Even before the State of Israel was established, Jewish leaders consciously sought to avoid the situation that prevailed in South Africa.
As David Ben-Gurion told Palestinian nationalist Musa Alami in 1934:
“We do not want to create a situation like that which exists in South Africa, where the whites are the owners and rulers, and the blacks are the workers. If we do not do all kinds of work, easy and hard, skilled and unskilled, if we become merely landlords, then this will not be our homeland.”
Since the UN Conference on Racism in August 2001, anti-Israel individuals and groups have tried to delegitimise Israel by calling it an apartheid state in the hope that this false equation will tarnish Israel’s image and encourage sanctions and divestment of Israel.
The comparison, however, between Israel and apartheid South Africa is malicious and insults those who suffered under the real apartheid.
Today, Jews are the majority within Israel, but the non-Jewish minority (Arab, Christians, Bedouin, Druze, Baha’i and others) enjoy full citizenship with voting rights and representation in the government. Israel’s Declaration of Independence even specifically calls upon the Arab inhabitants of Israel to “participate in the upbuilding of the State on the basis of full and equal citizenship and due representation in all its provisional and permanent institutions.” The Arab minority comprises 20% of Israel’s population.
It is illegal for employers to discriminate on the basis of race and Arab citizens of Israel are represented in all walks of Israeli life. Arabs have served in senior diplomatic and government positions and an Arab – Salim Joubran – currently serves as a justice on the Supreme Court.
Israeli Arabs have their own political parties and representation in the Knesset; Arabs are also elected members of the major Israeli political parties including Likud.
In apartheid South Africa, laws dictated where Non-whites could live, work and travel and the government imprisoned, and sometimes killed, those who protested against these policies.By contrast, Israel allows freedom of movement,assembly and speech and some of the government’s harshest critics are Arab Knesset members. Arab students and professors study, research and teach freely at Israeli universities.At Haifa University, for example, approximately 20 percent of the students are Arabs.