Why aren’t Europeans calling Israel an apartheid state?


By John Dugard, April 17th 2019,

People hold banners saying ‘Stop the genocide in Gaza. Stop the occupation’ and ‘Yesterday South Africa, today Palestine. Boycott Israel’ at a protest in Malaga, Spain on July 17, 2014 [File: Reuters]


Apartheid is alive and well and thriving in occupied Palestine.

Palestinians know this. South Africans know this. Many Israelis have accepted this as part of their political debate. Americans are coming to terms with this, with new voices in Congress and NGOs like Jewish Voice for Peace unafraid of speaking this truth.

Only in Europe is there a steadfast denial of Israeli apartheid over Palestinians despite overwhelming evidence underlining it. 

Israel‘s restrictions on freedom of movement in the occupied Palestinian territory are a resurrection of South Africa’s hated pass laws, which criminalised black South Africans without a permit or pass to be in a “white” city. Israel’s policy of forcible population removals and destruction of homes resembles the relocation of black people from areas zoned for exclusive white occupation in apartheid South Africa.

The Israeli security forces engage in torture and brutality exceeding the worst practices of the South African security apparatus. And the humiliation of black people that was a feature of apartheid in South Africa is replicated in occupied Palestine. 

Racist rhetoric in the Israeli public debate offends even those familiar with the language of apartheid South Africa. The crude racist advertising that characterised campaigning in Israel’s recent elections was unknown in South Africa. 

Of course, there are differences that arise from the different histories, religions, geography and demography, but both cases fit the universal definition of apartheid. In international law, apartheid is a state-sanctioned regime of institutionalised and legalised racial discrimination and oppression by one hegemonic racial group against another. 

In some respects, apartheid in South Africa was worse. In some respects, Israeli apartheid in occupied Palestine is worse. Certainly, Israel’s enforcement of apartheid in occupied Palestine is more militaristic and more brutal. Apartheid South Africa never blockaded a black community and methodically killed protesters as Israel is currently doing along its fence with Gaza

These facts are well known. No one who follows the news can claim to be ignorant of the repression inflicted on the Palestinian people by the Israeli occupation army and Jewish settlers. It is common knowledge that the different legal systems for settlers and Palestinians have created a regime of separate and grossly unequal legal statuses.

Why then do Europeans consistently deny the existence of apartheid in occupied Palestine? Why is it business as usual with Israel? Why is Eurovision to be held in Tel Aviv? Why does Europe sell arms to Israel; trade with it, even with its illegal settlements; maintain cultural and educational ties? Why is Israel not subjected to the kind of ostracism that was applied to South Africa and complicit white South African institutions?

Why were sanctions against apartheid South Africa welcomed while European governments take steps to criminalise the nonviolent Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement that seeks to secure freedom, justice and equal rights for Palestinians?

There are three explanations for this conundrum.

First, pro-Israeli lobbies in many European countries are as effective as their US counterparts without the same degree of visibility.

Second, there is Holocaust guilt. The policies of some countries towards Israel, such as the Netherlands, are still determined by guilt stemming from the failure to have done more to save Jews during World War II.

Third, and most important of all, there is the fear of being labelled anti-Semitic. Encouraged and manipulated by Israel and Israeli lobbies, the concept of anti-Semitism has been expanded to cover not only hatred of Jews but criticism of Israeli apartheid. 

In the case of South Africa, President PW Botha was hated because he applied apartheid and not because he was an Afrikaner. It would seem obvious that in the same way many hate Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu because he enforces apartheid and not because he is a Jew. But this distinction is increasingly blurred in Europe. To criticise the government of Israel for applying apartheid is seen as anti-Semitism. And so it becomes dangerous and unwise to criticise Israel.

In Europe, criticism of apartheid in South Africa was a popular cause. The Anti-Apartheid Movement, which lobbied for the boycott of South African exports, trade, sport, artists and academics was encouraged and subjected to no restrictions. Governments imposed different kinds of sanctions, including an arms embargo. Public protests against apartheid were a regular feature of university life.

