Israel Apartheid

When Jimmy Carter wrote Palestine: Peace not Apartheid almost everyone in the Jewish community got into a lather. The word “apartheid” stuck in everyone’s craw. That was back in 2006, Israel was governed by Ehud Olmert. There was a war with Hezbollah in Lebanon, but there were very serious negotiations underway with the Palestinians. The “Palestine Papers” leaked to the Guardian testify to those negotiations, as do recent claims that the parties were within 2 months of wrapping up a deal. Today Israel is governed by the most extreme rightwing government in its history, the peace process is stuck dead, there is an uptick in religious-nationalist violence, and other forms of religious extremism. Now we’re getting used to the term “apartheid.” In other words, Carter was right. There really is a choice between peace and apartheid.

I’m conflicted about the recent survey published in Haaretz according to which a majority of Israeli Jews would support apartheid were Israel to ever annex the territories. On the one hand, the poll looks tendentious, based as it is on an extreme hypothetical. By “annexation,” one assumes the pollsters meant a formal act, as opposed to the actual form of creeping annexation and creeping apartheid well as work today. Also, it’s not clear from the report just how narrowly the question was framed around “separate” road systems in the West Bank. The graph posted above suggests the narrow interpretation. On the other hand, the poll indicates the hardening of anti-democratic values across a broad spectrum of the Israeli Jewish public, and this can’t bode well in any situation, be it hypothetical, real, or virtual.

The analysis according to sectors fills in the details, indicating that the orthodox and ultra-orthodox communities are more prone to anti-Arab prejudice. We also learn that secular Israeli Jews tend to be less racist than religious ones, that a plurality of Israeli Jews oppose annexing the territories, and that a plurality of Jews would not boycott an academic or author who wants to boycott Israel. So I’m really not quite sure what the poll actually means, I’m just sure it means something.

What it means, in part, is that part of the problem in Israel has as much or more to do religion, with Judaism, with a certain dominant strain of Judaism in Israel today, than it has to do with Zionism per se. This is not so much as to defend Zionism as much as it is to suggest that Zionism, in its old secular dimension, has become a moribund ideological-social form in contrast to “the Judaism” that now threatens to supplant it.

And why should this matter to an American Jew? It may very be that the rightwing in Israel turns the country into an apartheid form of a bi-national state, and there’s nothing to be done about this, not from over here, and not from over there either. But I don’t think you can undo the Jewish body politic, such as it is, by separating out the Diaspora from Israel, or Judaism from Zionism, so as to preserve the former…in formaldehyde. In any event, American Jews will have to face the music. In this hypothetical scenario, we are going to be asked to weigh in, either against or in support of an Israel that we may no longer want to “recognize” as “democratic” or “Jewish,” but from which we are unable to separate.

[For an almost identical analysis and conclusions, see Noam Shelef at]

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics.
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