of course, as everyone, including Amnesty’s staff, well knows, is a self-ruled entity that was handed over to Palestinian control in 2005 when Israel withdrew twenty-one settlements from the Gaza Strip. It was promptly taken over by the Islamist terrorist group Hamas, which has waged continuing attacks against Israel, mainly its citizens bordering Gaza, ever since, leading to several major incursions by Israel to reduce Hamas’ ability to carry out these attacks.
Those living in the Bantustans were, for all intents and purposes, South Africans (as they were recognized at the end of the apartheid era), not enemies of the country. It’s ludicrous to compare the situation in Gaza with the Bantustans.
In the West Bank, similarly, the Arabs, or at least their leadership and extremists, consider themselves to be Palestinians, members of a possible future state of their own. They are not Israelis and therefore Jerusalem has no obligation to offer them the rights and privileges enjoyed by Israeli citizens, although, in fact, in the area of Jerusalem many – permanent residents – have access to certain services, such as healthcare, can participate in local elections and enjoy complete freedom of movement.
You cannot rationally consider Israel’s management of its defensive needs against terrorists who carry out hundreds of attacks each year from the West Bank to represent anything resembling apartheid. The idea is absurd, and that particular accusation is never leveled against other countries that might be, or have been, at war, however else one may choose to describe their relations.
By trying to persuade its readers that Arab Israelis and Palestinians are one and the same group, Amnesty manages to hold two false, contradictory and impossible Mad Hatter’s tea party conclusions at the same time.
The first is that Arab Israelis citizens are Palestinians who must be facing the same restrictions as the Palestinian enemies of Israel, and therefore are treated as if living under apartheid military rule – this is obviously untrue.
The other, equally absurd, is that the Palestinian enemies of Israel, who are not citizens of Israel, are not enjoying the same benefits as Israeli citizens. This is true but irrelevant. Israel’s enemies (and even friendly non-citizens) have no more right to the benefits of Israeli citizenship than to the benefits of citizenship of any other country.
Amnesty employed lazy thinking, inspired by the likes of former US President Jimmy Carter and the late South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu (who clearly should have known better), to create this call to arms against Israel aimed at the uninformed, the ill-informed, and the enemies of Israel as a dog whistle to continue attacks against the country.
The report may live on among those groups, but clearly has no basis for its politically motivated conclusions.