Criticism of Israel’s discriminatory and repressive policies, on the other hand, can result in one being labelled anti-Semitic with serious consequences for one’s career and social life. Consequently, there are fewer protests against Israeli apartheid on European campuses and less popular support for BDS. Public figures who criticise Israel are attacked as anti-Semites, as evidenced by the witch-hunt against members of the British Labour Party.

Until Europeans have the courage to distinguish criticism of Israel for applying apartheid from real anti-Semitism – that is, hatred of Jews – apartheid will continue to flourish in occupied Palestine, with the direct complicity of Europe. 


John Dugard

John Dugard 

John Dugard is Professor Emeritus at Universities of Leiden and the Witwatersrand.

Israel Is Voting Apartheid


There will be one certain result from Tuesday’s election: Around 100 members of the next Knesset will be supporters of apartheid. This has no precedent in any democracy. A hundred out of 120 legislators, an absolute of absolute majorities, one that supports maintaining the current situation, which is apartheid.

With such a majority, it will be possible in the next Knesset to officially declare Israel an apartheid state. With such support for apartheid and considering the durability of the occupation, no propaganda will be able to refute the simple truth: Nearly all Israelis want the apartheid to continue. In the height of chutzpah, they call this democracy, even though more than 4 million people who live alongside them and under their control have no right to vote in the election.

Of course, no one is talking about this, but in no other regime around the world is there one community next to another where the residents of one, referred to as a West Bank settlement, have the right to vote, while the residents of the other, a Palestinian village, don’t. This is apartheid in all its splendor, whose existence nearly all the country’s Jewish citizens want to continue.

A hundred Knesset members will be elected from slates referred to as either right-wing, left-wing or centrist, but what they have in common surpasses any difference: None intend to end the occupation. The right wing proudly says so, while the center-left resorts to futile illusions to obscure the picture, listing proposals for a “regional conference” or “secure separation.” The difference between the two groupings is negligible. In unison, the right and left are singing “say yes to apartheid.”

As a result, this election is so unimportant, so far from crucial. So let’s cut the hysteria and the pathos over the outcome. Neither civil war nor even a rift is in the offing. The people are more united than ever, casting their vote for apartheid. Whatever Tuesday’s results may be, the country of the occupier will remain the country of the occupier. Nothing defines it better than all the other marginal issues, including the Zehut party’s campaign to legalize marijuana.

So there’s no reason to hold our breath over Tuesday’s results. The election is lost in advance. For the country’s Jews, it will shape the tone, the level of democracy, the rule of law, the corruption in which they live, but it won’t do a thing to change Israel’s basic essence as a colonialist country.

Israel’s Arab community in the campaign for the Knesset elections


Summary: in an attempt to appeal to right-wing voters, Netanyahu has targetted Israel’s Arab citizens and their representatives, adding insult to the injury which resulted from last year’s Nation-State law.

Ahmad Tibi, Member of the Knesset since 1999, a leading representative of Israel’s Arab community and a target for PM Netanyahu’s electoral rhetoric (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Prime Minister Netanyahu, campaigning for the Knesset elections scheduled for 9 April, has made disobliging statements about Israel’s Arab community – or Israeli citizens of Palestinian origin, as many now prefer to be called. These statements will probably win him votes among right-wing Jewish Israelis but have at the same time highlighted the ambiguous status of Israeli Arabs. 

One of Netanyahu’s recurrent themes in the campaign has been his assertion that his Likud party’s main rivals, the Blue-and-White party led by Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid, would not be able to form a government without including Arab parties. (The unstated assumption is that Arab Members of the Knesset – MKs – cannot be relied upon to protect Israel’s interests, including its security – a view that resonates with many Jewish Israelis.) In advancing this idea, Netanyahu has focused on Ahmad Tibi (perhaps the best-known Israeli-Arab politician and an MK since 1999), who has lobbied for better treatment of the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza as well as the improvement of conditions for Israeli Arabs. Using his own nickname, Netanyahu told voters that they would have to choose between “Bibi or Tibi”. Tibi responded by declaring wryly that he was not aware that he was a leading candidate for prime minister but also pointed out, more seriously, that Netanyahu’s remarks delegitimised the Arab parties, their MKs and the Arab public in general. 

