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Columnist Asks, “If Israel’s Occupation Is Permanent, Why Isn’t It the Same as Apartheid?”

Allan C. Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
December 2016

As Israel continues to build settlements on the occupied West Bank and in  
East Jerusalem, prospects for a two-state solution appear to be receding.  
Forward columnist Jay Michaelson (Sept. 2, 2016) asks, “If Israel’s  
occupation is permanent, why isn’t it the same as apartheid?”  
Citing a poll in August that showed that only 58% of Israelis still support  
a two-state solution and, notes Michaelson, “that’s counting those who  
support it in principle but not in practice,” he declares, “I’m not clear  
how a one-state, Jewish-state-controlled solution isn’t apartheid. … For  
two-state Zionists, the status quo in the West Bank is temporary, and thus  
cannot be truly analogized to apartheid, which was intended to be permanent.  
(Of course, the occupation has now lasted 49 years, more than the 46 years  
of apartheid). The occupation is unjust, but it is meant to end once both  
sides’ concerns about security, borders, autonomy, water, justice and so on  
are addressed. … But for the 43% of Israelis who no longer believe in two  
states, the status quo must be regarded as the permanent status … Thus, we  
must ask anew what, if anything, differentiates the occupation from  
In Michaelson’s view, “Israel’s occupation, like South African apartheid,  
restricts movement, land ownership and other rights. Palestinians in the  
West Bank cannot enter Israel freely, and can travel through the West Bank  
itself only by negotiating a maze of checkpoints and inspections. Towns  
cannot expand, and indeed, land that had for decades been part of  
Palestinian Arab villages is regularly expropriated for Jewish settlement.”  
While there are differences between Israel’s occupation policy and South  
African apartheid, and Israel has genuine security concerns, the most  
important difference between the occupation and apartheid which Michaelson  
points to, is one which will soon be coming to an end, demographics.  
Michaelson writes: “From its inception, apartheid was minority rule.  
Whereas, by the time Israel acquired (or conquered) the West Bank in 1967,  
there were more Jews than Arabs between the Jordan River and the  
Mediterranean, thanks to decades of immigration … Within a few decades,  
however, that will no longer be the case. Without a two-state solution, the  
Jewish state will, like the white South African state, be a system of  
minority rule — the very opposite of democracy. Without a two-state,  
solution, only through the permanent disenfranchisement of 5 million people  
can the ‘Jewish state’ even exist. And that is where the final difference  
finally falls apart. Contrary to the left’s slogans, Israel isn’t an  
apartheid state today. But without a two-state solution, it will soon become  
one. As a temporary policy, the occupation is unjust. As a permanent one, it  
is apartheid.”  
In an interview with In These Times (May 5, 2016), Israeli historian Ilan  
Pappe, who now teaches at the University of Exter in England, was asked,  
“Can one be a liberal and a Zionist or is this a contradiction in terms?” He  
responded: “Of course, it is. It’s like Jewish democracy. They’re  
oxymorons. Zionism is the last remaining active settler-colonialist movement  
or project. Settler colonialism is, in a nutshell, a project of replacement  
and displacement, settlement and expulsion. Since this is the project, that  
you take over someone’s homeland and you’re not satisfied until you feel  
you’ve taken enough of the land and you’ve gotten rid of enough of the  
native people, as long as you feel that this is an incomplete project, you  
will continue the project.”  
Such a project, states Pappe, “… is based on dehumanization and elimination.  
It cannot be liberal. It cannot be anything universal because it is an  
ideology that wants to get rid of another group of people. In most of the  
universal values, we’re trying to offer guidance of how human beings should  
live together rather than instead of each other.”  
Prof. Zeev Sternhell, former head of the political science department at  
Hebrew University, and a specialist on the history of fascism, was asked if  
Israel was now on the verge of fascism. He replied: “It’s a gradual process.  
We have yet to cross the red line, but we are dangerously close. We are at  
the height of an erosion process of the liberal values on which our society  
is based. Those who regard liberal values as a danger to the nation … are  
the ones currently in power. They are striving to delegitimize the left and  
anyone who does not hold the view that conquering the land and settling it  
through the use of force are the fundamental foundation of Zionism. That’s  
why universal values and universal rights are enemies of the state, in their  
view. …” •

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