Dear Friend of Israel,
If it weren’t so tragic, it would be laughable – calling Israel an apartheid state, comparing the one true democracy in the Middle East to the oppressive legal system once in use in South Africa. But that’s exactly what the organizers of the annual “Israel Apartheid Week” (IAW) believe. Their event takes place on college campuses around the world beginning early next week, as they seek “to educate people about the nature of Israel as an apartheid system.”
Under South African apartheid, black people were subject to laws that controlled practically every aspect of their public behavior and completely segregated them from the ruling white minority. It was a brutal system that thankfully was dismantled in the early 1990s after years of intense internal and international pressure.
The question remains: How could the word "apartheid," which describes an evil system of institutionalized segregation, discrimination, and domination based on race, possibly be applied to Israel? IAW organizers wrongly use it to make the claim that the treatment of Arabs in Israeli society and the treatment of black South Africans under apartheid is similar.
How ridiculous. In apartheid-era South Africa, black citizens were totally disenfranchised and relegated to the status of second-class citizens. In Israel, on the other hand, both Jewish and Arab citizens have equal protection under the law, enjoy freedom of religion and speech, and have full voting rights. Arab-Israeli members are present in Israel's 120-member parliament, the Knesset.
Benjamin Pogrund, a South African Jew now living in Israel who saw firsthand the horrible oppression and misery caused by apartheid in his native country, spelled out the absurdity of this comparison in a 2005 essay. "Two years ago I had major surgery in a Jerusalem hospital," he wrote. "The surgeon was Jewish, the anesthetist was Arab, the doctors and nurses who looked after me were Jews and Arabs. Jews and Arabs share meals in restaurants and travel on the same trains, buses and taxis, and visit each other's homes. Could any of this possibly have happened under apartheid? Of course not."
Sadly, the truth, and real-life examples like Pogrund's, means nothing to IAW organizers and their ilk. Anyone who promotes the idea of Israel as an "apartheid state" is either ignorant or motivated by bias against the Jewish state so intense that facts and truth no longer have any meaning to them.
We’ve mobilized to help fight this blatant anti-Israel prejudice. Be sure to visit our 4Zion website for resources that can help you counter the lies of Israel Apartheid Week. Now is a time for Israel’s friends to stand up and be counted — and that is exactly what I hope you will do today.
There is, of course, real oppression in the world. In Syria, anti-government demonstrators are shot and killed by the dozens nearly every day. Iran's government has done the same to demonstrators who take to the streets against that country's harsh Islamist regime. In Saudi Arabia, there is no such thing as freedom of religion, freedom of speech, or freedom of assembly, and women are second-class citizens under the law.
And yet, Israel Apartheid Week protesters focus their indignation on one country – tiny, democratic Israel. In doing so, they reveal their true motives – not to seek justice for Palestinians or to promote peace, but to defame the Jewish state. Those who use these dishonest, underhanded tactics reveal much about their own hatreds and biases – and nothing about Israel.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein