Understanding Apartheid

A billboard put up by the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem ahead of Biden’s visit to Israel and the West Bank. (credit: Haidi Motola/B’Tselem)
Embracing a radical critique of Israeli apartheid is a precondition for bringing it to a just end.

By Noura Erakat and John Reynolds | Jewish Currents | Nov 1, 2022

In January 2021, the leading Israeli watchdog group, B’Tselem, deemed Israel a “regime of Jewish supremacy from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea.”

AT THE HEIGHT of the Unity Intifada in May 2021, as Palestinians demonstrated from Gaza City to Haifa to Ramallah, Rep. Rashida Tlaib, the only Palestinian American member of Congress, demanded an end to Israel’s “apartheid government.” Two days later, Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Cori Bush joined her in tweeting, in reference to Israel: “Apartheid states aren’t democracies.” The use of the “apartheid” label—and the rejection, from even a small minority of legislators, of the claim that Israel is “the only democracy in the Middle East”—signaled a break with US political orthodoxy.

These interventions were not only buoyed by the landmark Palestinian uprising but enabled by a series of recent, high-profile reports from major human rights organizations. In January 2021, the leading Israeli watchdog group, B’Tselem, deemed Israel a “regime of Jewish supremacy from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea.” A few months later, in April, the global advocacy organization Human Rights Watch (HRW) described a reality of “apartheid and persecution” maintained for the purpose of “privileging Jews over Palestinians” and involving “an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination.” These organizations aimed to consolidate an anti-apartheid analysis as common sense; their work seemed to give many people permission to speak. Throughout the spring and summer of 2021, solidarity statements and open letters referencing the reports flowed from scholarly and cultural organizations around the world. (Tlaib, too, cited both B’Tselem and HRW.) The momentum continued into 2022: In February, Amnesty International published its own extensive study of Israel’s apartheid against Palestinians, calling it a “cruel system of domination.”

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