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Apartheid in South Africa Versus Apartheid in Israel: Analytical Essay

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A wide range of scholarship has drawn on the applicability of the apartheid analysis in the Israel/Palestine context. While some literature, such as Ben White’s Israeli Apartheid: A Beginner's Guide (2009), identify exact similarities with South Africa, most of the discourse recognizes apartheid as a legal definition related to the governance of settler-colonial states (Falk, 2017; Gordon, 2017). Moreover, the analysis of state practices and policies as grounded in apartheid is increasingly part of the standard terminology adopted in comparative political analysis. Apartheid in the context of this dissertation will serve as a legislative framework congruent with racialised and ethnic exclusivity, in determining if Israel’s governance of Palestinians in the occupied territories and Israel proper are akin to South African apartheid.

Apartheid has evolved from a historically descriptive term related to South Africa’s system of segregation and now serves as a legal framework in international law to describe a category of regime. The Apartheid Convention (1973) sets forth that the crime of apartheid consists of discrete inhuman acts, but that such acts acquire the status of crimes against humanity only if they intentionally serve the core purpose of racial domination. Article 7 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (2002) defines the Crime of Apartheid as: “inhumane acts...committed in the context of an institutionalised regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime.”

Dugard (2014) argues that the Apartheid Convention extends beyond the South African case. Peteet (2009) concurs with Dugard in her affirmation that apartheid as defined by international law as state misconduct whose policies are internationally forbidden. While Dugard and Peteet agree to apartheid’s frame of reference not being limited to racial discrimination, Dajani (2017) insists that both the Apartheid Convention as well as the Rome Statute are only relevant outside South African setting where racial domination is explicitly legislated by the state. Greenstein (2015) suggests the idea of race has evolved, referring to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (1965) which defines racial discrimination as “any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin which has the purpose of impairing fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life.”. Zreik (2004) recognizes that Palestinians encounter a notably complex situation and that the apartheid analogy should be used with prudence as it has the potential to overlook the nuances between the two cases. In contrast, Kadalie (2008) dismisses the apartheid analogy as reductive and promoting anti-Israel rhetoric. Kadalie highlights that several black South Africans tend to debunk the analogy, arguing that the motivation of Israeli legislation in the OTPs is not racially prejudiced. Authors such as Sabel reject the analogy as an attempt to delegitimize Israel as a Jewish state (Sabel, 2011) while Shimoni discredits the case against Israel as a flagrant form of antisemitism (Shimoni, 2007) which is remiss in its equating of Judaism to Zionism and defence that Jews have a right to violently maintain an ethnoreligious state in the homeland to the detriment of Palestinians.

The policy of legal racial separation was a self-identified ideology of the South African state associated with the National Party (Callinicos, 1992). The settler-colonial link with South Africa is traceable to the foundational roots of Israel’s nation-building. Theodor Herzl, the founder of the Zionist movement, appealed to Cecil John Rhodes the British colonialist who lead industrial settlement in South Africa and Rhodesia to make Israel an outpost of civilization in the Middle East (Erakat, 2019). Using apartheid as a framework of state policy is fixed within its Afrikaans origin translating to ‘separateness’. Ali Abunimah's approach to the South Africa comparison specifically addresses distinctions, not least between the Afrikaner and Zionist self-images and historical narratives. He traces the foundational roots of both settler projects in the realities of colonialism but indicates distinct local expressions. Noting Israeli Professor of Political Geography Oren Yiftachel in his critique of the ‘exclusively Jewish discourse’ that relegates Palestinians as a kind of ‘silent backdrop or incidental stage setting’(Yiftachel, 2005), Abunimah addresses similarities in Zionist and Afrikaner dogma, drawing on their ethnonational ideologies that have been reinforced through separation by indigenous dispossession, hyper-militarization, and the relegation of racial groups to second-class status while being denied their right to self-determination (Abunimah, 2005).

In ‘Citizen Strangers’ Robinson (2008) illustrates that Israel is imperative to studies of colonialism due to its establishment necessitating the forced-removal of native Palestinians from their land while coinciding with the post-World War II period when the notion of self-determination gained traction and countries began the decolonization process. Robinson believes Israel exemplifies how colonialism developed in a sociopolitical context where imperial support was declining. Western powers emphasized the importance of self-determination but did little to support it and permitted Israel the liberty to dispossess the Palestinians (Robinson, 2008). But Western countries faced a mounting pressure to protect civil rights and Israel was coerced to grant citizenship to Palestinians who did not flee. Robinson maintains that colonial societies often enfranchised the colonized in this way, but only after completing the phase of weakening and dispossession. Herein lies the contradiction: Israel included Palestinians in its civil society and political landscape then proceeded to restrict them. This has set the premise of democratic inclusion and racial exclusion Palestinians have encountered ever since. Robinson ascribes this as upholding Israel’s status as a settler-colonial state. Nevertheless, Robinson’s work leaves a capacity to improve in its interpretations of the connection between Israel and colonialism. Robinson focuses on a direct correlation between Israeli practices and Western colonialism, without addressing the fact that Jews in Europe and the Middle East were both victims and beneficiaries of European colonial subjugation.

Perceiving Israel as an example of European colonialism is neglectful regarding the oppression Jews faced in Europe and shared experience of anti-semitism. While a more comprehensive analysis would pay heed to the oppression of Palestinians by Jews that transpired out of the oppression of Jews, Robinson presents an imbalanced account and does not include Israeli counter-arguments.

