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Israel, the Palestinians, and the Apartheid Analogy

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Those who have been reading opinion sections about the Arab-Israeli conflict for any time at all are probably aware that Israel is often accused of either "committing apartheid" or "being an apartheid state." Israel's critics use this phrase all the time, falsely attributing it to Jimmy Carter, and will not compromise in the fact that "Israel is an apartheid state" or some variations thereof. People who rely on this claim actually showcase two distinct (and irreconcilable) narratives about the Palestinian people.

In order for Israel's treatment of the Palestinians to be considered apartheid, it needs to meet the definition. The crime of apartheid has a very specific meaning that cannot be changed just to fit a population you don't like. One of the most basic requirements for apartheid is it has to be about the treatment of one racial group. Only racial conflicts can be described as apartheid. Therefore, if the anti-Zionists consider the Palestinians to be a separate nation from Israel, the definition cannot possibly apply. Israel's treatment of Israeli Arabs is different from how it treats Palestinian Arabs, and also different from how it treats Syrian and Jordanian Arabs. The only thing that separates these three groups of Arabs is nationality, and no one can consider Israel's treatment of Israeli Arabs to be apartheid. Jimmy Carter certain doesn't. Therefore, Israel's treatment of the Palestinians cannot be considered apartheid either.

Let's compare the I/P situation in this definition to another situation: the American occupation of Iraq. Under international law, the US was considered to be occupying Iraq, with all of the legal requirements and definitions accordingly. While the US was occupying Iraq, Iraqi people were not allowed to vote in US elections, travel freely to the US or within Iraq, or have any of the other rights that US citizens have. But no one considered this apartheid, and rightly so. The difference between the US's treatment of Arab Americans and the Iraqis is based only on nationality, just like the Israeli treatment of Arabs is based on nationality. Exact same situation, but one group is called apartheid and the other isn't.

Now that we have covered why the situation in the West Bank does not fall under the legal definition of the crime of apartheid, I'm going to talk for a minute about why the anti-Zionists on the Huffington Post and elsewhere use the argument anyway, and how this leads them into trouble.

I first should point out that though every anti-Zionist worth his salt claims that "Israel is an apartheid state," the people who push the use of the term the most in fact do not believe this. Jimmy Carter told NPR, " "I know that Israel is a wonderful democracy with equal treatment of all citizens whether Arab or Jew," and other critics of Israel make it clear that it is only Israel's policies in the West Bank which is like apartheid. This might seem like a petty distinction, but it's important: The former is an attack on Israel's existence, the latter is a criticism of its actions that can be debated. It is no surprise which the anti-Zionists choose to use.

What is more interesting is when they take it to the next level. Many anti-Zionists have claimed that the Palestinians should lobby for a one-state solution and "their rights," in other words, that they should be equal to Israelis. Since the Palestinians aren't being treated equally to Israelis, it's apartheid, they conclude. You can find plenty of examples of this if you are so inclined.

The trouble with claiming that the Palestinians are fighting for "their rights," and "equality," is that it puts the anti-Zionists and other self-styled spokespersons for the Palestinians in a double bind: Are the Palestinians a nation unto themselves who are under occupation, or are they simply Arabs who have been deprived of their rights as citizens by Jewish oppressors? Let me try to be clearer, according to anti-Zionist logic, the Palestinians can be one of two things:

1. A nation called "Palestine." They are a separate people from Syrians, Jordanians, and Israelis, and so therefore they deserve all the rights and privileges that a nation and people should have. This includes a state, self-determination and a presence at the United Nations. Unfortunately, they and their lands are currently occupied by Israel. Henceforth, they have been fighting for their freedom from occupation and to establish their state. They also have all the protections that a people under occupation do under the 4th Geneva Conventions.

2. Not a separate nation, but a group of Arabs who are simply being disenfranchised of their rights to vote in Israel's elections and travel through Israel. They are fighting for their rights, and when they get them, Israel will be a binational state with equal rights for all it's citizens, unlike the apartheid state that it is now.

Both of these arguments are flawed, of course, but that's a discussion for another time. Now, the PA and other representatives of the Palestinians stretching all the way back to Yassir Arafat. have always made it clear that they are #1, a separate nation of people who deserve their own state. They have the rest of the world believing that they will be content with ending the occupation and establishing their state, and many of their defenders say that they have the right to resist occupation, even if that means killing Israeli civilians.

When some of the anti-Zionists try to claim that the Palestinians are #2, however, they run into some problems. The anti-Zionists might claim that the Palestinians are members of Israel, and should become Israeli, but that would mean going back on everything the Palestinians have been saying for the past 40 years. The Palestinians have claimed that they are a separate nation from Israel (and in fact they preceded Israel) but now the anti-Zionists are telling us that that is all a lie? It is a good thing that the real Palestinians and their leaders are careful to avoid this line of argument, because it would mean everything they claimed they had been fighting and killing for was a lie. They might keep their support among their most dedicated defenders and the Muslim nations, but the moderate peoples of the world would be astounded at their double talk.

The anti-Zionists don't need to worry about the consequences of their beliefs, though, so they will jump back and forth between claiming that the Palestinians are #1 and #2 without a second thought about the consequences of their statements. Some, for instance, claims that the Palestinians have the right to resist occupation but then will turn around and say that Israel is an apartheid state. Hello! As we have explained before, if the Palestinians are under occupation they can't also be victims of apartheid. But the fun doesn't end there. You see, there are natural consequences of the Palestinians latching onto either one of these lines of argument. Here are some examples.

-If the Palestinians are under occupation, that means that they can never formally accuse Israel of the crime of apartheid, as explained above. The best they can do is to use the analogy to gain sympathy. Therefore, no more complaints about Israel "practicing apartheid" or any use of the a-word.
-They also have no right to demand a "one-state solution," as no nation has the "right" to infringe upon the sovereignty of another. Of course, I guess this would apply in both circumstances.
-As a people under occupation, they need to make peace with Israel before they establish their state. A unilateral declaration would be illegal.
-As a separate people, they have no legal status as Israeli citizens nor do they need to be tried in Israeli courts. No more complaints about "extrajudicial killings" ala Mahmoud Al-Mabhouh. They are also considered to be a people at war with Israel, and not subject to other legal protections.

-If the Palestinians don't exist, therefore the West Bank is not Palestinian land, and Israel can do whatever they want to it. Therefore, no more complaints about Israel building settlements or "stealing Palestinian land." It's all Israel.
-If the Palestinians are in fact part of Israeli society, they are not subject to any of the protections of the Geneva Conventions as a population under occupation. Therefore, no more complaints about "collective punishment."
-Israel can treat people who are actively undermining the sovereignty of their own state as traitors, and use whatever means necessary to end their attempts at treason. That includes arresting the Palestinians and holding them in detention. America did it during wartime, Israel can do it too.
-Hamas and Fatah (and other militant groups) have no right to exist, because proxy militias are illegal and their presence would be a violation of Israel's sovereignty. Again, Israel can use whatever means necessary to destroy them, and anyone who supports them, if they choose.

It just goes to show how there are natural consequences to any position the anti-Zionists choose to take. Of course, all of this is dependent on their audience knowing exactly what the real definition of "apartheid" means, and all the implications that it has. It is therefore no surprise that the anti-Zionists do their best to keep us in the dark about it's true meaning.
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Matt and Zach Smith are two bloggers who monitor the website the Huffington Post for media bias and anti-Semitism.
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