Israel suffers from false accusation of ‘apartheid state’ by Harold Halpern

Published February 17, 2022 on Herald-Tribune

I planned to write about Israel’s medical and technological developments that benefit the world and about its first responders who immediately rush to countries dealing with sudden humanitarian crises. It’s a wonderful, upbeat, feel-good story. But the repeated claim that Israel is an apartheid state causes me to postpone my intended column.

Israel is a nation of 7 million Israeli Jews from more than 100 countries and 2 million Israeli Arabs, some Christian but mostly Muslim, together with several other religious groups. All are citizens with full and equal rights.

Israel’s Proclamation of Independence on May 14, 1948, provides, “Israel will (develop) the country for the benefit of all …; will be based on precepts of liberty, justice and peace; … will uphold the full social and political equality of all its citizens without distinction of race, creed or sex; will guarantee full freedom of conscience, worship education and culture. …”

These provisions are not just empty words. They have been implemented by the Basic Law (constitutional equivalent) of Human Dignity and Liberty adopted by the Knesset (Israel Parliament). In significant part it states, “Fundamental human rights in Israel are founded upon recognition of the value of the human being, the sanctity of human life, and the principle that all persons are free; these rights shall be upheld in the spirit of the principles set forth in the Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel.”

The Supreme Court of Israel has unequivocally decided in a number of cases that the provisions for Human Dignity and Liberty incorporates the right of equality and has stricken down laws that infringe on that right in a variety of circumstances, including LGBT and gender equality, right of Palestinians working in Jewish settlements in West Bank to receive equal pay, and in a variety of other situations.

The 20% of Israeli non-Jewish citizens have full voting rights. Arab citizens have been elected to every Knesset, sometimes more or less, than the currently held 14 seats.

One of the Arab parties, Ra’am, headed by Mansour Abbas, is a crucial member of the current government which could not have been formed without his and the Knesset members of his party’s vote for Naftali Bennett as Prime Minister.

Arab Israelis have served on the Israel Supreme Court as well as on lower courts. These Courts have been stalwart in their independence and in protecting democracy. Arab Israelis have served in Israel’s diplomatic corps. A third of the students at Haifa University are not Jewish and Arab and Druze citizens are well represented at other universities. Arab doctors and nurses are a third of the medical profession working side by side with Israeli Jewish doctors and nurses. Almost 50% are the pharmacists in Israel.

Those who proclaim that Israel is an apartheid state because of its occupation of the West Bank and its actions in Gaza ignore history. Israel did not seek the West Bank or Gaza.

The Arab nations rejected the United Nations partition of Palestine into both a Jewish state and an Arab state. They attacked Israel in May 1948 right after it declared its independence. To the shock of the world, Israel, with less than a million Jews, defeated all the Arab armies. The war ended with Jordan in control of eastern Jerusalem, the West Bank and Egypt of Gaza. Neither ever offered the Palestinians a separate state.

From 1948 until 1967 Israel was the victim of terrorist attacks. In 1967 Egypt with Syria and Jordan provoked war against Israel seeking its destruction. Israel defeated their armies in the  Six-Day War and reunited Jerusalem and held the West Bank, Gaza and the Egyptian Sinai. The Arab countries refused to negotiate peace or recognition of Israel. Instead, Israel was again unsuccessfully attacked on Yom Kippur 1973 which ultimately led to Peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan and the Oslo agreements with the Palestinian Authority.

The Oslo agreement of 1995 divided the West Bank into Areas A, B and C. Areas A and B, the Palestinian villages, towns and cities of about 2 million, are under Palestinian Authority control, subject to Israel security rights. Until a final agreement is reached Area C, in which about 400,00 Israelis live, mostly close to separation line, is under total Israeli control by military government in accordance with international law.

In 2000 the PA, after rejecting an Israel peace offer negotiated by President Clinton, launched a second intifada against Israel with suicide bombers and terrorists lasting until 2005 killing and injuring thousands of Israeli civilians. Israel constructed a separation barrier which has greatly reduced attacks. Israel must be continually vigilant to keep itself safe from terrorism emanating in the West bank.

Israel left occupancy of Gaza in 2005 and turned it over to the PA to govern. It was overthrown by Hamas which proclaims it will destroy Israel. To protect itself Israel controls the borders of Gaza except the southern, which is controlled by Egypt; but internally Hamas runs the government. It repeatedly engages in attacks on Israel by missiles and incendiary balloons. In May of this year, it shot more than 4,000 rockets on Jerusalem and southern Israel. Israel is forced every few years to control and deter these actions by bombing military and weapon facilities frequently placed by Hamas in civilian areas. Israel warns the civilians before bombing to take cover.

Abbas, the Arab Israeli head of Ra’am, in response to a question at a Washington D.C. online event in February, rejected the word “apartheid” to describe relations between the Jews and Arabs in Israel.

The facts belie the accusation that Israel is an apartheid state. Israel is not a perfect democracy, nor is any country, but it is working to fulfill the democratic aspirations of its Proclamation of Independence while protecting its citizens.

Harold Halpern is a retired attorney in Lakewood Ranch. He is a board member of the American Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists and the West Coast Chapter of the American Jewish Committee. All opinions are solely his.