Is Israel an Apartheid State?
Report by the Pinsker Centre
A common criticism levied at Israel as it fights against the terrorist organization Hamas in Gaza is that it is an “apartheid state” mirroring the abhorrent policies of South Africa’s minority white-rule structure until the 1990s. The label of “apartheid,” whether it be applied to Israel’s internationally recognized borders or its territories in the West Bank and Gaza, is an extremely hyperbolic and offensive description that only further exasperates a conflict that has been waged for far too long.
What is “apartheid”?
Apartheid is a specific term applied to South Africa’s repressive government system throughout the 20th Century that disenfranchised the native black majority from politics in the country. Due to carefully curated legislation, racist policies became enshrined in South Africa to preserve the rule of the descendents of European colonizers.
Is Israel an Apartheid State?
The differences between Israel and South Africa are many, and even a quick look at Israel’s democracy reveals that referring to the country as an “apartheid state” is a clear distortion of facts. Within Israel, ethnic minorities such as the Druze, Assyrians, and both Christian and Muslim Arabs are guaranteed full protection and rights under the law as citizens equal to Jewish Israelis. For example, soldiers of all ethnic backgrounds fight in the IDF, and ethnic Arabs have even joined a government coalition and are represented by a member of the Israeli Supreme Court. While South African apartheid was a system of racist oppression, modern Israel represents a flourishing, multiethnic democracy with minorities forming a crucial part of the country’s fabric.
Israel’s policies towards its territories captured during the Six-Day War, the West Bank and Gaza Strip, are complicated but do not resemble apartheid in any capacity. Gaza, although governed by a genocidal terrorist organization in Hamas, maintained autonomy and was not occupied by Israel following the 2005 disengagement. Moreover, the West Bank represents a complicated system due to negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority that divided the country into different zones and enshrined Palestinian self-rule over the territory, with its own security service and governmental structure. Although negotiations on an independent Palestinian state have been at an impasse following the terrorist attacks of the Second Intifada, Israel has respected the relative autonomy of the West Bank and Gaza as agreed to by the settlements of the Oslo Accords.
Although critics of Israel refer to the country as an “apartheid state,” the label is inaccurate, misleading, and harmful to the peace process between Palestinians and Israel. Even critics of Israeli policies such as South African judge Richard Goldstone decry such a comparison, as the author of the later retracted “Goldstone Report” on Israeli actions against Palestinians stated in 2011 that comparing the two systems only serves as a “disservice to all who hope for justice and peace.”
 “Israel and the Occupied Territories,” U.S. Department of State Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, 2010 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, 8 April 2011, https://2009-2017.state.gov/j/drl/rls/hrrpt/2010/nea/154463.htm.
 “The Oslo Accords and the Arab-Israeli Peace Process,” U.S. Department of State, Office of the Historian, Milestones: 1993-2000, https://history.state.gov/milestones/1993-2000/oslo.
 “Allegation: Israel is an apartheid state,” Anti-Defamation League, 8 July 2021, https://www.adl.org/resources/backgrounder/allegation-israel-apartheid-state.
 Richard J. Goldstone, “Israel and the Apartheid Slander,” 31 October 2011, https://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/01/opinion/israel-and-the-apartheid-slander.html.