Israel: Apartheid State?

This is the second blog that departs from my usual patch and addresses a subject that needs to be kept in the public eye.  This is my very minor contribution to aiding that purpose.  I speak of the Palestine/Israel situation. Postings on this topic will continue to form part of my blog, though I recognise that for many this will not be a subject of interest.

The particular prompt for extending the scope of my blog was the good fortune I enjoyed in being able to join an Extended  Study Tour of   Palestine/Israel. This gave me the opportunity to see for myself at least some aspects of  the situation on the ground, and to meet organisations and individuals affected by, and assiduously seeking to counter, the gross injustices perpetrated by the Israeli state. This by no means makes me an expert, and no such claim is registered here.

This post should not be necessary, but it is.   It should not be necessary because it should be common knowledge that the State of Israel is an apartheid State, as rigorous and focused in its pursuit of institutionalised racism as was apartheid South Africa.

I’m uncomfortable accepting this position, but it is unavoidable, this because the internal logic of political Zionism’s founding purpose necessarily entails the institutionalisation of a comprehensive, all-encompassing discriminatory regime.  Such a regime requires, first, the reduction of the Palestinian Arab population living within Israel’s borders (however defined) by virtually any means possible, this to maintain a significant Jewish majority within State boundaries; second, it requires the aggressive diminishment or full curtailment of Palestinians’ fundamental human rights.  The two aspects are of course interwoven.

My previous post on the subject gave some examples of what this ‘internal logic’ entails in practice. Sadly, it is probably the best bet you could ever make that there will be many, many more shameful, cruel, abusive and illegal acts carried out by the Israeli State in the hours, days and months ahead. There is no doubt about this – Israel, to repeat, is a State that, as currently constituted, has given itself no alternative but to pursue the internal logic of its own founding principles.  Contrary to the currently dominant cultural and religious tenets professed by Israel, this logic and practice is not directed by heaven, but summoned by man.

In this post I want briefly to show why the position is as I have characterised it. I want also to explain why it is simply false to characterise Israel a democratic State.  The claim is able to be made only by the deft use of smoke and mirrors. In plain sight the proposition is somewhere between risible and flagrantly deceitful.  I touch only on a few aspects of this ‘internal logic’.  Other agencies and organisations have documented the full extent of the institutionalised web of discriminatory law, regulation, policy and practice.  Some links appear at the end of this piece.

Israel Basic Law

Israel’s Basic Law is crystal clear as to what constitutes the very essence and foundation of the State (emphasis added):

  1. The State of Israel is the National Home of the Jewish People; wherein the Jewish People fulfilsits yearning for self-determination in accordance with its historical and cultural heritage.
  2.    The Right of national self- determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish People.
  3. This Basic Law and all other laws shall be interpreted in conformity with this provision.


 1   The purpose of this Basic Law is to secure the character of Israel as the National State of the Jewish People in order to codify in a basic law the values of Israel as a Jewish democratic State in the spirit of the principles of its Declaration of Independence.

Control of the land

Key to the entrenchment and pursuit of a discriminatory State, is control over land ownership and land use.  93% of the land in Israel is effectively in the control of the State: land is either the direct property of the state, or owned by the Jewish National Fund (JNF) or the Development Authority.

The Israel Land Authority (ILA) is the government agency responsible for managing all this land.  A key function of the Israel Land authority is to ‘Guarantee that the national land is used in accordance with Israeli laws’, which leads us back to the Basic Law and the JNF Covenant  which requires that land held by the JNF be held in perpetuity for the exclusive benefit of the Jewish people.


Part of Israel’s claim to be a democratic state rests on the assertion that both Palestinian Arabs and Jews living within Israel are or can be citizens of the State.  This is correct.  However, Israel’s relationship to its citizens is not what one would usually expect from a democratic state.  The web site of Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael/Jewish National Fund offers the following contortions to explain JNF’s, and therefore Israel’s, understanding of citizenship. It opens with an oxymoron:

‘This is a Jewish State that belongs to the Jewish People and serves as a Jewish center [sic], and it is also the State of all its citizens.

