Global leaders call out hijacking of ‘apartheid’ label to attack Israel
Leaders from around the world have spoken out against appropriation of the term “apartheid” from its historical South African context with the goal of defaming and isolating Israel by portraying it as a racist entity.
At a June conference titled “Trivialising history: how anti-Israel activists have hijacked the South African ‘apartheid’ label to attack the Jewish state”, co-hosted by the Combat Antisemitism Movement (CAM), NGO Monitor, and the World Zionist Organization, world leaders, diplomats, legislators and policymakers discussed what must be done to restore the “apartheid” term to its proper context and delegitimise its use in discourse about a conflict to which it has no relevance.
“Categorising Israel as an ‘apartheid state’ is just plain antisemitic,” says Nicola Beer, the vice-president of the European Parliament (EP) and special envoy on combating religious discrimination including antisemitism. “In my opinion, such characterisation counters the progress made in the region concerning the peace process. Instead, it deepens the rifts and fuels antisemitism around the world.”
The conference was held in response to a global rise in antisemitism. According to the organisers, the “apartheid” campaign questions Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish and democratic state.
NGO Monitor Vice-President Olga Deutsch commented, “It’s heart-warming to see how many officials rallied to denounce the apartheid smear. Preserving the uniqueness of the apartheid narrative is central for the South African people, but in the context of today’s event, is also crucial for the global Jewish community facing violent antisemitic attacks. A strong message from our elected officials is imperative in setting the tone for the rest of us.”
During the past 18 months, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have published reports accusing Israel of apartheid, and the United Nations has established two bodies in which the claim of apartheid will be prominently featured.
“These attempts distort what happened during South Africa’s past system of institutionalised racial segregation. Continuous misuse of the apartheid conversation trivialises the suffering endured by true apartheid victims of the oppressive apartheid regime,” say organisers.
South African Zionist Federation (SAZF) director of public policy, Benjy Shulman, notes that in South Africa, we’re at the coalface of the ‘apartheid’ accusation. “The SAZF is optimistic about this new international movement to discredit the fallacious apartheid analogy,” says Shulman. “Israel isn’t an apartheid state in even the most trite comparisons. Arab Israelis share equal representation in both Israel’s democracy and society.”
He says the conference is important because it shows that there’s international recognition of this issue. “Senior figures across the spectrum are standing up and saying that this is incorrect. It shows that there is ‘push back’ against this contested notion.”
Local political analyst Steven Gruzd says, “Anti-Israel groups, including those involved in the struggle for equality in South Africa, routinely employ the term ‘apartheid’ to discredit the legitimacy of Israel. It’s used for an emotive reaction, and often achieves this. But in my view, the situations are
incomparable, and it does a disservice to those who fought real apartheid in South Africa. It cheapens their struggle and obscures rational discussion about Israel.”
The deputy minister of foreign affairs of the Czech Republic, Jiří Kozák, was one of the world leaders who spoke out. “The suffering of South Africans under apartheid was unique, and attempts to apply the same label to Israel trivialises that history and is unacceptable,” he said. “We consider this open antisemitism. Claiming that Israel is a racist endeavour is in violation of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance Working Definition of Antisemitism. Claims of ‘apartheid’ are not about questioning a particular policy, but about challenging the nature of the Jewish state.”
In May 2022, Kozák met Palestinian Deputy Minister Amal Jadou, so it’s clear he cares about both sides of the conflict and has engaged with its intricacies.
“Whatever the world’s greatest and most unforgiveable crime is in any particular moment of history, the Jews will be accused of it,” says member of the House of Lords, Baroness Ruth Deech. “Those who accuse Israel of apartheid are themselves racist in that their real mission is to deny the legitimacy of the only Jewish state in the world and if they got their way, they would return Jews to dispersion, slaughter and discrimination.”
“Attempts to link South Africa’s past system of institutionalised racial segregation to the nuanced complexity of contemporary Israel-Palestinian relations debases history and trivialises the unique suffering of apartheid victims,” says United States Congressman Henry Cuellar. “We must acknowledge the dangerous effects of falsified name-calling.”
“A lot of political prisoners during the apartheid era would have loved to live as a Palestinian in Israel,” pointed out member of the European Parliament and vice-chairperson of the budgetary committee, Niclas Herbst.
“Applying the ‘apartheid’ label serves no purpose other than to delegitimise the Israeli state, demonise the Jewish people, and ultimately, bring about Israel’s destruction,” said Alan Shatter, the former minister for justice and equality and minister for defence of the Republic of Ireland. Alongside the conference, CAM released a public petition urging people to sign a pledge to “urge decision-makers at the international, national, and local levels to reject and condemn the ‘apartheid’ libel of Israel.”
NGO Monitor released a number of reports debunking the claims made by Amnesty International and other NGOs. These releases highlight its work in fighting the apartheid libel.
“In light of Unilever’s praiseworthy decision to thwart the antisemitism of its Ben & Jerry’s subsidiary, we have shown that we can beat BDS [the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement],” said Elan Carr, CAM advisory board member and former US special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism. “The next challenge is to combat the ‘apartheid’ calumny, and we’ll do that with a carefully orchestrated strategy and a dissemination of the truth and the facts. That’s what we’re doing. The antisemitic ‘apartheid’ campaign will be defeated because it’s built on lies and hate.”