Mondoweiss / September 7, 2023
Former Mossad chief Tamir Pardo has joined the chorus of Israeli officials who have admitted, to varying degrees, that Israel is practicing apartheid.
The Associated Press published an interview yesterday with former Israeli Mossad chief, Tamir Pardo, who said that Israel is enforcing an apartheid system in the West Bank.
The revelation is old news, of course, as the reality of apartheid is by now recognized within the consensus of the international human rights community. In fact, limiting the apartheid designation to only the West Bank is itself limited — since even organizations like Israel’s B’Tselem have belatedly framed apartheid as existing “from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea.” What is new about the AP article, however, is who is admitting the reality of apartheid — a heavyweight of the Israeli security establishment.
Pardo did not mince words in describing the situation. “There is an apartheid state here,” he said. “In a territory where two people are judged under two legal systems, that is an apartheid state.”
A growing wave of admission
Pardo joins a wave of admissions of the apartheid reality in Palestine that has been ongoing since the start of this year. In February, veteran journalist and military correspondent Ron Ben Yishai warned of the apartheid aim of the government, particularly of its Finance Minister and de facto governor of the West Bank, Bezalel Smotrich. Last month, the retired general Amiram Levin (who was also deputy chief of the Mossad) said in an interview on Kan radio that after “56 years there is no democracy there… There is total apartheid there.”
These are the “liberals” who have owned up to what is happening on the ground. But the more outspoken fascists like National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir have also been inadvertently advancing the recognition of apartheid by describing it as such in all but name — Ben-Gvir said as much in a televised Channel 12 panel two weeks ago.
“My right, my wife’s right, my kids’ right to move around freely on the roads of Judea and Samaria [the West Bank] is more important than that of the Arabs,” he said, turning to the only Palestinian panelist on the program, Muhammad Magadli, and adding, “Sorry Muhammad, but this is the reality.”
It didn’t stop there. A few days later, Ben-Gvir’s political ally from Religious Zionism, Heritage Minister Amichai Eliyahu, likened the state of Palestinians to that of a prison — he just didn’t think it was a bad thing.
“When a person threatens my right to life, I limit his civil rights just a little bit, and allow the normative person to live on,” he had said in an interview with Ynet, denying that Palestinians live under apartheid because they live in a “prison” instead.
Liberal Zionist delusions
In this sense, Pardo’s recent admission is in good company, but we should pay particular attention to it, because his focus is on the West Bank, despite his seemingly encompassing usage of the term “apartheid state.”
“State” can also mean “status,” and here he is referring to the West Bank in the same sense as Amiram Levin’s usage.
The perception that there is apartheid “there” (in the West Bank), while “Israel proper” remains untainted by apartheid, is part of what Nathan Thrall has called the “Separate Regimes Delusion” — the assumption that there are two separated regimes, one civil and the other military, and that it is just a matter of time before they will split, and the occupation will cease to exist. The essence of this fantasy is the belief that Israeli liberal democracy exists and can be saved.
Pardo obviously believes in that delusion; he has become one of the outspoken critics of the judicial overhaul, as have many others from the military-intelligence elite. He tells AP that as Mossad chief under Netanyahu, he urged him of the need to clearly define Israel’s borders, or else risk “the destruction of a state for the Jews.” His aim is obviously to preserve the “Jewish and democratic” character of the state. This view is typically based on the existential fear that Palestinians would become a demographic majority, hence threatening the state’s “Jewish purity.” It dovetails with campaigns such as “Divorce the Palestinians,” which was enacted some years ago by “Commanders for Israel’s Security.”
The usage of the term apartheid thus seems to serve as a kind of rhetorical warning — not against losing Jewish democracy, but against losing Jewish purity. This is what liberal Zionism is all about.
Netanyau’s Likud party issued an enraged response to Pardo’s use of the apartheid designation, even if meant as a warning against what might come to pass. “Instead of defending Israel and the Israeli military, Pardo slanders Israel,” the response said. “Pardo, you should be ashamed.”
But perhaps the Likud should admonish its political ally, whose tirade ending with “Sorry, Muhammad” inadvertently did far more to advance apartheid awareness than Pardo’s milquetoast statements.
Jonathan Ofir is an Israeli musician, conductor and blogger/writer based in Denmark