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Biden’s wrong about Israel—it’s absolutely an apartheid state

How can the president reject the ‘apartheid’ label when 60% of Israeli Jews support segregation of Palestinian-Israelis?

Middle EastHuman RightsUSA Politics

The Wailing Wall with the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque in the background, Jerusalem. Photo from Flickr.

When President Biden met with caretaker Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid, the two issued a joint statement that rejected ‘apartheid’ as a descriptor for Israel. In contrast, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem, and the UN Special Rapporteur for the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territory, Michael Lynk, have all concluded in the past year or so, despite a previous reluctance, that the situation in Israel and Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories fits the definition of apartheid in international law (such as the Rome Statute that underpins the International Criminal Court).

The allegation is not that the situation precisely resembles that in apartheid South Africa in all particulars. The word is now a term of art in international law and refers to the systematic disadvantaging of one ethnic group, on the basis of their ethnicity, by another.

One of the hallmarks of regimes of apartheid (including Jim Crow in the United States) is coercive residential segregation.

So it is ominous that according to Or Kashti at Haaretz, a poll by the Israeli Institute for Democracy this spring found that 60 percent of Israeli Jews believe that Jews and “Arabs” (i.e. Israelis of Palestinian heritage, what I call Palestinian-Israelis) should “live apart.”

This attitude is not about the stateless Palestinians under Israeli military occupation in the West Bank. We are talking about the 20 percent of Israeli citizens who are of Palestinian heritage.

The figure rose from 45 percent in spring of 2021, before the 11-day Israeli military campaign in the West Bank and Gaza of that year, which provoked widespread Palestinian-Israeli sympathy protests and strikes.

Only a minority, 20 percent, of Palestinian-Israelis believe that they should live apart from Israeli Jews, a figure which has not changed in many years.

Moreover, most Palestinian-Israelis are now saying they want more of a voice in Israeli social and political affairs. The outgoing Naftali Bennett government was the first in Israeli history to include a Palestinian-Israeli party as part of its coalition. It is not an experiment that will likely soon be repeated, since the government fell over the unwillingness of some Palestinian-Israeli members of the government to renew a law giving Israeli squatters on Palestinian-owned land in the West Bank the full privileges of Israeli citizens residing in Israel.

Kashti quotes the leader of the study, Dr. Tamar Herman, as saying that just as Palestinian-Israelis are beginning to want more participation in Israeli politics, there is a rising unwillingness of Israeli Jews to give it to them, or even to let them live outside municipal areas where they predominate. Many Palestinian-Israeli villages in the Galilee are not recognized by the Israeli government and labour under many disadvantages including lack of permission to make repairs to local buildings. The villages that have been recognized often only gained that status by aligning with a Jewish Israeli political party.

Among right wing Israelis, who predominate in the parliament or Knesset, 70 percent favour segregation from Palestinian-Israelis. Israeli youth, ominously are more likely to hold this view than their elders. Haredim or fundamentalist Orthodox Jews overwhelmingly support segregation of Palestinian-Israelis.

Asked if a Palestinian-Israeli who feels part of the Palestinian people can nevertheless be loyal to Israel, 63 percent of Palestinian-Israelis said ‘yes.’

Only 28 percent of Jewish Israelis agreed.

If the solid majority in a society systematically views a minority as disloyal and doesn’t want them living in its neighbourhoods, that sounds an awful lot like apartheid.

Juan Cole is a public intellectual, prominent blogger and essayist, and the Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History at the University of Michigan.

This article originally appeared on Informed Comment.

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