This week begins “Israel Apartheid Week,” organized by the Students for Justice in Palestine. On Monday, this group asserted that the “apartheid future … is already here” in the government of the State of Israel, accusing Israel of systematically discriminating Palestinians in and outside of its borders. Unfortunately, this is a grossly misleading picture of history, of context, and of the very definition of apartheid. Israel, far from being a modern incarnation of an “apartheid” state is, in fact, a vibrant representative democracy that guarantees equal rights to all its citizens, in both theory and practice.
The fundamental mistake made by SJP is its unfortunate misinterpretation of “apartheid.” Apartheid, as defined by the United Nations is “inhuman acts committed for the purpose of … maintaining domination by one racial group … over any other racial group … and systematically oppressing them.” Despite SJP’s assertions of the “racial discrimination against Palestinian citizens of Israel,” their charges of apartheid only serve to conflate the identities of Israeli Arabs with those of independent Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. Israeli Arabs, on one hand, enjoy the same protections and rights as any other Israeli. They are free to vote, have full freedoms of speech and assembly, and many have gone on to serve in the Israeli parliament and in the Israeli court system. Israeli law protects all Israeli citizens, and all ethnic, religious, and political groups, large and small, are represented in the Israeli parliament system. Palestinians of Gaza and the West Bank, on the other hand, fall under the direct jurisdiction and authority of Hamas and the Palestinian Authority.
Indeed, the recognition that the Palestinians of the West Bank are not citizens of Israel is shown in a quote that SJP themselves referenced. Defense Minister of Israel Ehud Barak’s assertion that Israel could become “an apartheid state,” was part of a greater statement expressing his hope that Israel would not have any interference in the lives of Palestinians in the West Bank, and served to further his belief in the establishment of a sovereign Palestinian state. He has maintained that for a Palestinian state to be fully realized, Hamas and the Palestinian Authority must first abandon terrorism and media incitement in favor of peace and security.
The fact that Palestinians outside of Israel are not citizens means that Israel has a moral and legal requirement to do all it can to protect its own borders and citizenry from harm. If suicide bombers and rockets were entering the United States from any of its neighbors, one could say with a great degree of certainty that the United States would not stop with a simple security wall. As President Obama stated when visiting Israel, “Israelis must not suffer a threat to their lives, to their schools … if missiles were falling where my two daughters sleep, I would do everything in order to stop that.”
SJP also states they want Israel to “grant Palestinians their basic human rights,” yet they ignore the fact that, despite not being Israeli citizens, the Palestinians in both Gaza and the West Bank are given food, water, heat, and gas by Israel. Also, Palestinians living in the major West Bank towns of Ramallah, Nablus, and Jenin are not under Israeli military control, but policed directly by Palestinian security forces.
Ultimately, however, the Students for Justice in Palestine and other groups who believe Israel is wrong will continue to label both the nation and its actions whatever they wish. If this week’s activities are about “love and respect for human rights,” why is SJP not protesting those governments that are murdering individuals who dare speak their minds against those in charge? Shouldn’t it be recognized that suicide bombing and rocketing innocent civilians is a horrible crime, one which the Israeli government is morally required to prevent? We must therefore ask these students for “justice.” What is just? To protect innocent lives in a democracy, or to actively campaign for the demonization and economic ruin of a country that cherishes all we believe in: the rights to life, speech, assembly, and of course, justice for all.
The author is a student in the School of General Studies and sophomore in the Jewish Theological Seminary. He is the director of public relations for LionPAC.