Israel’s ‘many shades of apartheid’ triggers heated debate 

Michael Sfard (File)

Middle East Monitor  /  October 8, 2021

Israel’s apartheid regime became the subject of a dispute recently in the Hebrew edition of the Haaretz newspaper between leading Israeli human rights attorney Michael Sfard and South Africa’s Chief Rabbi Ze’ev Warren Goldstein.

Sfard wrote a scathing response to Goldstein’s argument that the term “apartheid” should only apply to South Africa and further claimed that accusing Israel of committing the crime of apartheid is anti-Semitic. In his article, Goldstein scolds Human Rights Watch (HRW) and similar organizations like B’Tselem that branded Israel an apartheid state, which presumably would mean that in the eyes of the rabbi these prominent groups and thousands of anti-racist campaigners are anti-Semites.

Having also written a detailed legal opinion stating that Israel is committing the crime of apartheid for the human rights organization Yesh DinSfard explained that he had no option but to respond to Goldstein’s article and in particular the rabbi’s insistence that it was anti-Semitic to call Israel an apartheid state.

Sfard’s article, which was translated into English by Mondoweiss, began by questioning Goldstein’s reasoning that the term “apartheid” has been detached from the original meaning it had in its homeland of South Africa and that its essence, rooted in racist legislation, does not exist in Israel. The suggestion here is that apartheid is a very specific phenomena found only under white rule in South Africa. Anyone remotely familiar with international law knows that is not the case.

“Apartheid is an international crime and to commit it one does not have to clone the South African regime of the 1940s to the 1990s,” said Sfard. “Just like the crime of genocide does not have to be committed in one particular way (and we will spare readers the examples), so there is more than one form of apartheid.”

Goldstein appears to have dismissed the fact that apartheid is a crime that is legally defined and currently found in two international conventions, neither of which includes “race theory” as a component of the crime, as the rabbi seems to be suggesting.

“Instead of wasting time exploiting your title as the chief rabbi of the South African Jewish community to distort the concept of apartheid, I suggest you come to Israel and tour it and the occupied territory,” Sfard said. “You will find many shades of apartheid there.”

Sfard rejected Goldstein’s argument that the “classic” form of apartheid which the rabbi is familiar is not being practiced by Israel.

“Travel to the West Bank and you will find classic apartheid, of the kind you know: Jewish masters with full political rights—the right to vote and be elected with representation in all institutions that determine their future”, said Sfard.

While Palestinians like Black South Africans in your country up until the 1990s have no civil rights, no representation, and no political power. Different laws are applied to each group and different courts judge each group.”

Urging Goldstein to go to Jerusalem, Sfard added, there “you will find the Israeli version of a racial hierarchy similar to the category of “Coloured” people from your homeland. Residents of East Jerusalem are permanent residents but not citizens, and therefore depend on their presence here to maintain their status.”

Dismissing Goldstein’s assertion that apartheid does not exist within the Green Line because no laws exist that discriminate against Palestinian citizens of Israel, Sfard wrote: “Only someone who doesn’t live here can describe their situation as you did in saying that they enjoy the right to vote and absolute equality before the law,” explaining that “looking at the law to determine social reality is like reading the table of contents and thinking you are familiar with the book.”

“Israel discriminates against its Palestinian citizens on almost every level,” Sfard insisted, before urging Goldstein to revise his understanding of apartheid and to “take a deep breath before accusing someone of antisemitism.”