For his part, Gantz was quick to reject the suggestion that he would include Arab parties in his coalition, were his party to gain the largest number of Knesset seats and hence become the front-runner to form a government. According to one media report, this has caused anger among Israeli Arabs.

In implying that the Israeli Arabs cannot be trusted, Netanyahu has been adopting a tactic like the one he used on election day in 2015. At that time, fearing that Likud voters were not turning out in large-enough numbers to give him victory, he took to social media to declare that “the Arabs are heading to the polls in droves.” Following the elections, he apologised for his statement. By then, however, the damage to the self-confidence of the Arab community and its feelings about its standing within Israel had been done. 

Since then, the damage has been greatly compounded by the adoption by the Knesset in July last year of “The Basic Law: Israel as the Nation State of the Jewish People”. The law defines Israel as principally a Jewish state and gives Arabic a lower official status than Hebrew. There has already been one indication of the practical effects of the law: new signposts have appeared in Hebrew and English but not Arabic.

Ayman Odeh MK, the head of the Israeli Arab Joint List, said at the time the law was passed that the Knesset had approved a “law of Jewish supremacy and told us that we will always be second-class citizens”. Moreover, while the law may reflect the views of many Jewish Israelis (and to a large extent only formalised the existing reality of widespread discrimination), others would wish to see the country behave as a state of all its citizens. When Rotem Sela, an Israeli actress, said just that on Instagram, Netanyahu responded, “Israel is the nation state of the Jewish people – and only it.” Gal Gadot, another Israeli actress (famous for her role as Wonder Woman), expressed her support for Sela’s stance. And Israel’s President Rivlin, without naming Netanyahu, spoke of “entirely unacceptable remarks about the Arab citizens of Israel”. 

If Israeli Arabs took some comfort from these statements, recent election-related decisions of the Supreme Court may also have had the same effect. On 17 March, the Court banned a far-right politician, Michael Ben-Ari, from running in the elections on the ground of persistent racist incitement against Arabs. On the same day, the Court reversed the disqualification by the Central Election Committee of the Balad-United Arab List party and of Ofer Cassif, a Jewish member of the Hadash-Ta’al Jewish/Arab party. 

Despite these developments, many Israeli Arabs may be tempted, through disillusionment, to boycott the elections on 9 April. Nevertheless, in polling carried out by the University of Maryland, 73.5% of those Israeli Arabs questioned said they intended to vote (although, based on a similar exercise in 2015, the actual turnout is likely to be several percentage posts lower).  Israeli-Arab politicians such as Ayman Odeh appear to hope that, despite their community’s distaste for Gantz’s refusal to countenance the inclusion of their parties in any coalition he might lead, Israeli Arabs may come out to vote as an expression of their antipathy to Netanyahu

The Arab community is a substantial one, making up around one in five Israelis. If Israeli-Arab voters do turn out in large numbers on 9 April, this could have an impact on the outcome, by preventing some of the smaller Jewish parties from crossing the electoral threshold of 3.25% of votes cast. This could, in turn, deprive Netanyahu of the right-wing allies he would need to form a coalition government. However, this is just one scenario among many, in a finely-balanced and unpredictable electoral contest.

Donald Trump Has Just Legitimized Israel’s Illegal Conquest of Occupied Territory


By Victor Kattan

U.S. President Donald Trump’s formal recognition of the Golan Heights – captured from Syria in the June 1967 War – as part of Israel could be considered even more dangerous than his decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

To be sure, the Golan Heights do not have the emotional attachment Jerusalem has. But from a legal perspective, Israeli scholars had at least fashioned plausible legal arguments in support of Israel’s claim to Jerusalem, even though these claims are being challenged by the Palestinians at the International Court of Justice. When it comes to the Golan Heights, however, Israel has never articulated a plausible legal argument to retain it.

