Was NDP MP Charlie Angus right to refer to Israel as an “apartheid” state?

When former US president Jimmy Carter published “Peace not Apartheid” in 2006, he was ONLY talking about the discriminatory regime that Israel had imposed on Palestinians IN THE WEST BANK. He did not challenge Israel’s claim to be a democracy. Now a respected (and courageous) Jewish Israeli human rights organization has taken a step further. In an important policy document, B’tselem argues that “apartheid” is an appropriate label to describe Israel’s regime for all of the land it controls “from the river to the sea”. Read more..

The pro-Israel lobby organization B’nai Brith Canada launched a fierce attack on NDP MP Charlie Angus last week for daring to use the hashtag #apartheidstate in a tweet in reference to Israel. Angus had weighed in on the “vaccination apartheid” debate, pointing out, as had others, that Israel was providing vaccine to only half the people under its control – Israeli citizens, including Jewish settlers – but not to the Palestinians under occupation living beside them. “This is appalling,” Angus wrote, capping off the tweet with the words, “#apartheidstate.”

Bnai Brith CEO Michael Mostyn went apoplectic. “Mr. Angus should do the right thing and admit that the story he disseminated is insidiously misleading and that describing Israel as an ‘apartheid state’ is morally, and factually, objectionable,” wrote B’nai Brith in a tweet urging NDP leader Jagmeet Singh to censure Mr. Angus.

Shortly afterwards, however, Bnai Brith found itself contradicted by Amnesty International, which, while not using the “A” word, substantially supported the allegation that Israel was distributing COVID vaccine to its Jewish citizens while not supplying it to the Palestinians under its control.

Now B’nai Brith has a new problem and a new organization to be furious with. B’tselem, a respected Jewish Israeli human rights organization, has published a new report in which it argues that Israel has imposed an “apartheid” regime, not only in the West Bank, but over all the land “from the river to the sea”.

“We are Israel’s largest human rights group – and we are calling this apartheid”, wrote Hagai El-Ad, Executive Director of B’tsalem in a scathing article in the Guardian newspaper.

El-Ad is careful to acknowledge that Israeli apartheid is quite different from the South African version: “Unlike South African apartheid, (the Israeli version) avoids certain kinds of ugliness. You won’t find “whites only” signs on benches. Here, “protecting the Jewish character” of a community – or of the state itself – is one of the thinly veiled euphemisms deployed to try to obscure the truth. Yet the essence is the same. (…)”

He then goes on to describe the various ways that Israel separates Palestinians from Israelis – in the West Bank, in Jerusalem, and inside Israel itself and how it uses that separation (or apartheid) to treat them differentially, including different citizenship status, allocation of land, restricting movement, and limiting political participation.

“Israel is not a democracy that has a temporary occupation attached to it. It is one regime between the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, and we must look at the full picture and see it for what it is: Apartheid.” Hagai El-Ad, Executive Director, B’tselem

Apartheid “with Israeli characteristics?”

Many Canadians hesitate to use the “apartheid” label when talking about Israel because they know that the Israeli state is very different from Apartheid South Africa. Palestinian citizens of Israel DO have the right to vote, for example, and are represented in the Knesset, neither of which was true for Apartheid South Africa. They have the right to drive anywhere they want, and can even attend university.

But the essence of “apartheid” as described by the United Nations is “an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups.”

In the West Bank, in Jerusalem, inside Israel or in Gaza, all Palestinians face discrimination and apartheid according to B’tselem

The regime Israel imposes on Palestinians everywhere in the land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River appears to meet this description. In practice, Israel actually implements four quite different forms of “apartheid” on Palestinians depending on where they live.

The 3 million Palestinians living in the West Bank (the ones President Carter talked about in his book) face a physical apartheid – in which Palestinians are not recognized as citizens of Israel, cannot vote in the elections that determine their future, live in separate communities, drive on separate roads, and carry a different ID which is continually checked by Israeli soldiers at Israeli checkpoints.

The 350,000 Palestinians living in Jerusalem face a different kind of apartheid. There they have only partial rights to live in Jerusalem, but not permanent Israeli citizenship. They face the Israeli state’s program of “Judaisation” (i.e. ethnic cleansing) aimed at increasing the number of Jews in Jerusalem, and driving out the Palestinians by demolishing their houses one by one, revoking their residency status, while building new housing for Jews and undermining Palestinian cultural institutions.

