‘Watershed moment’: Over 700 academics equate Israeli occupation with apartheid

MEE Staff

Middle East Eye  /  August 8, 2023

Israeli figures who previously refused to equate occupation with apartheid have changed their views amid judicial overhaul and occupied West Bank violence.

More than 700 academics and public figures from Israel, Palestine and other countries have signed an open letter equating Israel’s occupation of the West Bank with apartheid, signaling what supporters say is a “watershed moment” for how Israel’s occupation is viewed.

The letter, which began circulating on Friday, has received around 200 signatures per day with “more coming in, quite literally, by the minute”, Omer Bartov, professor of Holocaust and genocide studies at Brown University and organizer of the letter, told Middle East Eye.

The letter featured 752 signatories at the time of publication.

The authors said there was a direct link between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s attempt to overhaul Israel’s judiciary and its illegal occupation of millions of Palestinians in the occupied Palestinian Territories.

“The ultimate purpose of the judicial overhaul is to tighten restrictions on Gaza, deprive Palestinians of equal rights both beyond the Green Line and within it, annex more land, and ethnically cleanse all territories under Israeli rule of their Palestinian population,” the letter said.

Notably, the letter made a clear reference to “the elephant in the room: Israel’s long-standing occupation that, we repeat, has yielded a regime of apartheid.”

“There cannot be democracy for Jews in Israel as long as Palestinians live under a regime of apartheid,” it added.

Bartov told MEE that there were a number of Israeli academics who signed the letter who previously would have likely refused to equate the occupation with apartheid. One of the most prominent he identified was Benny Morris, professor emeritus at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev/Naqab.

“The main change is that Israeli behavior, in the West Bank, but also apparently unfolding vis-a-vis Israel’s Arabs [Palestinians] now, has become increasingly brutal over the past few years, and especially more in the past half year. It has made more and more people realize that continued occupation is morally and politically impossible,” he said.

‘Watershed moment’

Leading academics such as Peter Beinart from the City University of New York, and Avrum Burg, the former speaker of the Knesset and chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel also signed the letter.

Academics whose backgrounds span from evolutionary biology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem to choreography and rabbinical studies at Hebrew College also endorsed the letter. Besides leading academics in Israel, it received support from professors at Yale, Brown, Columbia, and Harvard University in the United States.

On social media platform X, previously known as Twitter, one user anticipated potential accusations of anti-semitism.

“The broad inclusion of so many academics representing a stunningly broad spectrum of distinguished Jewish voices, indicates a watershed moment also in American Jewish views about Israel, and a new willingness by public figures, reflecting the sentiments of the younger generation, to honestly criticize Israeli policies,” Bartov added.

According to a MEE tally, at least 208 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire this year, including 36 children – a rate of nearly one fatality per day.

A total of 172 people have died in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, making 2023 one of the bloodiest years in the occupied Palestinian territories. Another 36 people were killed in the Gaza Strip.

Lior Sternfeld, an associate professor of history and Jewish studies at Penn State University and organizer of the letter, said people were beginning to see a link between the moves by Israel’s far-right government to remake the country’s judiciary and the occupation.

“Now more than ever before, regular middle-way people, intellectuals, and leaders see that unbreakable connection between the occupation and the current political moment,” she told MEE.

“Israelis and Americans who in the past disagreed with the occupation but were willing to look past it are fed up.”


 415 prominent Jewish and Palestinian academics decry Israeli apartheid 

Middle East Monitor  /  August 8, 2023

More than 400 prominent academics and public figures from Israel, Palestine and the Jewish community have united to sign an open letter that establishes a “direct link” between the Israeli government’s ongoing judicial overhaul and its occupation of Palestinian territories. The letter, a resounding call to action, urges the Jewish community in the US to break its “silence” and engage in meaningful discourse.

Railing against the controversial judicial overhaul, the letter says that the purpose of the proposal is “to tighten restrictions on Gaza, deprive Palestinians of equal rights both beyond the Green Line and within it, annex more land, and ethnically cleanse all territories under Israeli rule of their Palestinian population.”

Highlighting the critical importance of equal rights as a safeguard against dictatorship, the letter emphasizes that regardless of the political framework – be it one state, two states, or other possibilities – equal rights for all citizens must be upheld.

“Without equal rights for all, whether in one state, two states, or in some other political framework, there is always a danger of dictatorship,” the letter states. Repeating that Israel operates “a regime of apartheid,” the letter says that the Palestinians have been “the elephant in the room” in the ongoing protests, which have continued for over seven months.

“Palestinian people lack almost all basic rights, including the right to vote and protest. They face constant violence: this year alone, Israeli forces have killed over 190 Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza and demolished over 590 structures. Settler vigilantes burn, loot, and kill with impunity,” they write. The latest deadly violence in the occupied West Bank was the killing of a 19-year-old Palestinian by an Israeli terrorist.

Individuals including foundation leaders, scholars, rabbis and educators, signed the letter calling for meaningful action. The signatories encourage support for Israel’s ongoing protest movement while insisting on the imperative of equality for Jews and Palestinians within both the Green Line and the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT). Furthermore, they advocate backing human rights organizations and promoting their work within communities, alongside endorsing education curricula that provide an honest portrayal of Israel’s historical and contemporary context.

Among the distinguished signatories are over 100 academics affiliated with Israeli universities, including notable figures such as former Jewish Agency head and Knesset member Avraham Burg. In 2021 the ex-Knesset speaker said that Israel has little to do with the essence of Judaism.

“Jewish state is an oxymoron,” said Burg as he explained that a state is a tool in the hands of the people and it cannot have a Jewish essence or the essence of any religion. “Community and culture can be Jewish,” but as soon as you give a state a Jewish essence, a religious essence, it’s no longer a democracy that belongs to its people.”

The letter additionally presses the Jewish community to urge its representatives to work towards ending the occupation and curtailing military aid being utilised in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. It also calls for a halt to Israeli impunity in international organizations including the United Nations.