Israel’s claim to the Golan Heights is based on security, not legal title. The territory was never included in the British mandate of Palestine. It was never promised to the Jewish people by the League of Nations. It was never mentioned in the UN Partition Plan. It was part of the French mandate for Syria, and part of the Syrian Arab Republic before it was captured. 

The Golan Heights will continue to remain occupied Syrian territory, whatever U.S. President Trump said when he met Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Washington.

The Golan Heights remain Syrian territory, not just because Syria, Turkey, Iran, Russia, and the Arab League say so. (For the record, the EU, France, Germany, the Gulf Cooperation Council, and the United Kingdom, have also made it clear that they do not recognize Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights and have no plans to recognize it).

The Golan Heights remain Syrian because that acquisition of territory, even if acquired in a war of “self-defense,” violates a fundamental tenet of the international legal order: the non-acquisition of territory by force.

This is why the UN Security Council called on Israel to withdraw from the Golan Heights in 1967 and why it decided that Israel’s 1981 decision “to impose its laws, jurisdiction and administration in the occupied Syrian Golan Heights is null and void and without international legal effect.”

Let me be clear: Israel’s decision to annex the Golan Heights was legally wrong, not just because the Security Council or any other state said it was wrong. It was wrong because the international community has prohibited the acquisition of territory by war since 1945. And the reason why the international community prohibited recognizing the acquisition of territory by armed conflict was in order to discourage further conflict by revisionist powers.

This prohibition formed the cornerstone of the Anglo-American security architecture that was outlined in the Atlantic Charter (1941) that was formulated amidst the Second World War. Its roots go back even further, to the Stimson doctrine, which ironically, was formulated by the United States in response to Japan’s annexation of Manchuria in 1931. The doctrine of non-recognition was also applied by the U.S. to the Soviet annexation of the three Baltic states – Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, and remained official US policy until their independence in 1991.

It found expression in the UN Charter (1945), in the Declaration on Principles of International Law concerning Friendly Relations and Cooperation among States in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations (1970), and in other universally agreed documents.

It does not take a genius to understand why recognizing territory acquired by armed force is dangerous because it could provide a precedent for states to annex territory that they claim is necessary for their defense. Palestinian leaders legitimately fear that President Trump’s recognition of the Golan Heights is a prelude to the annexation of parts of the West Bank. Who can blame them after Jason Greenblatt, President Trump’s top Mideast peace negotiator, tweeted his support for the decision?

But the recognition also has broader policy implications beyond the Arab-Israeli dispute.

Just think of China’s claim to the islands in the South China Sea, or its claim to Askai Chin in Jammu and Kashmir. How can President Trump square his decision to recognize the Golan Heights as part of Israel when the U.S. government strongly condemned Russia’s annexation of the Crimea? How would President Trump or the European Union react were the Arab states to recognize the independence of Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, and establish diplomatic relations with it – in spite of UN Security Council condemnation?

As I have previously argued here in Haaretz, we are now living in a world where the permanent members of the Security Council no longer agree on the basic rules of international legal order. It may be argued that this was always so, but that states did not articulate these differences publicly.

But I would respond that there is a difference between governments fashioning legal arguments to support controversial territorial claims, and brazenly staking a claim to territory by recognizing a right of conquest. And this is exactly what President Trump has just done.


Victor Kattan is Senior Research Fellow at the Middle East Institute of the National University of Singapore (NUS) and an Associate Fellow at NUS Law. Twitter: @VictorKattan


