Does Israel Act as an Apartheid State?

Have you ever heard someone say that Israel acts as an apartheid state? You may have come across this political phrase, a policy of governmental oppression best known from South Africa, being used as a smokescreen to describe the relationship between Israelis and Palestinian Arabs living in the West Bank and Gaza. In this episode of The Israeli-Palestinian Context we uncover how this misappropriated connection between apartheid and Israel came to be and find out the true history behind the Israeli government’s relationship with its one million Arab citizens.

Enduring understandings are available in the PDF version of the educational resources.

  • Review
  • Discussion
  • Activities
  • Reflection
  • Further Learning
  1. Words create reality and Israelis and Palestinians are constantly fighting a war of words. Is the West Bank / Judea and Samaria occupied, disputed or liberated? This is similar to other questions about Israel’s history. How should Israel’s 1948 war be known as the War of Independence or the Nakba (catastrophe), and does this language influence conversations and policy decisions? How can the use of the word “apartheid” impact the conflict, international diplomacy and public opinion surrounding the conflict?
  2. In apartheid South Africa (1948-1994), there was institutionalized segregation and discrimination against Black South Africans by white South Africans. Blacks couldn’t: 
    • Vote
    • Run for office
    • Live in certain areas
    • Marry whites along with many more discriminatory laws.

    This situation is entirely different from the political situation in Israel in which all Israeli citizens, regardless of ethnic or religious backgrounds have equal rights under the law. Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza however, do not have the same rights as Israelis because they are not Israeli citizens and are governed by either Hamas (in Gaza), the Palestinian Authority or by Israeli military administration in the West Bank (depending on which area – A, B, or C – they live in). Another major difference from the African National Congress is that the Palestinian national movement is not demanding equal citizenship for Palestinians within the State of Israel, rather, they are demanding either a separate state from Israel or the dismantling of Israel. With this knowledge in mind, why do you think different groups accuse Israel of practicing apartheid? Why is it important to bring this nuance into the conversation?

  3. Since apartheid is defined by racial injustice, its claim against Israel (that baffles most Israelis) is fed by a misconception that the country is an outpost of white, European Jews who support discriminatory policies against an indigenous minority–Arabs. Why is this such an offensive sentiment to Israeli Jews of both Mizrahi (more than half of Israeli Jews) and Ashkenazi backgrounds?
  4. What do you think is the best way to promote dialogue, co-existence and a possible solution to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians when the Palestinian leadership uses such harsh rhetoric against Israel?
  5. There is often debate about whether criticism of Israel is legitimate or antisemitic. Israel, like every other country, is not perfect and is not immune to criticism. However, sometimes this criticism crosses the line. Read Natan Sharansky’s “3D test” below to help differentiate between legitimate criticism and antisemitism. After reading about the 3D test, do you think accusations of apartheid pass or fail the 3D test based on the realities on the ground?
    • The first “D” is the test of demonization. When the Jewish State is being demonized; when Israel’s actions are blown out of all sensible proportion; when comparisons are made between Israelis and Nazis and between Palestinian refugee camps and Auschwitz – this is antisemitism, not legitimate criticism of Israel.
    • The second “D” is the test of double standards. When criticism of Israel is applied selectively; when Israel is singled out by the United Nations for human rights abuses while the behavior of known and major abusers, such as China, Iran, Cuba, and Syria, is ignored; when Israel’s Magen David Adom, alone among the world’s ambulance services, is denied admission to the International Red Cross – this is antisemitism.
    • The third “D” is the test of delegitimization: when Israel’s fundamental right to exist is denied – alone among all peoples in the world – this too is antisemitism.
  1. Give your students two documents to read and analyze: Israel’s Declaration of Independence and Israel’s more recent and more controversial Nation State Law. While reading both documents, students should take note of the major ideas presented. After reading and analyzing both documents, answer the following questions:
    • How do these documents both speak to the inclusion of non-Jews in the Jewish State?
    • How are they similar and if they differ, how do they differ?
  2. In 2002 at the height of the Second Intifada, the Israeli government decided to build a barrier along much of the green line which separates (pre-1967) Israel from the West Bank. From the Israeli perspective, the security fence or security barrier was built to keep out suicide bombers and prevent terrorism, which statistically it succeeded in doing. From the Palestinian perspective, the barrier is referred to as the separation wall or even the apartheid wall. Most Palestinians view the barrier as an Israeli attempt to steal Palestinian land and as a unilateral move to establish de facto borders. Ask your students to research Israel’s security barrier and to present both Israeli and Palestinian perspectives on its presence, its successes and its challenges.
  3. Apartheid South Africa (1948-1994) enacted a multitude of laws that legally discriminated against non-white South Africans including banning “mixed marriages”, limiting land ownership for Blacks and creating segregation in the public sphere in places like hospitals, schools and even beaches. Israel’s Declaration of Independence on the other hand declares that the State of Israel will “ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture.” Compare and contrast the two situations after taking note of the values and laws from each country.
  4. Play our Kahoot about “Does Israel Act as an Apartheid State?”
  1. Look at the images below. The first image, from a beach in apartheid South Africa, reads “Boundary between white and all races area” in Afrikaans (a language primarily spoken by White South Africans of Dutch Heritage) and English. The second image, from a beach in modern day Israel reads “swimming prohibited” in Hebrew, English and Arabic. The sign in apartheid South Africa uses only one language and discriminates based on racial background. The sign in Israel uses three languages and doesn’t discriminate. What kind of understanding do these images illustrate for the viewer when it comes to the differences between apartheid South Africa and the State of Israel?

  2. A recent study showed that 25% of American Jews think that Israel is an apartheid state. What do you think has led to this shift in popular opinion about Israel amongst Jews? After viewing this episode, how do you feel upon hearing Israel being accused of “apartheid?” What can be done to educate more people?
  3. What unanswered questions do you have when it comes to Israel and its relationship with the Palestinians?
  4. Have you been to Israel before? If so, how what moments, images or conversations would you share with someone who made the claim that Israel practices apartheid?

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