Beyond South Africa: Understanding Israeli Apartheid

Al-Shabaka Policy Brief

The above-mentioned ideologies enable the manifestation of a mundane, taken-for-granted “everyday apartheid”. Poorly understood, the mundane is highly significant to the maintenance of apartheid’s architecture. For example, Amira Haas writes how “hundreds of thousands of perfectly normal Israelis who are not violent at home are partners in the mission of administering, demarcating, restricting and taming the other society while cumulatively damaging its rights, welfare and well-being.” Rashid Khalidi places this in the context of Israel’s “settlement-industrial complex”; in addition to the over half million Jewish settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, this includes “the hundreds of thousands in government and in the private sector whose livelihoods and bureaucratic interests are linked to the maintenance of control over the Palestinians”. Insulated pseudo-European realities (or “bubbles”) permit a majority of Israelis to live prosperous lives relatively ignorant of the colonization and ethnic cleansing of Palestine. They enable Israelis to go to work, shop, take care of their families, and enjoy the luxuries of the first world without sensing they might be nested in the architecture of apartheid or contributing to its perpetuation.

Approaches to Dismantling Apartheid

As indicated in this piece, apartheid today is far more sophisticated than that experienced by South Africans; several South Africans have themselves pointed this out, including Desmond Tutu. Because significant aspects of apartheid remain underexplored, notably its architecture and the mundane aspects of its ideologies, the success of policies and strategies seeking an end to Israeli apartheid may be limited. The above discussion is only a preliminary attempt to explore the physical, architecture, and ideological nature of Israeli apartheid. Incorporating these into an integrated approach for understanding Israeli apartheid may help in strategizing its dismantling.

For example, in dealing with the ideologies of apartheid, it may be more important to understand how Israeli Zionists come to distance themselves from the propagated fear and demonization of Palestinians. To date, rather than seek an understanding of Israeli cognitive shifts, attention has focused on the processes of indoctrination employed by agents of Israel (such as education, military training, mass visits of Israeli students to Europe’s concentration camps, and programs like Birthright).

The experiences of Israelis and western Jews who come to reject ideologies of fear and racial superiority for those that promote equality and human rights must be better understood. What are the conditions that enable Israelis or European and American Jews to choose to disassociate themselves from the ideologies of apartheid? Perhaps it is enough to experience different values, to have space and time for reflection, or be exposed to alternative narratives and realities (such as meeting Palestinians or Israelis who refuse to serve the occupation). Perhaps it is enough to find a means to communicate a shared vision ensuring equal and democratic rights regardless of a one, two or other-state solution. Moreover, it may be valuable for a community of like-minded people to demonstrate paths to new ways of thinking. Whatever the mechanisms, messages able to disarm apartheid’s ideological basis must be explored and spread to the Israeli public. These should allow for widespread critique of those ideals that legitimate apartheid’s physical and architectural dimensions without evoking fear. This is a key challenge for the BDS movement: Israelis and supporters who do not fully comprehend apartheid, or have been engrossed in ideologies of Zionism and fear, will default to a defensive position without considering the value and importance of boycott strategies.

The increasing numbers of Israelis and Jews who are distancing themselves from Israel’s oppressive politics is extremely encouraging and important. These significant trends suggest that ideological transitions are entirely possible and must be better understood. Different communities may be better suited to understand and initiate such changes. For example, progressive Israelis and Palestinian citizens of Israel are intimately aware of the various ideologies Israelis hold. Elsewhere, Christian Palestinians and progressive Christian movements can work to cultivate and communicate alternatives to Zionist Evangelicalism. As we have seen in recent years, Jewish movements are organizing to effectively contest the influence of the Israeli lobby in the U.S., EU, and Canada. Again, the above transitions away from the ideals of apartheid are possible when ideology is brought into conscious critique.