The Saudi “women driving” trial

Today’s Newsletter

Fascinating article by Oliver Miles
Summary: Saudi Arabia shoots itself in the foot, bringing 10 women to trial for promoting lifting the ban on women driving.
The trial of ten women which began yesterday in Riyadh is a remarkable example of Saudi Arabia’s ability to commit self-harm (not an ability confined to Saudi Arabia).
The case arises from the issue of women driving, which in a different way had been another example, that one lasting over 50 years. The ban, unique to Saudi Arabia, was never convincingly justified on any grounds, Islamic law, tradition, security, even Saudi law. Arabian women have ridden and driven camels since time immemorial, and since the introduction of the motorcar herding livestock, largely women’s work, has mainly been done by car (Charles Doughty writes that “herding maidens may go alone with the flocks far out of seeing of the menzil [camp] in the empty wilderness.”) The ban was not only a crippling restriction on women but a tiresome obligation on men, since husbands and other male relatives had to spend their time driving women around. During the last 10 or even 20 years, with the Saudi government committed in theory at least to improving the position of women, criticism of the ban was heard increasingly often including (as we have noted in earlier postings) in the Saudi press. The decision to scrap the ban was almost universally welcomed, and could have been a symbol of the reforming spirit of the new regime and MBS personally.
Instead a number of activists, some of them women whose names and faces had become familiar in the media as campaigners for lifting the ban, were arrested in the weeks before the ban was actually lifted last June. Many reports say that they were ill treated or tortured (the newly released US State Department report on human rights in 2018 lists torture of prisoners as an issue in Saudi Arabia). They were not charged and reportedly had no access to lawyers, but the public prosecutor said they were suspected of harming Saudi interests and offering support to hostile elements abroad. Some Saudi media called them traitors. The case was to be heard in the Specialised Criminal Court which deals with terrorism and political offences, but was apparently transferred at the last minute to the Criminal Court. Reporters and diplomats were not admitted.
According to a report in the Saudi newspaperOkaz investigations were concluded 12 days ago. At the court hearing the accused were informed of the charges, and given time before a second hearing to consult lawyers and prepare their defence. According to a Saudi rights group in London they have been charged under a cybercrime law and could face prison sentences of 1 to 10 years.
The reports in Okaz and other Saudi newspapers are short on information such as the names of the accused, but the Saudi-based Arab News gives a bit more detail, adding that when local media said the accused were traitors and “agents of embassies”, Arab News criticized such reporting as unfair and unprofessional, and argued that the accused should be treated as innocent unless proved guilty.
Last week at least 36 countries including all 28 members of the EU (but not the US, although Mike Pompeo like Jeremy Hunt has reportedly raised this case during recent visits to Riyadh) included a call to release the activists in a joint statement at the UN Human Rights Council. Three of the U.S. congresswomen mentioned in yesterday’s digest, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib and Tulsi Gabbard have on various occasions called for a boycott of Saudi Arabia, criticised human rights violations, and opposed arms sales to Saudi Arabia.
The Arab News report adds that “The accused women generated a high level of publicity when they were arrested, and the opening of the trial also attracted considerable attention from international media and human right organizations.” That perhaps underestimates the importance of the case for Saudi Arabia’s image, tarnished as it currently is. At a time when women’s affairs and women’s rights are everywhere in the media, the damage this case will do goes beyond cases which are perhaps objectively more important, such as executions.

Lujain al-Hadhlul
The media naturally love the fact that some at least of the accused are photogenic.

Gaza the Crucible


By Helena Cobban

March 13, 2019

The Gaza protests will mark their one-year anniversary on March 30. For 50 weeks, the Gaza Strip has seen thousands of residents taking part every Friday in the creative mass protests called the “Great March of Return.” Might this well-organized nonviolent action mark a new trend in Palestinian politics?

If it does, it would not be the first time that densely populated Gaza has acted as a crucible for the emergence of new political forces in Palestinian society.

Publisher embroiled in legal battle with Arkansas over law banning Israeli boycotts


When letters first showed up on Alan Leveritt’s desk saying the Arkansas Times was required to sign a pledge not to boycott Israel in order to continue to receive state contracts, he ignored them.

“I was frankly not aware there was a boycott of Israel when I started getting these notices,” Leveritt told NBC News.

As the publisher of the Arkansas Times, a monthly magazine based in Little Rock, he relies on advertisement revenue from state entities to keep his business afloat.