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In The One-State Solution: A Breakthrough for Peace in the Israeli-Palestinian Deadlock (2005), Tilley repeatedly emphasizes the state of affairs in pre-1994 South Africa to draw parallels to the condition of post-1967 Israel. A keynote presented is the military occupation of the OPTs is now integral to Israel’s state infrastructure, and essentially renders any future obsolete of a viable Palestinian state, specified through the Oslo model. Palestinians currently find themself in a geopolitical deadlock: Although the widespread international condemnation of the occupation should be effective in its support of Palestinian self-determination, it has become counterproductive by exonerating Israel of its failure to recognize the rights of all the citizens within the territory of which it practices de facto sovereignty. Tilley offers a more empirical study than analytical, focusing through facts on the ground in her approach to the Israel/Palestine case. Tilley insists that an ideological shift of ‘settler-colonialism’ is necessary for our understanding of the conflict by highlighting that Israel/Palestine is essentially a single state already due to Israel’s deep entrenchment in the OPTs, and a single-democratic state is the only feasible alternative to a peaceful resolution. Tilley’s research establishes a broader discourse on the instability of Israel’s Apartheid structure and encourages dialogue around a single-state model where pragmatic methods can be offered in navigating this solution. Leila Farsakh (2005) shares a similar sentiment and argues for the one-state solution. Farsakh disputes the realization of Palestinian Statehood seemingly negotiated in the Oslo Accords as resembling South African ‘Bantustanization’: The fragmentation of Palestinian land in the West Bank through checkpoints, the wall of separation and Israeli settlement expansion has deliberately obstructed any outcome of a viable Palestinian state, inevitably leading to the demise of South African Apartheid.

Pappe anthologizes an extensive compilation of academics in his analysis between the two cases. Investigating the character of protest movements as well as their influence on both conflicts, Pappe makes convincing advances on a subject that has gained notability through news-coverage and activism but has scarcely been analysed in academia. However, Pappe’s research displays weakness in its failure to recognize the timescales for South Africa’s apartheid regime to fall. It took decades of the international community placing economic sanctions before the movements gained momentum. The BDS movement has gained traction at a much higher rate since its formation in 2005 with foreign direct investment in Israel dropping 46% in 2014 compared to 201 (United Nations Conference on Trade and Development).

Sean Jacobs and Jon Soske examine correlations between present-day Israel and Apartheid South Africa in Apartheid Israel: The Politics of an Analogy which is comprised of a collection of essays. Jacobs notes existing scholarship on the comparison often looks to the legal definition of apartheid as well as Israel’s system of Palestinian exclusion being akin to South Africa’s hierarchy of racial discrimination during apartheid. Instead, he distances his research from the aforementioned and demonstrates the settler-colonial character of both regimes as a central theme which is advanced by the contribution of historians like T.J. Tallie who parallels both cases “from ruthless expulsions of peoples to the claims of newly arriving peoples to authentic indigeneity, religious justifications, and hyper-militarization” (Tallie, 2008) The essays in this book avoid the applicability of the apartheid analogy and instead focus on pressing issues such as the ways that apartheid South Africa and Zionism intersect and are at variance. These investigations refrain from engaging discussions that are often a hindrance to reaching any progress and open a wider discourse that expands to changing the existing state of affairs in Palestine-Israel.

Notably, critical analyses on Israeli apartheid tend to neglect the correlation between setter-colonialism and racial capitalism. Much of the scholarship by authors such as Tilley and Dugard references the UN definition of Apartheid and focuses on discriminatory polices, dual legal systems in the OPTs, restrictions on freedom movement and encroachment on Palestinian land. Although recent studies emphasize the neoliberal restructuring that occurred with the Oslo process, political economy is largely overlooked in Israeli apartheid research. In ‘Neoliberal Apartheid’, the end of formal apartheid in South Africa and the Oslo “peace process” in Palestine/Israel are presented as fundamentally neoliberal projects connected to the restructuring of global political/economic relations at the end of the Cold War (Clarno, 2015) Clarno emphasizes the intersection of racism, neoliberalism and settler-colonialism in structuring the Palestinian and black South African existence. Clarno critiques the concentration on the legal definition of apartheid has largely overlooked the enduring legacy of racial capitalism and how it continues to marginalize the majority of black South Africans even with the transition to democracy. Clarno’s research interviews officials from the Israeli-Palestinian and South Africa contexts on private securitization that has emerged. Clarno intelligently develops his main feature of Palestinians and black South Africans who are targets of this securitization while simultaneously constituting the majority of these security regimes. Clarno diverges from the traditional binary debate on whether the charge of apartheid applies to Israel, and demonstrates new insights into this topic.

Neve Alexander considers the idea of ‘race’ as a structural creation of the historically white-owned capitalist system in South Africa. The post-apartheid sociopolitical context overlooks the direct correlation between race and poverty through the systemic structure of white dominance. Alexander challenges those who praise South Africa’s democratic transition and multicultural character, considering the largely untransformed capitalist order of the post-apartheid condition. Alexandra is critical of the ANCs adoption of a neoliberal economic model in navigating South Africa’s democratic transition (Alexander, 2002). The central point pervading Alexander’s analysis with the apartheid and post-apartheid state is the inextricable connection between race and class as the basis of oppression in South Africa. Alexander urges his readers to recognize how race has been contingent in upholding and maintaining a model that economically benefits the privileged few at the expense of the majority. Negotiations with the previous oppressors resulted in the consolidation of material-systemic conditions that exploit the black working class, relinquishing the possibility of a truly equal South Africa.

Occasionally, much of the discourse and scholarship ignores the lack of impartiality by its authors. Vehement partisanship on both sides of the debate sometimes eclipses a more nuanced examination into the approach in which the apartheid analogy is exercised. Instead of writing articles that seek to prove or disprove the claim ‘Israel is an apartheid state,’ it is better to examine the facts on the ground.

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