B’Tselem and the Israel ‘Apartheid’ Myth
News organizations have given prominent coverage to a report published by the organization B’Tselem, which claims that Israel is no longer a democracy but an “apartheid regime” devoted to cementing the supremacy of Jews over Palestinians.
By uncritically portraying this group as a leading proponent of human rights, the media has effectively facilitated the hijacking of the word apartheid by anti-Israel activists, whose goal is to foster doubt about the legitimacy of the Jewish state.
Besides the emotional response that apartheid evokes, it is also a clearly defined crime against humanity under international law. Not a single country other than South Africa has ever been charged by the international community with imposing apartheid on its people.
None of the world’s worst human rights violators have been placed in this docket:
By subjecting Israel to a double standard, B’Tselem and, in turn, the media have blurred the fine line between legitimate criticism of Israeli policies and antisemitism.
B’Tselem’s troubling history of blatant anti-Israel activities has been glossed over. Indeed, the organization was instrumental in pressuring the United Nations to investigate Israel’s conduct following the 2009 Gaza War (Operation Cast Lead) that was initiated by the Hamas terrorist group.
The result was the one-sided, and subsequently debunked, so-called Goldstone Report. B’Tselem is mentioned 56 times in the document, which was widely used to legitimize extreme biases and mainstream libels against Israel.
Later, expressing regrets over the report he helped compile, Richard Goldstone, who is of South African heritage and has an extensive legal background, said, “In Israel, there is no apartheid. Nothing there comes close to the definition of apartheid.”
Seemingly, B’Tselem’s past efforts to single out Israel for condemnation would be crucial for news outlets to note. Instead, the Associated Press had this to say (opine?):
That a respected Israeli organization is adopting a term long seen as taboo even by many critics of Israel points to a broader shift in the debate as its half-century occupation of war-won lands drags on and hopes for a two-state solution fade.
And while B’Tselem is described merely as a left-wing organization, it is actually a member of the Fédération Internationale des Droits de l’Homme (FIDH), a Paris-based association of global NGOs that is active in worldwide Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaigns.
The FIDH has pushed for the European Union to adopt guidelines preventing the labeling of West Bank products as “Made in Israel,” and lobbied for the UN Human Rights Council to establish a commission of inquiry into Israel’s actions during the 2014 Gaza War, which was also started by Hamas.
Previously, B’Tselem for the most part limited its criticism to Israeli policies that apply to Palestinians living beyond the pre-1967 borders (i.e. the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and the eastern part of Jerusalem). Now, the organization appears to have ventured into new territory: claiming that Zionism — namely, the right of Jewish people to self-determination — has produced an apartheid regime, even within what is regarded as Israel proper:
Israel is not a democracy that has a temporary occupation attached to it; it is one regime from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, and we must look at the full picture and see it for what it is: apartheid.
Yet, facts are stubborn things, and in Israel, unlike the past situation in South Africa, national law guarantees equal rights for all.
And while the situation in the West Bank is more complex, Israel has on multiple occasions offered the Palestinians generous peace deals to end the prevailing status quo. Indeed, every Israeli prime minister since Yitzhak Rabin over a quarter century ago has publicly accepted in principle the eventual creation of a Palestinian state, only to be rebuffed by Ramallah.
Whereas the ultimate fate of the West Bank is a matter of robust debate even amongst Israelis, what is certain is that the media has spread an outright falsehood by suggesting that Israel is an apartheid state. Arab-Israeli citizens have the same freedom of movement and speech as their Jewish counterparts; receive an education and health care; are able to vote; and can work in whatever professions they choose. They also serve throughout the government, in the Knesset, and on the Supreme Court.
But the news coverage of B’Tselem and its latest report paints a distorted picture. As a result, opponents of the Jewish state can more readily discharge a loaded word that is not only totally inaccurate, but also used as ammunition by those who want to see Israel eradicated.
And the media is seemingly all-too-eager to jump on the bandwagon.
Gidon Ben-zvi is a contributor to HonestReporting, where this article first appeared.