Home  Principles & Statements  Positions of the ACJ  Articles  DonationsAbout Us  Contact Us  Links                                         

Jewish Critics Of Israeli Policies Are Using The Term "Apartheid" To Describe Them

Allan C. Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
April 2021

Increasingly, Jewish and Israeli critics of Israel’s policies in the  
occupied territories are using the term “apartheid” to describe them. In  
January 2021, the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem issued a statement  
which declared that the Israeli Government was an “apartheid regime.” It  
stated that, “A regime that uses laws, practices and organized violence to  
establish and maintain the supremacy of one group over another is an  
apartheid regime.”  
B’Tselem argues that the Israeli regime “of apartheid” rests on four  
pillars: citizenship, land, freedom of movement and political  
participation. Virtually any person of Jewish ancestry anywhere in the  
world can claim Israeli citizenship; immigration to Israel is all but  
impossible for Palestinians, and only a minority of Palestinians—-about 1.6  
million out of seven million—-who live on land controlled by Israel are  
citizens of Israel and even their rights are limited compared with their  
nearly seven million Jewish counterparts.  
This report has been largely ignored in the media and by mainstream American  
Jewish organizations. One who paid close attention was Rabbi Brian Walt, the  
founder and rabbi emeritus of Congregation Mishkan Shalom, an activist  
congregation in Philadelphia. He was the founding executive director of  
Rabbis for Human Rights-North America and is a member of the Rabbinical  
Council of Jewish Voice for Peace. Rabbi Walt grew up In South Africa and  
knows a great deal about apartheid.  
Rabbi Walt recalls that, “When I first heard that B’Tselem was saying  
matter-of-factly that Israel and the lands it occupies constitute an  
apartheid system, I immediately flashed back to 2008, to the moment when the  
truth became clear to me when I led a Rabbis for Human Rights-North America  
(Truah) trip to Israel and the occupied West Bank. We arrived in Hebron.  
Michael Manikin, a leader with the Israeli human rights group Breaking The  
Silence, gestured to Shuhada Street, the street our group was about to walk  
down, and told us “it was a ‘sterile street’—-a street forbidden to  
Palestinians, only Jews and other tourists were permitted to walk down the  
Writing in Truthout (Feb. 17, 2021), Rabbi Walt remembers that, “I was  
horrified. My heart beat fast as tears rolled down my face. As a child  
growing up in apartheid South Africa, I was intimately familiar with  
separate beaches, buses, cabs, entrances to post offices and public benches  
with ‘whites only’ signs. But even in Apartheid South Africa, there were no  
‘sterile streets’ that only white people could walk on. In South Africa, as  
a student at the University of Cape Town, I had fought against apartheid. I  
worked on issues of economic justice for domestic workers and founded and  
edited a Jewish student newspaper dedicated to ending apartheid. Throughout  
my anti-apartheid activism, Israel was always an essential part of my Jewish  
identity. I was a committed progressive Zionist. Creating a just,  
democratic Israel that reflected the highest moral values of Judaism was—-  
and remains—-a core commitment.”  
Over decades, Rabbi Walt engaged in political activism on the West Bank with  
groups such as the Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions and  
encountered disturbing realities. He witnessed the demolition of  
Palestinian homes, the expropriation of Palestinian land for Jewish  
settlements, olive orchards uprooted by settlers, and Palestinians uprooted  
from homes in Jerusalem that they had owned for generations.  
“Those experiences were so shocking,” notes Walt, “that, if I hadn’t seen  
them with my own eyes, I would never have believed they were true. These  
experiences reminded me of very similar injustices that I had seen in South  
Africa... At that moment in Hebron I felt a new determination to name what I  
saw as apartheid. We, the Jewish people, must tell the truth. We can no  
longer cover up the shocking systemic discrimination and oppression of the  
Palestinians by the State of Israel—-a state that relies on our support and  
acts in our names and in the name of our tradition.”  
More and more Israelis have been using the term “apartheid” to describe  
their country’s occupation. Professor David Shulman of the Hebrew  
University notes that, “No matter how we look at it, unless our minds have  
been poisoned by the ideologies of the religious right, the occupation is a  
crime. It is first of all based on the permanent disenfranchisement of a  
huge population... In the end, it is the ongoing moral failure of the  
country as a whole that is most consequential, most dangerous, most  
unacceptable. This failure weighs... heavily on our humanity. We are, so  
we claim, the children of the prophets. Once, they say, we were slaves in  
Egypt. We know all that can be known about slavery, suffering, prejudice,  
ghettos, hate, expulsion, exile. I find it astonishing that we, of all  
people, have reinvented apartheid in the West Bank.”  
In 2019 in a position paper entitled “Our Approach to Zionism” Jewish Voice  
for Peace stated: “Jewish Voice for Peace is guided by a vision of justice,  
equality, and freedom for all people. We unequivocally oppose Zionism  
because it is counter to those ideals... While it had many strains  
historically, the Zionism that took hold and stands today is a settler-  
colonial movement, establishing an apartheid state where Jews have more  
rights than others. Our own history teaches us how dangerous this can be.”  
Hagai El Ad, the director of B’Tselem, declares that, “Calling things by  
their proper name—-apartheid—-is not a moment of despair, rather it is a  
moment of moral clarity... People of conscience must reject apartheid in  
Israel just as clearly and forcefully as we reject white supremacy in the  
U.S... ” **

< return to article list
© 2010 The American Council For Judaism.