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March 7, 2022 2:08 pm

Israel Can’t Be ‘Racist’ or ‘Apartheid’ — Here’s Why

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avatar by Ken Jacobson


Prime Minister Naftali Bennett speaks with Mansour Abbas, leader of the Islamist party Raam at the Knesset in Jerusalem, June 13, 2021. Photo: EMMANUEL DUNAND / AFP

The invasion of Ukraine by Russia is clearly an attempt by Vladimir Putin to revive the Soviet empire — if not its communist ideology. He has said that the demise of the Soviet Union was the greatest disaster of the 20th century, and now he’s trying to resurrect that ultimate imperialist edifice.

Another aspect of that era that is alive and well — indeed, is making a resurgence like the empire — is the Soviet-inspired theme that the Jewish liberation movement called Zionism, is the embodiment of racism.

Let us recall that the passage by the United Nations General Assembly of the 1975 resolution claiming that Zionism was racism was entirely a Soviet-inspired initiative. The Soviets concocted it to weaken America’s leading ally in the Middle East.

Israel had proven to have great strength in opposing Soviet-influence in the region, as evidenced by its victories over Soviet allies in both the Six-Day and Yom Kippur wars. If Israel was not to be defeated militarily, then the Soviets creatively came up with a totally fabricated conceptual weapon: that democratic Israel was actually a product of racist ideology.

Against this context, comes the updated version of that Soviet invention — the labeling of the Jewish state as an apartheid entity, which was most recently manifest in a report by Amnesty International.

In recent years, the main version of the “Israel is racist” charge was that its policy toward the Palestinians in the West Bank was an apartheid policy. Undoubtedly, there are problematic elements of Israel’s dealing with Palestinians, including different levels of regulations toward Jews and Arabs in the West Bank.

But whatever these challenges — and they are complex because of Palestinian terrorism and rejectionism — they are not the South African apartheid system, which was a racially-based ideological system of discrimination.

Now, however, as represented by the Amnesty report, the charge goes way beyond that apartheid libel, and resurrects the notion that the very concept of a Jewish state, known as Zionism, is in fact racist. In other words, the state of Israel is illegitimate.

The fact that this charge is coming now is ironic on several levels. It comes at a time when more and more Arab states are recognizing the legitimacy of Israel and normalizing relations with it. And it comes at a time when so much that is happening within Israel not only belies any notion of Israel being an apartheid state, but indicates serious efforts within Israel to create greater fairness and equality between the Jewish majority and minorities within Israel.

The most recent sign of this was the announcement of the appointment of a Muslim judge, Khaled Kabub, to the Israeli Supreme Court. Kabub had already been serving on a lower court, and he is the first Muslim to be appointed to Israel’s highest court. The fact that it has taken all these years for a Muslim judge to reach this position (even though there had been an Arab judge on the court) reflects on how far Israel had to go in relations with its minority population. But the fact that it has happened makes it clear how absurd and inappropriate the charges of apartheid are.

This important development coincides with the participation of the first Muslim party in a governing coalition in Israel — the United Arab List, led by Mansour Abbas. This party has been fully participating in the current government led by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, and Abbas himself has rejected the notion that Israel is an “apartheid” state.

Israel, like many democratic countries around the world, is constantly evolving in its dealing with its diverse populations. This is a normal process, and one that is subject to consideration and evaluation. It has no relationship, however, to the extreme and vile charges that have been leveled against it.

Israel’s Declaration of Independence spoke to the country’s key values — as a home for the Jewish people while extending full democratic rights for all its people. Like many countries, Israel has struggled through the decades to guarantee full rights for its minority population, all of which has been complicated by the Arab and Palestinian wars against the Jewish state.

But the Arab citizens of Israel have full representation in the Knesset, have equal voting rights, and full religious freedom. That can’t be said for Jews in Arab countries. And where there are gaps — in education, in employment, in positions of influence — there are steps being taken, including billions of shekels being invested by the government toward the Arab sector.

In a world that has become far more dangerous in recent days, it is time for democracies to support each other. Israel is one of those great democracies — and extreme charges against the Jewish state such as racism and apartheid should be rejected and dismissed as serving the interests of anti-democratic forces in a perilous world.

Ken Jacobson is Deputy National Director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).

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