A State cannot at one and the same time both ‘belong’ to a particular segment of its population, and at the same time be a ‘State for all its citizens’.  The Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael/Jewish National Fund web site continues:

The State may be under an obligation to treat all its citizens equally before the law. Equality is in the interests of Jews and Arabs alike. This common interest makes it incumbent upon the Jewish majority to allow minorities to integrate into the life of the State. The non-Jewish minority, for its part, has to acknowledge that Israel is a Jewish state and understand that the struggle for equal rights does not entail abrogating the definition of Israel as a Jewish state.’

One immediately sees something fishy is going on simply by noticing the conditional nature of the sentences:

  • ‘The State may be under an obligation’ – but not necessarily?
  • ‘Equality is in the interests of Jews and Arabs alike’ and ‘This common interest…’. Interests can change, rights are perennial.  In an avowedly Jewish State it is clear who will determine where interests lie;
  • ‘ is incumbent upon the Jewish majority to allow minorities to integrate…’ The one who ‘allows’ is the one who controls as is made quite clear both in the previous and the next sentence:
  • ‘The non-Jewish minority…’  ‘Minority’ here implying an imposed permanent status – but how to maintain?
  • ‘…has to acknowledge that Israel is a Jewish State…[and] that the struggle for equal rights does not entail abrogating the definition of Israel as a Jewish State’.

That last sentence seems to be wrestling with itself in an attempt to avoid what amounts to self-contradiction.  It’s smoke and mirrors again: on the one hand it acknowledges there is a ‘struggle’ for equal rights but then, on the other hand, embeds a limitation on just how far equality will be allowed to go.  Equality is an absolute. One can no more be a little bit equal than one can be a little bit pregnant or a little bit unique.

A key aspect of citizenship, surely, is the right to work to change any and all aspects of a State provided only that one can persuade a majority of fellow citizens to agree with you.  But you can’t do that in Israel, for Israeli law explicitly prohibits any political party in Israel from adopting a platform that challenges the State’s expressly Jewish character:

‘A candidates list shall not participate in elections to the Knesset, and a person shall not be a candidate for election to the Knesset, if the objects or actions of the list or the actions of the person, expressly or by implication, include one of the following:  Negation of the existence of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic State’.

The suppressed[1] UNESCWA (United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia) report ‘Israeli Practices towards the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid’ summarises the Israel State position thus:

’ Voting rights lose their significance in terms of equal rights when a racial group is legally banned from challenging laws’.

The various definitional contortions displayed above would simply be otiose were it the case that Israel was in some meaningful sense a democratic state comprising a citizenry with equal rights and equal obligations.

In most if not all western democracies, the status of Citizenship is held by virtue of birth within a territory, or by descent from a citizen parent, or is acquired by meeting conditions, for example residency in a country for a stipulated period and then via a process of application.  But once acquired, Citizenship confers common rights and obligations to all holders of that status.  One becomes equal in relationship to fellow citizens, and equal in relation to law: there is no mechanism or additional formal status that dilutes or vitiates the essential equality of citizens.   Not so in Israel.

The Israeli State institutionalises discrimination by virtue of the distinction it draws between citizenship and nationality.  Thus, the State’s national population registry clasifies each resident not only as a citizen, but also by a nationality.

All Israelis are citizens but this status does not mean the same as in, say, the UK or USA or other western democracies, i.e. equality before the law.  This is because Israeli citizens are also categorised by nationality.  It is this category that acts as vehicle and framework for entrenching and expanding, within law and by law, discriminatory treatment against all those not classified as Jewish by Nationality.  Thus Arabs and Druze belong to separate National categories.

It is worth noting here that Israel does not recognise a distinct Palestinian Nationality, but designates Palestinians as Arab.  This, incidentally, forms part of a wider process of erasure, calculated forgetting, dissembling and tendentious historical research by the Israeli State and some Israeli institutions.  Once again, smoke and mirrors – few things are as they seem. I’m sure I’ll come back to this in a later post.

By way of example of what Jewish Nationality entails: it means, for example, that I, a Jew, a UK citizen, living in South West London, can turn up in Israel tomorrow and have automatic Israeli citizenship because I am, so Israel says, part of the Jewish Nation. I have been conferred a right I do not wish to have and most certainly have not sought.

