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Amnesty International claim that Israel is an apartheid state is recklessly ill-informed

Arab citizens are represented throughout the nation, including the powerful Supreme Court.

The Israeli flag flies in Jerusalem. Photo by Taylor Brandon/Unsplash/Creative Commons

(RNS) — Amnesty International’s report on Israel, issued on Tuesday (Feb. 1), is a litany of reckless accusations, the most toxic of which is the claim that Israel is an “apartheid” state. 

The report’s repeated use of the word — a reference to the institutionalized, decades-long racism of white-minority rule in South Africa — is meant to stigmatize Israel, isolate it in the community of nations and, ultimately, delegitimize the very moral foundation of its existence. 

Any state that would operate through a system of racial hierarchy, reserve political power for a minority of the population, deny equal protection under the law, enforce residential patterns based on skin color, restrict sexual relations between communities and control all the sources of wealth must be declared a pariah. The only way forward for such a state would be to cease to exist.

The fundamental problem with the Amnesty International report is that it is disconnected from reality. Israel has nothing to do with apartheid, and apartheid has nothing to do with Israel. 


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Let’s begin with the situation of Israel’s Arab citizens, who comprise roughly 20% of the population. 

The country’s current governing coalition is entirely dependent on the participation of one of the Arab political parties. Without it, the coalition would collapse in an instant. Apartheid? Hardly. 

More broadly, Arab citizens have the full right to vote, and their electoral choices represent the political, ethnic and religious spectrum of a remarkably diverse country. Apartheid? Hardly. 

Arab citizens are represented throughout the nation, including the powerful Supreme Court. Indeed, it was an Arab judge who sent a former Israeli president to prison. Apartheid? Hardly. 

Arab citizens also serve in the diplomatic corps, starting with ambassadors representing Israel around the world, not to mention the Israel Defense Forces, responsible for defending the country in a rough-and-tumble region. Apartheid? Hardly. 

And a visit to any hospital — from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv, from Haifa to Ashkelon — reveals an entirely interdependent medical ecosystem, with Arab and Jewish doctors, nurses and technicians working shoulder-to-shoulder to treat Arab and Jewish patients alike. Apartheid? Hardly. 

Are there social shortcomings in Israel? Yes, just as there are in any democratic nation, including, most assuredly, the United States. But to suggest that Israel’s open, liberal and pluralistic society is in any way akin to South Africa’s policy of apartheid is nothing short of a slanderous fiction. 

Amnesty International’s report shows no understanding of the reality of Israeli society, any more than it does of Israel’s challenges in finding an enduring answer to the long-standing Palestinian question. 

The Palestinians could have had a state of their own alongside Israel as early as 1947-48. They rejected it. From 1948 to 1967, the West Bank and Gaza were in Arab hands, but no effort was made to establish a Palestinian state. And that record of rejection, tragically, has continued ever since. 

Meanwhile, Gaza has been under Hamas control since 2007, yet Amnesty International inexplicably fails to note that Hamas is a genocidal terrorist organization that, with the help of Iran, openly seeks Israel’s annihilation. 

And finally, Amnesty International would essentially deny the Jewish people the right to sovereignty even in a tiny sliver of land — a land with which the Jewish people have been uninterruptedly linked for nearly 4,000 years, and which in the 20th century was endorsed by the Balfour Declaration, San Remo Conference, League of Nations and the U.N. General Assembly. 

That land, it should be noted, is just 1% the size of Saudi Arabia, 2% of Egypt and roughly similar to pocket-sized New Jersey or Wales. 

It is that land which, in the modern era, when the world repeatedly turned its back on the Jews, whether Holocaust survivors in Europe, or in Arab lands, or under communist rule behind the Iron Curtain, offered safe haven, full protection and a new start. 


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Sadly, Amnesty International, a once venerable defender of human rights, has chosen to lend its voice to those who wish, however they choose to package it, to bring to an end Israel as the world’s only Jewish-majority country. The ploy won’t work, though. 

The truth about Israel is there for any fair-minded visitor to see. And, given Israel’s expanding population, growing foreign investment and expanding circle of peace, Israel’s future as a vibrant democratic, Jewish-majority country is bright. 

(David Harris is CEO of the American Jewish Committee. Follow him on Twitter @DavidHarrisAJC. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)