The South African Who Doesn’t Know What Apartheid Is

Nowhere is the false apartheid Israel libel more sensitive than South Africa, which bore witness to genuine apartheid. Sadly, in line with many Western countries, South African campuses suffer the hatred of Israel Apartheid Week.

Taking advantage of IAW, Azad Essa, an Al Jazeera journalist, relies on distortions of fact, and long debunked libels to support his false narrative of Israel as an “apartheid state” in an op-ed for South Africa’s Pretoria News.

In fact, nothing could be further from the truth.

What is Israel, really?

Israel is a diverse country including Arabs, Christians, Druze, Bedouins and Jews, and all have equal rights under law.

Arabs comprise the third largest political party in Israel and Arab politicians account for 17 seats in the 120 member Knesset, and constitute two of Israel’s 15 Supreme Court Justices.

Jews and Arabs are not only treated together as patients in the same hospitals, but are treated by both Arab and Jewish doctors.

In fact, both Jews and Arabs can be found working together in every industry that Israel has: from hi-tech to high fashion, and everything in between.

What is Azad Essa’s Israel?

With this basic context in mind, let’s explore Azad Essa’s utterly hallucinogenic understanding of Israel and deconstruct some of his more egregious falsehoods.

The first thing to notice is that Essa makes no distinction between the status of Arab citizens of Israel and Palestinian Arabs living in the disputed territories. As far as Essa is concerned they are all discriminated against by Israel.

In truth, the Palestinian Authority has its own governing bodies, parliament, ministries, diplomatic representatives, social services, courts, police force, etc. Unlike the Bantu policy of the South African government, the autonomy arrangements in the West Bank were fully voluntary, arrived at by negotiation between the state of Israel and the internationally recognized “sole representative” of the Palestinian people.

According to Essa:

Israel has some 50 laws that discriminate against Palestinian Muslims and Christians. It defines itself as a “state of the Jewish people”, but boasts of being a democracy. From the inception of the state in 1948 until 1966, Palestinian citizens of Israel lived under a harsh military rule; they were treated as enemies of the state, had curfews and were not allowed to leave their towns. Today, Palestinian are discriminated against in terms of education, healthcare and legal services. For instance, since 1948, about 600 new towns for Jews have been built while not a single new Palestinian town has been recognised or developed. Palestinians are refused building permits.

A number of points to address these charges:

  • The ’50 discriminatory laws’ that Essa refers to are nothing of the sort. Instead the anti-Israel NGO Adalah created such a list that has been appropriated by others looking to demonize Israel. As NGO Monitor notes:

Adalah employs a loose definition of “discrimination,” and many of the laws and proposed laws are entirely unrelated to Israeli Arabs or other minorities. Laws promoting Zionism and the historic Jewish connection to Israel are labeled as discriminatory. This includes laws that relate to Israel as a “Jewish and democratic state,” as well as the use of Jewish symbols and the Hebrew calendar. Adalah uses the word “Zionist” in a pejorative manner throughout the database, indicating that it accepts the “Zionism is racism” canard.

  • Israel imposed martial law on the Arab population under its control from 1948 before removing it in 1966. As unpleasant as it may appear, it was an unfortunate necessity given the precarious security situation that the nascent Israeli state found itself in its formative years. Military rule was imposed to alleviate the possibility that the Arabs within Israel could once again threaten the Jewish population. While there were restrictions in place, Essa deliberately indulges in hyperbole to make his point.
  • As in any diverse democracy, private discrimination is a constant topic of debate in Israel, and a challenge many Israelis look to overcome. However, according to Israeli law discrimination in housing, education, work or any other area is illegal and there is therefore no such thing as a Jewish-only school, neighborhood, profession, road, bathroom or anything else, in the State of Israel. Essa later charges that other populations such as Ethiopian and Mizrachi Jews from Arab countries have been discriminated against. Essa, however, falsely maintains that this is a result of an official apartheid-style state sponsored racism, which is certainly not the case.

HonestReporting reviewed and debunked some of the apartheid myths in this video.

Essa continues to promote more falsehoods:

The half-a-million Israelis who live there [the West Bank] enjoy citizenship rights, Jewish-only roads and infrastructure, while the three million Palestinians live under military law.

    • “Jewish-only roads”: Are actually Israeli-only roads and are not limited by religion or ethnicity. The reason for limiting certain roads from non-Israelis is sustained and deadly campaigns of Palestinian attacks on Israelis, again, a phenomenon entirely foreign to South Africa’s history.
    • Essa hides from readers that since September 2015, Israelis have been the victims of 2,732 Palestinian terror attacks, including 51 car rammings, this only the latest in a number of “intifadas,” designed to destroy Israel and murder Jews. South Africa has never seen an equivalent, nor has ever had to defend against its like.
    • “Three million Palestinians living under military law?” In fact, as the UN has noted, some 300,000 Palestinians live in Area C of the West Bank, which falls under both Israeli military and civil rule. The rest of the Palestinian population lives in Areas A and B which fall under the civil control of the Palestinian Authority.

Perhaps none of this should be surprising from a writer who calls Hamas a “resistance” even thought they are considered terrorists by almost the entire Western world and call for the total destruction of Israel and murder of all Jews.

Essa has the gall to complain that there are separate education systems in Israel – Hebrew and Arabic. This is not segregation in the guise of apartheid but to the contrary, Israel has built an option for Arab families who prefer a more Arab-centered education. Some Arab families may even choose to send their children to mixed Jewish/Arab schools instead.

Then comes the “ethnic cleansing” charge:

In 1948, more than 500 villages and localities were ethnically cleansed and destroyed as part of the occupation of Palestine.

This charge has been repeatedly debunked. There was simply no Israeli plan to evict or expel the Arab population. The Jewish Virtual Library and HonestReporting have addressed this, and other apartheid myths in the past. In short, it is simply untrue, as evidenced in part by the over 1.5 million Arabs who continue to live in Israel to this day.

In a direct appeal to  readers, Essa then incorrectly charges that Israel was a supporter and enabler of the South African apartheid regime:

Israel was one of the key countries that propped up apartheid South Africa. While it was agreed at the UN in 1962 that South Africa ought to be boycotted, Israel became one of South Africa’s biggest economic partners.


Following an arms embargo on South Africa, Israel also became the biggest foreign arms supplier to our country. Granted, supporting South Africa during apartheid was the reserve of many in the Western world.


But there was a difference: Israel saw in white apartheid South Africa an image of itself.

In reality, Israel maintained diplomatic relations with South Africa throughout the apartheid period, as did most Arab countries, Taiwan, Belgium, and Britain. Despite the arms embargo, these countries sold arms to South Africa during the apartheid era. There have even been reports of nuclear cooperation. Various Israeli leaders publicly condemned the apartheid system. During the early 1960’s, Israel aligned with other African countries against the apartheid system, straining its relationship with South Africa. After the Six-Day War in 1967, most African countries broke diplomatic ties with Israel, except for South Africa, and this led to increased relations between the two.

This, however, was a result of Israel’s isolation and simple realpolitik as carried out by most other states looking after their interests. The bottom line is that Israel opposed apartheid and its relations with the South African regime were certainly not based on any shared ideology as Essa suggests.

Azad Essa’s opinion piece is timed to coincide with Israel Apartheid Week, thus becoming nothing more than yet another piece of libel against Israel. While everyone is entitled to their own opinion, if one must lie and mislead in order to support it, then maybe it is just plain wrong.

If you wish to read some additional insight, Associate Director, SA Jewish Board of Deputies, David Saks presented a thoughtful reply in the same newspaper.

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