Israel has long been admonished for its similarities to the Apartheid regime of South Africa, as a result of its actions regarding its Arab minority and the occupation of the West Bank. At the moment however, Israel is still some distance away from the depths of the Apartheid regime. But Israel is steadily sinking towards that level. In a bold move Israel recently approved a new law, the 14th of the set of ‘Basic Laws’ that collectively form Israel’s constitution. This new addition to the constitution formally declares Israel to be the “nation-state of the Jewish people” and directly states that “right to exercise national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish people.” While this alone is not quite the “smoking gun” of Apartheid, it does represent yet another step in that direction.
Lets be clear: this most recent Basic Law firmly establishes the primacy of Jews, both as an ethnic and religious group, within Israel. While the law does not itself remove rights from non-Jews in the country, by explicitly affording primacy to the Jewish population it limits the ability of others to express their rights. This is a major step to making Israel a democracy ‘for Jews only.’ The next step is to begin directly eliminating the rights of the non-Jewish population. Already, the Israeli government gives vastly preferential treatment to Jewish citizens in land, water, and electricity allocation. This new addition to the Basic Law paves the way for that preferential treatment to be fully enshrined in the law. The settlements, border fences, concrete walls and barriers, checkpoints, and the rest of the features of the occupation currently justified as security measures are steadily becoming measures to enforce segregation plain and simple.
Israel has thus far avoided most negative consequences for its actions as a result of strong political support in the West, and in particular in the US. There is almost no worse label for a politician than “anti-Semite,” and indeed, for good reason. But now the term is weaponized to silence all legitimate criticism of Israeli policies. Is Israel really above reproach? Do we give them a blank check in perpetuity? At what point do we say “Enough”? Yes, Israel has legitimate security concerns. They are constantly under the threat of terrorism, a threat all too often realized. But we cannot allow that to be used as justification for the collective punishment of all Arabs living under Israeli rule.
Gaza has been described as an “open air prison.” Life in the West Bank for Palestinians is often a daily struggle. Bethlehem has essentially become a ghetto, walled off and surrounded by Israeli settlements. Radicalization feeds on despair. Misery breeds resentment and anger with violent results. Do we wait until Israel has finished creating its “bantustans” before we are moved to action? Do we wait until Israel has fully become an Apartheid state before we become outraged? Do we have the courage to be impartial, and to work to restrain all parties in the conflict? These are the questions we must ask ourselves. If peace between the Israelis and Palestinians is to ever be achieved, the world must act to stop the steady creep of Apartheid.