Commentary  It isn’t apartheid

An abstention

Correction appended
I am a member of The Daily’s editorial board, but I have to express dissent with certain of the views expressed here. While it is certainly true that, like all nations, the State of Israel has made and continues to make questionable decisions, it cannot and should not be characterized as an apartheid state. Apartheid is a word associated with pre-1994 South Africa, a country where pervasive discrimination was institutionalized based on a notion of white people’s racial supremacy. This perceived superiority was used to justify laws that prohibited interracial marriage, that disenfranchised South Africans of colour, and that denied funding to black schools unless they complied with a curriculum that furthered the tenets of apartheid, among other things.

This system has nothing in common with Israel, a democratic nation which has no laws in place limiting freedom of speech, religion, or education, and which grants full civil rights to its Arab citizens as well as to its Jewish ones. This is in stark contrast to nations like Jordan or Saudi Arabia, which have laws in place that, respectively, prevent Jews from becoming citizens or freely discriminate against them on the basis of religion.

It is true that the checkpoint system in place in Israel impedes movement in the Palestinian Territories, and that supporters of such measures use security as an argument in their favour. Why this argument is not considered valid by some is difficult to understand. Nearly 4,000 Israeli civilians were wounded in terror attacks between 2001-2002, a figure that has fallen steadily with the increased implementation of checkpoints since then. Though checkpoints are problematic in nature, they are a temporary measure in place to protect the lives of Israelis.

For those who argue that the aforementioned terrorism is to be expected given Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian Territories, it should be noted that anti-Jewish violence in the region has been common throughout the 20th century, first in Palestine, and later in the State of Israel. It should also not be forgotten that leaders of the Arab Liberation Army vowed to “drive all Jews into the sea,” during the 1948 war, a statement that is genocidal in nature and that evidences an established anti-Israel conviction that predates the current situation in the Palestinian Territories. Though at times both sides in this conflict have used violence against each other, violence cannot justify violence, period.

Nevertheless, the above arguments are not meant to absolve Israel from responsibility for the human rights of those living within its borders and within the Territories. Rather, they are made to point out an entrenched double standard (one that many feel stems from even deeper-seated anti-Semitism) that allows the accusations of apartheid and injustice to be levelled at Israel from the likes of the United Nations, while countries like China escape UN condemnation while engaging in practices that are outright abhorrent in Tibet as well as in the northwest of the country.

Inequality exists in Israel as it does in Tibet, and in Canada, and everywhere. One way to work against it is by recognizing the multi-dimensionality of the Israeli-Palestinian situation, by holding Israel accountable to the same standards that are applied to the rest of the world, and by looking on both Israelis and Palestinians with a common measure of respect and human dignity.

—Amelia Schonbek

Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that nearly 4,000 Israeli civilians were killed in terror attacks in 2001-2002. It should have read that nearly 4,000 Israeli civilians were wounded in such attacks.