By way of contrast Palestinians who have and do actually live there have no such right of ‘return’.  Thus, if you’re a Palestinian, perhaps one of those forced from one’s home in 1947/48, or perhaps you’re an internally displaced (Palestinian) person shunted out of your home and village by the Israeli army to make way for an exclusively Jewish Settlement on land that is actually yours –  no Law of Return for you.  Instead, you are likely to become victim to the unspoken, unproclaimed Law of Illegal and Peremptory Confiscation.  The Los Angeles Times points to a situation that is all too current:

‘The situation of the Bedouin may be the most poignant, especially since they have lived in Israel’s Negev since long before the state was founded. They have Israeli citizenship, but their nomadic way of life has not blended easily with the norms of a modern state. Although the ancestral lands to which they claim ownership amount to less than 5% of the Negev, many in Israel oppose granting the Bedouin rights to these lands, on which they have dwelt for centuries. Alternatively, they seek to settle them into a few pre-designed townships. Their citizenship is unquestionably second class, especially when one compares their claims to land with those of Jewish settlers, who have established illegal outposts in the West Bank that frequently gain official sanction after the fact.’

International pressure

Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu made clear how international, non-violent opposition – for example, through boycott and divestment campaigns – played a key role in bringing down the South African Apartheid Regime:

In South Africa, we could not have achieved our democracy without the help of people around the world, who through the use of non-violent means, such as boycotts and divestment, encouraged their governments and other corporate actors to reverse decades-long support for the apartheid regime.

 The same issues of inequality and injustice today motivate the divestment movement trying to end Israel’s decades long occupation of Palestinian territory and the unfair and prejudicial treatment of the Palestinian people by the Israeli government ruling over them’.

Yet Israel is massively supported by the USA and Europe, specifically by the European Union notwithstanding the EU Parliament recognising the nature of Israel’s discriminatory regime.  A 2012 report by the European Parliament Directorate-General for External Policies,  ‘Shackled at Home: The Palestinian minority in Israel’, calls for action’:

‘More than 30 Israeli laws effectively penalise the minority, and new ones are currently being introduced. For Israeli Palestinians, the implications are severe and unremitting. Not only does the minority suffer from higher unemployment and poverty rates than their Jewish counterparts, but Palestinian towns are poor and lack adequate infrastructure. Whilst the international community and the EU have expressed concern about specific discriminatory legal acts in Israel, actions are now needed. The EU should establish a policy-oriented approach consistent with its values of democracy and respect for human rights — fundamental elements of the Association Agreement between the EU and Israel.’

Notwithstanding this call, the EU has just signed a Mediterranean cross-border agreement with Israel.  This will award tens of millions of euros in funding to ventures that entail cooperation with the 14 Mediterranean Basin countries, of which Israel is one.  It is the case that the agreement with Israel explicitly excludes the involvement of any territories beyond the 1967 borders, and therefore excludes the illegal Settlements in the Occupied Territory.  But I take this to be only a very partial mitigation of an agreement that should not have included Israel in the first place.

Distinction between a Regime and a State

The UNESCWA report cited above drew attention to an important distinction: that between a State and a Regime. Although the distinction of itself provides no easy pathway to resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli State conflict, at the conceptual level at least, noting the distinction helps counter the tendency – propagated by the Israeli State – to automatically equate the ending or evolution away from a discriminatory political Zionist State to a different dispensation as necessarily the ‘destruction of Israel’. In the words of UNESCWA report:

‘…identifying apartheid as a regime clarifies one controversy: that ending such a regime would constitute destruction of the State itself. This interpretation is understandable if the State is understood as being the same as its regime. Thus, some suggest that the aim of eliminating apartheid in Israel is tantamount to aiming to “destroy Israel”. However, a State does not cease to exist as a result of regime change. The elimination of the apartheid regime in South Africa in no way affected the country’s statehood.’

 Another type of State is in principle possible.

And so this posting ends leaving a crumb of conceptual comfort.  On the ground, comfort is hard to find.

[1] The UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia report appeared briefly on the UN web site but was taken down in response to protests from USA.  Briefly put, the charge that Israel is an apartheid state was found to be proven in a comprehensive, well-argued report.

Some organisations

Adalah’s  mission is to promote human rights in Israel in general and the rights of the Palestinian minority, citizens of Israel, in particular (around 1.5 million people, or 20% of the population).

Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions.   BDS is a Palestinian-led movement for freedom, justice and equality. BDS upholds the simple principle that Palestinians are entitled to the same rights as the rest of humanity.

