Don’t call Israel an apartheid state

More stories from Michael Adato


A World War II reenactment group celebrates Israel Victory Day in Ashdod, Israel on May 9, 2018

Throughout the week of May 14, anti-Israel protesters are gathering around the country to mark what they call “Apartheid Week.” This event refers to Israel as “an apartheid state” and creates a false moral equivalence between the horrific racism of South African apartheid from 1948-1991 and the free, democratic State of Israel. DePaul’s Students for Justice In Palestine will be holding events on campus from May 14 to 17 to raise awareness.

Apartheid included laws prohibiting populations of different races from living together, laws codifying political censorship and repression, and segregation throughout every aspect of life. For example, The Immorality Act made it illegal for a white South African to have sexual relations with a non-white South African. These are the types of laws that make up the horror of apartheid.

In Israel, there is no equivalent to these heinous laws. Israel is a nation in which Christians, Muslims and Jews have access to all holy sites and government services as equal citizens under the law. Arab Muslims and Christians serve as civil servants, as politicians in the Israeli Knesset (Israeli parliament), and as judges on the Israeli Supreme Court. Every Israeli citizen has the right to protest, organize and publish whatever they would like. None of these things were possible for non-white South Africans living under apartheid.

Portraying Israel as equivalent to apartheid South Africa shows a disrespect for those who suffered in South Africa and for the diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds of the Israeli people. Rather than increasing polarization through hyperbole, Palestinians and Israelis should endeavor to hold honest dialogue about the facts on the ground. Peace can only be achieved through nuanced discussion, and the false comparison to South African apartheid makes peace harder to reach.

Earlier in the year, Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life sponsored a trip to Israel with 17 DePaul students of different backgrounds. During the trip, students travelled from north to south and east to west, hearing the stories of Israelis and Arabs. Those who went were able to understand the complexities and nuances of life in that place. In addition, I just returned from a joint trip of 10 DePaul students of various backgrounds and faiths to Washington, D.C., during which we heard from diverse speakers including Arabs, Israelis, Muslims and Jews. These sorts of programs, where people can truly speak to one another across lines of division, is what we need on our campus. I am proud of our DePaul Hillel and our community for our dedication to dialogue and understanding to create peace and prosperity for all. We welcome all to join us in our quest for peace and justice for Israel.