You Won’t Get Peace by Weaponizing Lies Like ‘Apartheid’ Against Israel
On a long drive from my native Indiana to to the state of Virginia, I listened to a podcast wherein the interview subject began with a fairly benign truism: “Words matter.”
The program, produced by Americans For Peace Now, began by stating that not every murder is a genocide and not all discrimination is apartheid. The interview then continued for another 30 minutes laying out a “legal” framework of apartheid, in order to shoehorn Israel into that definition, vis-à-vis Palestinian Arabs living in the West Bank.
I agree that words matter. The words we use to describe an issue directly influence the substance of a debate.
I further contend that facts matter, and that merely using legal terms to describe a legal framework does not establish facts independently. Law was not meant to be argued in the abstract.
The arguments made to establish Israel as an “apartheid state” on the podcast were irresponsible and unwarranted, and promoted key assertions that have become commonplace in the misinformed effort to establish Israel as an apartheid state.
The UN defines apartheid as “inhuman acts committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons and systematically oppressing them.”
The term was derived from the system of racial segregation imposed in South Africa from the late 1940s until 1994. Separation of the races was strictly enforced in public accommodation, trade, education, marriage, and even sexual acts. The purpose was to cement the power structures that existed at the end of the British colonization of the region.
The cynical invocation of the term is used in the hopes of eliciting a sympathetic response to the alleged victims — in this case, the Palestinian Arabs. When the term is used to describe Israel, it is as inappropriate an analogy as comparing apples to hand grenades.
Firstly, the podcast speaker described the West Bank as “occupied territory” under international law. This is simply not true. The area traditionally referred to as the West Bank is not “occupied.” The West Bank is “disputed” territory. While the distinction may seem purely semantic, words matter.
Occupied territories are captured in war from another sovereign; in this case, a Palestinian sovereign did not exist in 1967, during the Six-Day War, when the alleged “occupation” began. Disputed territories, however, are lands subject to ongoing negotiations regarding conflicting claims of sovereignty.
Referring to the West Bank as occupied may play well into the argument of Israeli apartheid, but doing so mischaracterizes the legal and political frameworks under which both sides of the debate are attempting to establish agreements. Furthermore, this mischaracterization does not produce a positive result — nor does it seek to do so. It seeks only to entrench and divide both sides through alienation while failing to meaningfully address the needs of either.
The speaker told of an Israel where Arabs are second-class citizens — denied the right to vote, run for office, or attain citizenship. I would wager there are many Israeli-Arabs who would beg to differ — for example, Abdel Rahman Zuabi, Salim Joubran, or George Karra, former members of Israel’s Supreme Court; the 17 Israeli-Arab members currently serving in the Knesset; or perhaps the Israeli-Arabs serving in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).
Even in the West Bank, Palestinians are afforded voting rights and even their own civil management under the Palestinian Authority (PA). While the PA traditionally coordinates with Israel in some areas — such as sharing security functions with the IDF — it still has autonomy status.
The Palestinian-Arabs who live under the control of the Authority are not denied a voice, it’s just that the authority to which they speak seems unwilling to listen. The people who live in the West Bank are subject to security controls and their movement is, at times, limited. But the realities that lead to such policies are independent of their race. They are based on real-world safety and security concerns. The Palestinian Arabs are not subjugated, and they are not second-class citizens. They are also not citizens of Israel.
To be clear, matters of Israeli-Palestinian sovereignty are not beyond debate. There are political, religious, and human rights issues that should be debated and considered very deliberately.
But reducing one side or the other to terms that are the very embodiment of evil through ad hominem labels or inappropriately applied legal definitions is not helpful, and does not produce meaningful outcomes for people living these truths daily.
Cade Spivey is a publishing Adjunct at The MirYam Institute, a graduate of the United States Naval Academy, and veteran of three tours as an officer in the US Navy.
The MirYam Institute is the leading international forum for Israel focused discussion, dialogue, and debate, focused on campus presentations, engagement with international legislators, and gold-standard trips to the State of Israel. Follow their work at www.MirYamInstitute.org.