Apartheid: A Dangerous Delegitimization Campaign

By: Linda Geller-Schwartz
Chair, Jewish Community Relation’s Council Israel Advocacy & Combating Antisemitism Task Force
Published February 18, 2022


As 2022 began, Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid  predicted that the coming year would bring about a “debate that is unprecedented in its venom and in its radioactivity around the words ‘Israel as an apartheid state’.” A few weeks later, the Chief Rabbi of South Africa wrote  that the “apartheid libel” is an existential threat [to Israel]; the diplomatic equivalent of a nuclear weapon.” Why the seeming panic over the word “apartheid?” Apartheid may be just a word, but in this age of disinformation and conspiracy theories, words can be extremely dangerous.

Recently, two high-profile international human rights groups have accused Israel of the “crime of apartheid.” In April 2021, Human Rights Watch published “A Threshold Crossed: Israeli Authorities and the Crimes of Apartheid and Persecution” and eight months later, Amnesty International released its 280 page report, “Israel’s Apartheid against Palestinians: Cruel System of Domination and Crime against Humanity.” Similar accusations have been made by extreme left-wing Israeli groups, such as B’tselem, and in the next few months, we know that more will be coming.

In June, the report of the new permanent UN Commission of Inquiry focused exclusively on Israel is scheduled to be released. There will be no surprise in its findings because the Commission was set up by the UN Human Rights Council with its unrelenting demonization of Israel and is headed by Navi Pillay, who has demonstrated a strong anti-Israel bias throughout her career. Israel will inevitably be condemned as an apartheid state, since it is the fervent hope of all these “campaigners” that Israeli politicians end up before the International Criminal Court accused of crimes against humanity. Make no mistake, this is a campaign, and Amnesty Secretary-General Agnes Callamard (another biased critic of Israel) has admitted as much.

“Come on, this is absurd!” was the spontaneous reaction of Thomas Nides, the U.S. Ambassador to Israel to the Amnesty Report. Yes, it is absurd. Israel is not an apartheid state. It is a vibrant democracy that grants all its citizens equal rights, regardless of religion or race. Arab Israelis serve in the Knesset, on the Supreme Court and are pivotal in the new Coalition government. Unlike the apartheid system that existed in South Africa, public facilities, transportation systems, hospitals, universities, etc. are fully integrated.

So why is so much energy and millions of dollars being spent on promoting an absurdity? The answer to this question is found in history. Since 1947, when the Arabs refused the partition plan proposed by the United Nations, there has been a concerted attempt to demonize, delegitimize and ultimately destroy the state of Israel as a Jewish state. In 1948, 1967 and 1973, they tried to achieve this through military attacks on Israel. But they did not bring Israel to its knees any more than the bombardments from Gaza and the intifadas. In the face of these military failures, the anti-Israel group decided to resort to damning language to undermine Israel on the world stage.

Since 1948, anti-Israel activists have tried all kinds of language to demonize the Jewish state. In 1973, there was the “Zionism is racism” calumny in the UN.  But Resolution 3379 was revoked in 1991. They have tried the Boycott, Divestment and Sanction (BDS) movement but it has had very limited success. “Pink-washing” and “green-washing” and other ridiculous campaigns have also been launched and fizzled. Recently, they have been auditioning the so-called “One State Solution” that would destroy the Jewish state by allowing six million Palestinians the right of return to “their old homes.” But that is unlikely to get any traction. Now they have settled on an “apartheid campaign.”

The current accusation against Israel of being an apartheid state is not new.  As Colonel Richard Kemp so brilliantly explained in a recent article, “the lie of Israeli apartheid” was dreamt up in Moscow during the Cold War as part of a propaganda campaign to undermine Israel which had decided to align itself with the West, not the Soviet bloc. And today this campaign to demonize Israel it is being revitalized.  It seems to fit well with the 21st Century environment: it is ostensibly about human rights, pithy enough to make a good tweet, and evocative enough of terrible injustice. The anti-Israel campaigners think they have a “winner.”

To address the threat that the “apartheid campaign” poses, we should focus on the underlying aim of the campaign, and not the hundreds of pages of lies and propaganda. Jewish organizations across the political spectrum have argued that the Human Rights Watch and Amnesty reports repeatedly ignore the context of the security threats faced by Israel and the historical unwillingness of the Palestinian Authority to consider seriously any viable peace plans. Their shoddy legal analysis is used to twist the definition of apartheid in a vain attempt to make it fit the state of Israel. None of this is surprising, given the well-documented unsavory background of the authors. The reports are simplistic, ahistorical, unbalanced and demonstrate an obvious malevolence.

The ultimate goal of the apartheid campaign is to eliminate the Jewish democratic state of Israel. These groups are not debating a two-state solution. Nor are they really concerned about changing Israeli policies to improve the lives of their Arab citizens. To treat this campaign as legitimate is to accept, as several commentators have observed, that the very creation of the state of Israel by the UN in 1947 was the “original sin” that needs to be “corrected.”

We must pay close attention to this emerging campaign and be ready to challenge each new report, each UN Resolution, and every non-governmental organization statement. Our response should be: “You can repeat a lie a thousand times but that does not make it the truth. It just makes it a bigger lie.”


This blog post was written by Linda Geller-Schwartz, Chair of the Jewish Community Relation’s Council Israel Advocacy & Combating Antisemitism Task Force.

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