Amnesty International claims that Israel practices “apartheid”. Is that justified? An OFIP webinar discussed the issue with a Palestinian Israeli politician

Sami Abu Shehada is a Palestinian citizen of Israel. He has been a member of the Tel Aviv/Yafo city council and a member of the Israeli Knesset (Parliament), In a recent webinar organized by the Ottawa Forum on Israel Palestine, OFIP Chair interviewed Sami on whether Amnesty Interntional is right to accuse Israel of apartheid when it comes to its own non-Jewish citizens. Read more and watch the video of the discussion…

For people who are serious about human rights, it is relatively easy to make the case that Israel is practicing apartheid in the West Bank – separate roads, separate schools, demolition of Palestinian houses, construction of houses for Jews, etc.

It is a much harder case to make for the State of Israel itself, where its Palestinian citizens have many of the rights we normally associate with democracies, including the right to vote, to be represented in the country’s parliament (the Knesset), to travel, to free education, etc.

“Israel’s policies across all the territory under its control clearly amount to apartheid”, Amnesty International Secretary General Agnes Callamard

But several recent reports by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch reports have given substance to the allegation. They are particularly detailed, based on years of investigation, field reports and legal opinion. They document many disturbing instances of house demolitions, torture, imprisonment of children and repression of Palestinian and international human rights organizations, among other incidents.

The conclusion is that Israel has fashioned a society assuring privilege to one group of citizens, Jews, to the exclusion of others.

Amnesty International explains its findings by pointing to Israel’s “Nation State” law that declares Israel to be the Nation State of the Jewish people and quoting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as declaring Israel is not a state of all its citizens… [but rather] the nation-state of the Jewish people and only them”.

A society with this structure, claims Amnesty, meets the legal definition of apartheid.

In a recent webinar organized by the Ottawa Forum on Israel/Palestine, I challenged Sami Abu Shehada, a Palestinian citizen of Israel, former member of the Israeli Knesset to tell us why he thinks “apartheid” is an appropriate term. Shehada is the Chair of Balad, the largest non-Zionist political party in Israel. Its slogan is “A state for all it’s citizens” – a slogan which to a Canadian seems uncontroversial, but in Israel is very controversial because it is based on equality for all.

Here is the video recording of the event in two sections:

Section 1 is a 11 min review of the AI report using powerpoint, and the introduction of our speaker

Section 2 is a 65 minute minute recording of the discussion with Sami in which I interrogate him about his perception of the situation of Palestinian citizens of Israel. I even challenge him on a few of his statements and urge him to better explain.

Well – is it conclusive? What do you think? Does Israel practice apartheid against its own non Jewish citizens?

Following the webinar, I asked attendees two important questions.

1.     Did you feel that you learned more about the oppression/discrimination against Palestinian citizens of Israel?

2.     Did you feel that the webinar made the case that the Palestinian citizens of Israel face a situation of “apartheid” – as opposed to “simple” discrimination (e.g. as the Blacks do in North America)?

All those who responded answered “YES” to the first question. Many shared that they had been ignorant of the extent of the discrimination inside Israel.

But the responses to the second question were mixed. About half responded “YES” – that Abu Shehada had made a convincing case of “apartheid”. However, the other half responded “NO”. They did not agree that a sufficient case had been made that the many examples of discrimination brought forward by Shehada were different nature from that of the Blacks in the USA. Several compared it to the US during the racist “Jim Crow” laws that were widespread in the USA before the Civil rights movement in the 1960’s. (Note: this does not mean that those respondents thought the claim was false – only that it has not yet been proven.

What do you think?

Please watch the two videos and share your comments with others in the comments section. All comments, (save racist or ad hominem attacks) will be shared.

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.

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  1. Israel’s oppression of the Palestinian people is plain to see for anyone wanting to take the time to look. This oppression has be on-going for decades. True, Arab citizens of Israel are allowed to vote in the Knesset (13 out of 120) but their influence is barely felt because it’s the ultra-nationalists like Netanyahu who decide how to deal with the Palestinian people not only in the WB and Gaza but also Israel itself. AI and Sami got it right; Israel is an apartheid state.

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