As in past years, J Street and J Street U are dismayed and troubled by the counterproductive rhetoric “Israel Apartheid Week” (IAW) brings to campuses across North America.
J Street and J Street U believe that establishing a sovereign Palestine beside a secure Israel, ending the occupation of the Palestinian territories, and ensuring self-determination for the Palestinian people are matters of existential necessity for Israel and the Palestinian people, and of moral urgency more broadly.
Successfully addressing a serious challenge, however, requires naming what it is, and what it is not. The use of the word “apartheid” fails on this score.
Israel is not an “apartheid” state. Within its internationally recognized borders, Israel is a democracy – a flawed democracy, like all democracies, but a democracy in which legal protection and political representation are accorded to all. While much work remains to ensure that these rights are protected equally, a country in which Palestinians serve in nearly every major branch of government cannot be plausibly described as “apartheid.”
In the West Bank, citizens of Israel enjoy democratic rights and protections while Palestinians live under military rule. These conditions are brutal, and corrosive, both to the Palestinians that live under them and to the Israelis that enforce them. The ongoing occupation ought to offend all who believe in the basic principles of democratic equality. The occupation, however, is the result of an ongoing conflict over land and not a system of racial oppression intended to maintain racial supremacy of one group over another, and therefore does not constitute apartheid.
Those who label Israel “an apartheid regime” deny the reality of a functioning democracy within the internationally recognized borders of Israel and obscure conditions in the Palestinian territories that remain under Israeli rule. By using such rhetoric, they fuel polarization, antagonism, and division on campus and beyond, and foster animosity among activists who might otherwise be allies.
Recognizing that Israel is a democracy, while the occupation is not, points towards the only resolution to this conflict: a two-state solution. Many leaders of both peoples understand the crucial importance of a two-state solution. The Israeli government today supports it conceptually, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has supported such a plan since before the Oslo Accords. Former Israeli Prime Ministers including Ehud Olmert and Ehud Barak have warned that, absent a two-state solution, Israel faces an untenable choice between maintaining its democratic nature and its status as the Jewish homeland.
These leaders reflect a broader understanding that there is only one way for both peoples to achieve their national aspirations: the same right of self-determination exercised by the Jewish people in Israel must be accorded to Palestinians in their own state.
It is J Street’s conviction that genuine resolution of the conflict requires broad and engaged support for compromise from all sides. Israel Apartheid Week sows division and reinforces the counterproductive zero-sum notion that to be pro-Palestinian requires being anti-Israel. We at J Street believe in working together to build a broad coalition for peace and justice. For that reason we reject the inflammatory rhetoric of Israel Apartheid Week.