‘Apartheid’ Israel: semantic implications

Apartheid wall

Last month, the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem issued a report with the provocative title: This is Apartheid: A Regime of Jewish Supremacy from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea. It documents systematic discrimination against Palestinians in the spheres of land, citizenship, freedom of movement, and political participation—on both sides of the Green Line. It echoes the 2017 findings of the UN Economic & Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) in its report, Israeli Practices towards the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid. But the fact that this time the comparison between Zionism and South African apartheid is being made by an Israeli organization poses a challenge to the increasingly entrenched dogma that all anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism.

It particularly throws into question the “Working Definition of Anti-Semitism” drafted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), which lists “Contemporary Examples of Anti-Semitism.” On this list is the item: “Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.” The definition was officially invoked by a Trump executive order of December 2019, ostensibly on extending civil rights protection to Jewish students on college campuses.

Trump’s EO was actually issued over the protests of some in the IHRA. Kenneth Stern, who himself wrote the text cited by Trump’s EO, proclaimed in The Guardian after its issuance: “I drafted the definition of antisemitism. Rightwing Jews are weaponizing it.” Stern, director of the Bard Center for the Study of Hate and author of The Conflict Over the Conflict: The Israel/Palestine Campus Debate, stated: “This order is an attack on academic freedom and free speech, and will harm not only pro-Palestinian advocates, but also Jewish students and faculty, and the academy itself.”

The contradiction becomes clearer with the new B’Tselem report. Commentator Nasim Ahmed, wrting in Middle East Monitor, states: “Claiming…that the existence of a state of Israel is a ‘racist endeavour’ can get you branded as an anti-Semite. As ridiculous as this sounds, B’Tselem is thus, according to the IHRA, an anti-Semitic organisation.”

Photo: Filippo Minelli