Shlomo Gazit
Bitterlemons (Opinion)
February 23, 2012 - 1:00am

Apartheid policy was a set of principles of racial separation between whites, blacks, Indians and coloreds in pre-1994 South Africa and the attributing of privileges there to the white minority. Its principal characteristic in South Africa does not apply to Israel, which does not discriminate between black and white citizens and, indeed, has even adopted policies of encouraging immigration and reverse discrimination regarding black Jews from Cochin and Ethiopia.

If the pre-1994 regime in South Africa is the "ideal" model of apartheid, then Israel does not implement such policies of discrimination based on race and color. This is undoubtedly true within Israel's sovereign, pre-1967 borders, and is evidently true as well in the territories occupied in 1967 that are still under the rule and administration of Israeli military government.

There is no Israeli parallel to the South African apartheid laws: no law forbidding inter-racial marriage or sexual relations between whites and other races, no law delineating separate residence areas and none designating separate public facilities for different races. One cannot, on the other hand, ignore the discriminatory nature of Israel's "Law of Return" that permits free immigration to any Jew from anywhere but not to Arabs or any other nationalities. Then too, we must note the discrimination practiced in Israel on the basis of religion: all provisions for personal status in Israel continue to be based on outmoded Ottoman-era legislation that prevents marriage to anyone of a different religion.

This is ostensibly the legal situation in Israeli sovereign territory. But even here, matters are not so simple when it comes to East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, which were annexed by Israel after the 1967 war. Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem and Druze who live on the Golan Heights do not enjoy rights equal to those of Jews who have settled in these territories over the years. The most prominent illustration of this discrimination is the prevention of return to Jerusalem by Palestinians born there who have spent an extended period of time abroad.

Most recently, the current Knesset that was elected in 2009 has adopted a dangerous pattern of legislation that is motivated by clear Jewish nationalist considerations. Its purpose is to maintain a large Jewish majority in Israel and prevent Arab citizens of Israel from expressing their Palestinian nationalist sentiments. Prominent examples are the "Nekba law" that withdraws government funding from Israeli Arab institutions that commemorate the events of 1948 from a Palestinian standpoint, the "admissions committee" law that enables small communities to refuse admission to Arab and other non-Jewish families, a law requiring a loyalty oath to Israel as a Jewish and Zionist state, and a citizenship law that prevents an Israeli Arab from living in Israel with an Arab spouse whose origins are in "enemy territory".

Another recently-proposed law that is pending in the Knesset seeks to cancel the status of Arabic as an official Israeli language.

Israel justifiably argues the need to distinguish between the situation prevailing on its sovereign territory, where all citizens are legally equal, and the law pertaining to the territories occupied in June 1967. The latter are subject to a military commander who has assumed the sovereign status of the pre-war ruler: the governments of Jordan in the West Bank and Syria on the Golan. In these territories, a flexible security policy legally prevails, one that changes from time to time in accordance with security requirements.

Yet the reality is different: it is the government of Israel and the Knesset that determine, de facto and even de jure, the status of the territories. Massive Israeli settlement in these lands is disputed by the international community, while the Israel High Court of Justice has confirmed its legality. There is discrimination between Israeli settlers and Arab residents of the territories, which Israel rationalizes on the basis of security needs. It is hard to justify bias regarding transportation, electricity, water and other infrastructures in favor of Israeli settlers. The most severe denial of rights is the Israeli policy whereby all state and public lands are reserved exclusively for the needs of Israeli settlements.

To sum up: there is no Israeli apartheid, certainly not within the sovereign confines of the state of Israel. Sadly, there are many instances of discrimination.


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