Last week, Human Rights Watch published a report accusing the State of Israel of the crime of apartheid.
In making the accusation, Human Rights Watch (HRW) brazenly acknowledges that it has “detached the term apartheid from its original South African context”.
This is immoral. The word “apartheid” is sacred, sanctified by the blood and suffering of millions of South Africans who were discriminated against on the basis of race. By cynically misappropriating the South African experience for political ends, the HRW desecrates the victims of the real apartheid, devalues their suffering and degrades the heroic efforts of the many who gave up everything to fight it.
In doing so HRW presents a grotesquely distorted picture of both South African history and the current reality in Israel.
Apartheid was a state-planned, state-enforced national system of racial discrimination – which manifested in a slew of oppressive laws aimed at obliterating the human rights of an entire race of people. Most significantly, Black South Africans were denied the right to vote and equality before the law.
In contrast, within the borders of the State of Israel, all citizens – Jews and Arabs – have the right to vote and complete equality before the law. They participate side by side in elections, and Israeli Arabs hold high-ranking positions throughout the various levels of Israeli government, including Parliament and the Supreme Court.
The apartheid government in South Africa imposed its will through authoritarian measures, such as detention without trial, press censorship and submissive courts. In contrast – Israel is a vibrant, liberal democracy, with an independent, active judiciary and a robust and free press.
Across Israel, schools and universities, benches and beaches, buses and hospitals are unsegregated in every way. Every citizen, no matter their ethnic or religious origin, has complete and full legal rights.
There is, however, an ongoing and bitter dispute around establishing a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, which are not legally part of the State of Israel.
The Palestinian leadership have consistently rejected efforts to create a separate Palestinian state in these territories, dating back to the United Nations partition plan in 1947. Successive Israeli governments have demonstrated that they are willing to pay a huge price for a lasting two-state solution. Tragically, there has never been a true peace partner on the other side. Israeli overtures have instead been met with terror attacks and mortar rockets.
No one who truly understands the brutality, systematic racism and denial of basic human rights that made apartheid infamous could, with any integrity, apply the term apartheid to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which is, instead, a complex territorial, political, religious, cultural dispute concerning national identity and borders.
So why the lie? Why the wilful distortion of the facts? Because HRW seeks to delegitimise the State of Israel – to falsely portray it as a nation founded on the cardinal sin of racism, thereby denying it the moral right to exist.
The irony is that this itself is a form of racism. Unjustly applying the apartheid canard to the Jewish state falls squarely within the widely accepted IHRA definition of antisemitism, which includes “claiming that the existence of the State of Israel is a racist endeavour”.
There can be no greater desecration of the memory of the victims of apartheid than ripping the word out of South African soil, detaching it from its original meaning, and weaponising it in the cause of another form of racism.