Badil Resource Centre for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights  is an independent, human rights non-profit organization committed to protect and promote the rights of Palestinian refugees and internally displaced persons. Our vision, mission, programs and relationships are defined by our Palestinian identity and the principles of international humanitarian and human rights law. We seek to advance the individual and collective rights of the Palestinian people on this basis.

Experience Travel Tours  create unique opportunities to meet with key leaders from outstanding organisations and institutions who work in a variety of ways for a better world. Aspects of history, religion, culture, education, politics, healthcare, and the environment are covered. A broad range of perspectives is gained, with the focus on the agencies of peace in both societies.

Hebron Rehabilitation Center.  Hebron is a historic Arab Islamic city with a unique authentic heritage. In order to preserve Hebron’s cultural heritage and save the Old City from the greed of Jewish settlers.

Israeli Committee Against House Demoloitions ICAHD is a non-violent, direct-action group dedicated to ending the Israeli Occupation and achieving a just peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

Jews for Justice for Palestinians  To secure a lasting settlement to the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis so they can live in peace and security, thrive side by side, and co-operate together, Jews today are obligated to pursue justice on behalf of both peoples.

Jordan Valley Solidarity Campaign  Jordan Valley Solidarity campaign is a network of Palestinian grassroots community groups from all over the Jordan Valley and international supporters. Our aims are to protect Palestinian existence and the unique environment of the Jordan Valley by building international support and supporting communities on the ground.

Lajee Centre  Lajee Center (‘lajee’ means ‘refugee’ in Arabic), was established in Aida Refugee Camp in April 2000 by a group of 11 young people from the Camp who wanted to serve the community. Lajee is a community-based grassroots creative cultural centre that works with new generations of Palestinians as they continue their ongoing struggle for justice and rights for Palestine and all Palestinians.

Military Court Watch   MCW’s work is guided by the basic principle that children detained by the Israeli military authorities are entitled to all the rights and protections guaranteed under international law. Further, and in accordance with the principle that no State is permitted to discriminate between those over whom it exercises penal jurisdiction

Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) is a community of people working together for peace, equality, and justice and against racism, occupation, and colonisation. Together we are the biggest organisation in the UK dedicated to securing Palestinian human rights.

Rabbis for Human Rights.  Representing over 100 Israeli rabbis and rabbinical students from different streams of Judaism, we derive our authority from our Jewish tradition and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Our mission is to inform the Israeli public about human rights violations, and to pressure the State institutions to redress these injustices.


4 responses to “Israel: Apartheid State?”

  1. A strange slip in part of your blog where you say:
    ‘I have been conferred a right I do wish to have and most certainly have not sought.’
    I feel that you may have meant to say ‘I do not wish to have’ forgive me if I have got this wrong.

    Happy new year! I am not doing very well physically and so am trying to work from Brighton as much as possible. It would be good to see you soon.

    Anita Grant
    Chief Executive

    0207 607 9637
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    1. Anita

      A thousand blessings upon your head! Thanks for alerting me to a most egregious slip – I need an editor. Post vacant. Wish to apply? Thanks again. Well spotted. Phew!
      (Not because of this, but am about to phone you anyway).


  2. Hi Bernard. I am an avid follower of your play articles and research papers. I want to thank you for also posting this important information. I have very recently also begin to study and research this israel/ palestine question and have been shocked with the immense propaganda and lies that is in such massive contrast with the truth. It is great that you could actually see for your own eyes what the situation is. I can just imagine the impact it has on children and their right to play.
    Your input is much appreciated.


    1. Hello, Lizelle, Not to late to wish you a happy new year and all the best for the year ahead. I apreciate your comments greatly and I’d certainly urge you, if you have not already, to join the BDS campaign.
      The study tour was first class – I’d certainly recommend it. The tour leader ws incredibly – almost preternaturally – well-informed, and well-connected; and good company too.
      I think for many of us on the tour there was that sense of being a ‘disaster tourist’ which felt a bit uncomfortable. But the people we met – Palestinians and Jews opposed to the occupation – gave of their time and knowledge freely; and we were and are grateful for that.


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About Me

My name is Bernard Spiegal, I write mainly about Palestine/Israel and related issues; sometimes other stuff too


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