Last Monday marked the beginning of what has become a yearly tradition on Western college campuses: Israeli Apartheid Week. If you have walked by the competing pro- and anti-Israel protests on College Walk, you can appreciate that labeling Israel as an apartheid state is a hotly contested issue. Who is right here? The only way to properly address this question is to look at the facts that underlie claims of Israeli apartheid, and to judge both their validity, and whether or not the apartheid label constitutes an unfair demonization of the Jewish State of Israel.
Before examining the claim that Israel is an apartheid state, it is important to make the critical distinction between Israeli-Arabs and Palestinians. In 1947, the United Nations General Assembly voted to adopt the U.N. Partition Plan for the former British Mandate of Palestine, dividing the land into two states–one Jewish and the other Arab. The Jewish Agency (the de facto government for Jews in Palestine) accepted the plan, while the Arab states of Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and Iraq rejected the proposal and invaded Israel. By 1949, Israel had managed to defeat the Arab armies and signed an armistice that set the borders of what are today the West Bank and Gaza. Those territories that Israel conquered, other than the West Bank and Gaza, have been incorporated into the internationally accepted boundaries of Israel. The Arabs who resided in these areas are known as Israeli-Arabs.
Israeli-Arabs are citizens of Israel, and have full political rights. There are Arab political parties in Israel’s Parliament, high-ranking Arab bureaucrats and cabinet ministers, and Arab members of the Israeli Supreme Court. Moreover, Druze-Arabs are conscripted into the Israeli Defense Forces just like Israeli Jews, and several top IDF commanders are Druze-Arabs. More important than this small list of examples, however, is the fact that, unlike the blacks of South Africa, Israeli-Arabs are not denied basic political or economic rights. Economic, social, and political disparities between Arabs and Jews continue to exist in Israel, but these are more along the lines of those that exist here in the United States, not in pre-1994 South Africa.
Based on the realities of the situation, it is clear that the apartheid label cannot be justified by the conditions faced by Arab citizens of Israel. Yet, if this is the case, then to whom are pro-Palestinian groups referring? The answer is the Palestinians—those who reside in the West Bank and Gaza, territories that came under the control of Israel following its defeat of the invading Jordanian, Syrian, and Egyptian armies in the 1967 Six-Day War. Unlike the territory taken in 1949, the West Bank and Gaza are not recognized as parts of Israel—they are territories that have been occupied since 1949 (first by the Egyptians and Jordanians, and now by the Israelis), which ideally would compose an eventual Palestinian state.
Looking at apartheid as it was practiced in South Africa, it is clear that the policy was meant to maintain the racial superiority of whites over blacks within the same country. The situation in Israel is completely different, because Israel and Palestine are not part of the same country, but rather are two distinct political bodies. Moreover, it is paradoxical for Palestinian supporters to demand that Palestinians have the rights of Israeli citizenship if they are actually committed to a Palestinian state peacefully coexisting with a Jewish state of Israel.
If you are confused at this point, I don’t blame you. Sadly, the logical fallacy that I just illustrated is not a problem for the organizers of Israeli Apartheid Week. That is because the apartheid label is not compatible with the desire for a two-state solution, but rather with the destruction of the Jewish State of Israel, and the creation of a single state in the territory formerly composing the British Mandate of Palestine. Aside from the fact that such a plan would undoubtedly lead to horrific levels of civil strife and bloodshed (think of the hypothetical consequences of uniting India and Pakistan as a means of solving that conflict), it also runs counter to the expressed wishes of both Israelis and Palestinians for separate, independent states.
Thinking about Israeli Apartheid Week in a critical fashion, it is clear that its proponents are little more than extremists seeking to demonize the State of Israel. In no way is the apartheid label apt unless you take the view that Israelis and Palestinians should be part of a single state, which violates the right to self-determination of both groups. Ultimately, spectacles like Israeli Apartheid Week accomplish nothing other than feeding the cycle of violence through radical ideology. If the organizers of Israeli Apartheid Week are truly interested in the well-being of Palestinians, they should work toward the goal of a two-state solution, rather than making characterizations that implicitly support the destruction of the State of Israel.
The author is a Columbia College senior majoring in economics.