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Danielle Kubes: Calling Israel an 'apartheid state' is a complete misrepresentation

Israel at 75: Using inflammatory and incorrect language like 'apartheid state' obscures the issues and distracts from any meaningful work to solve them

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As Israel marks the 75th anniversary of its founding this year, the National Post is hosting a five-month celebration of the “startup” nation, telling the remarkable story of its rebirth and resilience against all odds.

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Of all the damaging myths that abound about Israel, perhaps the most pervasive is that it is an apartheid state. This poisonous narrative, which was once confined to activists and universities, has now leaked into popular discourse.

Amnesty International even came out with a 277-page report in 2022 claiming that, “Israel has imposed a system of oppression and domination over Palestinians wherever it exercises control over the enjoyment of their rights.…

“The segregation is conducted in a systematic and highly institutionalized manner through laws, policies and practices, all intended to prevent Palestinians from claiming and enjoying equal rights to Jewish Israelis within Israel and the (Palestinian territories), and thus intended to oppress and dominate the Palestinian people.”

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Well, as the American psychoanalyst Walter Langer said, “If you tell a big enough lie and tell it frequently enough, it will be believed.”

It benefits no one, least of all Israel, to pretend that the country is perfect. Israel has many issues, but using inflammatory and incorrect language like “apartheid state” obscures those issues and distracts from any meaningful work to solve them.

Within Israel proper there is neither systematic nor institutional segregation — not on buses, not in schools, not for jobs and not for voting. Ten out of 120 members in Israel’s constantly shifting Knesset are currently Arab, which is actually the lowest number in the last two decades, likely due to low Arab voter turnout in the most recent election.

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There is some enforced separation at religious sites and in the army, but not in the way Israel’s detractors would have you think. Jews, for example, were forbidden until recently to pray on the Temple Mount, so as not to inflame tensions. Similarly, Israel conscripts Jewish men and women and those from minority groups into the army, but makes it voluntary for Arabs.

Even so, in recent years, Arab recruitment into the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) has increased considerably. “I consider myself an Arab and a Muslim but I also consider myself part of this country,” Mahmud Kashua, an IDF soldier, told the BBC in 2016. “It’s our state and we have to give back, to help as much as we can to the state which protects us.”

Aside from a few of the most sensitive sectors in the country, there is no official separation. Every citizen is protected under the rule of law, equally — regardless of their religion or ethnicity. Of course, there are certainly individuals who discriminate — on every side, just like there are here in Canada — and those individuals are held accountable by the law.

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Some say that because Arabs tend to live in separate neighbourhoods and towns, it means there is de-facto apartheid. How ridiculous.

The Greater Toronto Area is also divided into enclaves — South Asians in Brampton, East Asians in Markham, Filipinos at Bathurst and Wilson … the list goes on. Just like us, Israelis do often self-segregate. But that is not state-sanctioned, nor is it apartheid — it’s simply human preference, for which no free government can regulate, although many have tried.

Let’s move on to perhaps the most controversial aspect of Israel’s existence, the disputed territories of Gaza and the West Bank, which are home to Palestinians who are not citizens of Israel, and so naturally do not have the same rights or freedoms.

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Gaza, of course, has no Jews — they were all withdrawn in 2005. How can a territory be segregated when it is home to only one people? It’s nonsensical.

At the same time, Israel, along with Egypt, does control Gaza’s borders, as both countries are scared of Hamas. Gaza is a rather desperate and awful place to live and that’s certainly an issue that can and should be discussed — but such a dialogue is hindered when people throw around the word “apartheid.”

The West Bank, on the other hand, is likely the only area in Israel in which segregation policies do exist — but not because of racial discrimination. The current separation is the outcome of two things: the Oslo Accords, a peace agreement brokered by the United States in the early 1990s that saw Israel cede control of many areas to the newly created Palestinian Authority; and the Second Intefadeh in the early 2000s, which saw widespread Palestinian violence and terror attacks that led to Israel enacting strict security measures.

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There are now Palestinian towns where Israeli Jews are no longer allowed to venture. And aside from a few mixed cities, usually places of biblical significance like Hebron, which were also divided after the Oslo Accords, Palestinians live in Palestinian cities and Jews live in Jewish settlements.

Much has also been made of the so-called “Jewish roads” in the West Bank — but it’s mostly hogwash. There are a few roads around some settlements that restrict Palestinian traffic (but are fully open to Muslim-Israeli citizens), and roads in Palestinian-controlled areas in which Israelis cannot drive.

But it’s not due to discrimination — it’s simply a safety measure. Palestinian cars are restricted from driving on some roads near Jewish settlements because the risk of terror attacks is too high, and Israelis cannot drive on some Palestinian roads because the IDF cannot guarantee their safety.

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It’s only easy to point the finger and call Israel an apartheid state when you see everything through the lens of “oppression and domination.” But that narrative obscures the reality — that division in Israel, where it exists, has a cause, and that cause is almost always a security measure or the outcome of a negotiated peace process. Far from apartheid, Israel is still the only country in the region committed to being a liberal democracy — and succeeding at that while also ensuring a normal, thriving life for its citizens will be its forever balancing act.

National Post

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