The 1.8 Palestinian citizens of Israel despite being citizens face an apartheid that is both legal and socially accepted by Jewish Israeli society. Palestinians living in Israel are limited in where they are allowed to live, where they can own property, the schools they can attend – all of which is supported by legislation. This kind of “discriminatory apartheid’ in many ways resembles the “Jim Crow” laws of the US deep south prior to the Civil Rights movement. It has been practiced inside Israel for many years, but this discriminatory practice has now been adopted in the “Jewish Nation State” law considered to be part of the Israeli “constitution”.

The 2 million Palestinians who live in Gaza face a violent apartheid – kept separate from the rest of Israel (or historic Palestine) by military might. Numerous UN resolutions affirm their right to return to live in peace in Israel. But when Palestinians in Gaza started the “Great March of Return” in 2018, they were met by snipers, artillery fire, tear gas and even bombs from the air. Over 200 were killed and tens of thousands injured.

What about Charlie Angus?

A number of organizations have written to NDP leader Jagmeet Singh, urging him to reject the Bnai Brith accusations and defend Mr. Angus for stating what is obvious to careful observers of Israel and its actions. Angus should also be defended by all other MP’s (and all Canadians).

No doubt Bnai Brith will object. But the voices calling out Israel’s actions are becoming too numerous to silence.

Anyone who cares to send a note to Jagmeet Singh supporting Mr. Angus can do so by using email jagmeet.singh@parl.gc.ca. Copy your friends if you think they might be interested in better understanding apartheid “with Israeli characteristics”.

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Canada Talks Israel Palestine (CTIP) is the weekly newsletter of Peter Larson, Chair of the Ottawa Forum on Israel/Palestine (OFIP). It aims to promote a serious discussion in Canada about Canada’s response to the complicated and emotional Israel/Palestine issue with a focus on the truth, clear analysis and human rights for all. Readers with different points of view are invited to make comment.

Want to learn more about us? Go to http://www.ottawaforumip.org.

7 comments

  1. I really like your article, summarizing the situation very well and making it easier for many people to understand the situation.

    Best wishes, Doug

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  2. Good piece. Your distinguishing between the various forms of Israeli apartheid is very important in undercutting the various defences adopted by those who cling to the pretence that Israel is a democracy in which Palestinians outside the (permanently) occupied territories have voting and other civil rights.

  3. Thank you so much for that Peter. I have written a fairly long letter to Mr. Singh. The long and short of it is that censuring Mr. Angus would simply cover up and agree with the unequal treatment of Palestinians in both Israel and the West Bank (I did not mention Gaza I am afraid, but that is true too). We shall see. I am glad that many letters will go to him. Paul

  4. Excellent piece, Peter. I wonder how B;Nai Brith and others will respond to B’Tsalem or AI? It’s easier to attack an individual (Angus) and the NDP rather than these legitimate organizations.

  5. One fundamental fact should always be remembered, which it is not. Apartheid exist inside Israel, not in the Palestinian territories. Inside Israel there over 60 legislated laws discriminating Palestinians, plus hundreds not legislated but practiced.
    For example: 93% of the land can not be owned by Palestinians. Schools are segregated. Almost no building permits given. No family unification. They never held any political portfolio in the parliament. If anyone marries one outside of Israel, he/she can not enter Israel. Their students get one six’s of the budget compare to Israeli student.Not to mention the constant bulldozing of Bedouin villages.

    In the territories, it is ethnic cleansing, land theft, water denial. Mass arrest. Torture, especially targeting children. No movement and no building permits and murders, plus hundreds of evil regulations and deeds.None of these was done in South Africa. There the blacks simply did not get any rights, compare to whites.

  6. If the Israel lobby does not like the Afrikaans word a “apartheid”, defined in international law as a crime, to describe the various forms of Israeli discrimination , oppression and occupation of Palestinians from the river to the sea they should come up with a Hebrew Arabic equivalent to describe the phenomenon. If they want to eliminate the phenomenon, they shld be working for a 1 or 2 state solution of Israel and Palestine with equal rights for all Jews and Arabs and others in the area.

  7. I agree with all criticism of Israel’s attitudes towards non-Jews but consider use of the word “apartheid” to be a tactical error. All such analogies are imperfect. Whenever you use an analogy to criticize someone’s actions, they seize on the differences. They try to use those differences to distract listeners and readers from the similarities. The result is that the discussion is about the appropriateness of the word rather than the immorality or illegality of the policy. If we want discussion of how awful those policies are, it would be better to use other words.

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