Itamar Ben-Gvir and his fascist ilk inadvertently advance the apartheid discourse

Jonathan Ofir

Mondoweiss  /  August 28, 2023

We should be thankful for the honesty of fascist MKs Itamar Ben-Gvir and Amichai Eliyahu. Their recent statements that the rights of Jews trump the rights of Palestinians are exposing the apartheid reality.

This past week has been a terrific success in terms of advancing the apartheid discourse in Israel. The success was delivered by the most extreme of the fascist right.  

First, it was National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir — the same MK who idolized the perpetrator of the 1994 Hebron massacre, Baruch Goldstein — when he was on a Channel 12 panel last Wednesday. The subject of security in the occupied Palestinian territories came up during the panel, which provoked an outburst by Ben-Gvir:

“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 [Palestinians],” he said, turning to the only Palestinian panelist on the program, Muhammad Magadli, and adding, “Sorry Muhammad, but this is the reality.”

Palestinian-Israeli lawmaker Ahmad Tibi noted on X that “for the first time, an Israeli minister admits on air that Israel enforces an apartheid regime, based on Jewish supremacy.”

This stuff is tearing up even the stalwart Israel supporters, like former head of ADL Abe Foxman, who called on Netanyahu to fire Ben-Gvir because “he speaks for your government.” 

But Ben-Gvir was only spelling out Israeli apartheid with no cosmetics — a reality that has existed all along. Ben-Gvir didn’t invent it. 

Then, on Sunday, Heritage Minister Amichai Eliyahu of Religious Zionism was interviewed at the Ynet studio on the same subject, stating:

“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.”

Host Attila Somfalvi caught him on this point and brought in the apartheid discourse directly: 

“Limit just a bit? It’s called apartheid, I think, in the dictionary, but I don’t know, we can check on Wikipedia.”

Indeed, on Wikipedia, the Crime of Apartheid is summarized succinctly:

“The crime of apartheid is defined by the 2002 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court as inhumane acts of a character similar to other crimes against humanity, ‘committed in the context of an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime.’” 

But now the interview got even more interesting — Eliyahu was digging himself even further into the apartheid hole:

“Why apartheid?” he asked. “Does a prison constitute apartheid?”

Somfalvi took Eliyahu at his word. “What prison? You are in the [occupied] territories. What are you talking about? Just a moment — let’s define Judea and Samaria as a prison. Judea and Samaria is a prison? Just so we know.” 

Eliyahu didn’t back down. “When you take a prison and you put a prisoner in there, you limit his rights. Is that apartheid?”

The rhetorical question is astonishing because the answer is obviously yes. When you do that to an entire civilian population on the basis of its race or identity, it is apartheid. 

But Eliyahu’s employment of the prison analogy is as good a vindication as any, even if unwittingly, of the words of the UN Special Rapporteur on Palestine, Francesca Albanese, who in June submitted a report saying that Israel has turned Palestine into an open-air prison. 

Grossman’s ground is disappearing

The “liberal Zionists” are feeling that they are losing their ground. Veteran novelist David Grossman wrote a piece in Haaretz in Hebrew on Friday, titled “Suddenly, The Ground is Disappearing Under the Feet,” arguing that the “Israeli essence, from its beginning, had a character of a leap forward” before the judicial overhaul, after which “Israel started to lose the free and harmonious movement that a healthy body has.” 

Mind you, this is the same Grossman who wrote about the Israeli occupation in The Yellow Wind (1988) and the Palestinian Israelis in limbo in Sleeping on a Wire (1993). Yet all of that was apparently part of a “healthy body,” while all that is ugly about Israel only started now. 

Grossman is desperate to sell a nostalgic dream of a beautiful Israel, which means that he’s been reduced to peddling Hasbara. He is not interested in exposing the apartheid reality. 

Ironically, those who are devoted to exposing that reality are the fascist right. They don’t mean to, of course, but they can’t help it. We should all be thankful for their honesty.

Jonathan Ofir is an Israeli musician, conductor and blogger/writer based in Denmark