Who is talking about Israeli Apartheid?

Untitled_design.jpgMany Palestinians, solidarity activists, and academics have recognized the "apartheid" character of Israel for many years. Recently, however, there has been a notable shift in mainstream organizations and figures willing to use this language. Below is an updated (but not exhaustive) list of notable organizations and figures who have recently adopted, or expressed openness towards, the terminology of Israeli apartheid.


International Human Rights Groups

  • Human Rights Watch (HRW) - In April 2021, HRW published a 200-plus page report concluding that Israeli officials are committing the crimes against humanity of “apartheid” and “persecution” against the Palestinian people. HRW explains that "the Israeli government has demonstrated an intent to maintain the domination of Jewish Israelis over Palestinians across Israel and the OPT. In the OPT, including East Jerusalem, that intent has been coupled with systematic oppression of Palestinians and inhumane acts committed against them. When these three elements occur together, they amount to the crime of apartheid." HRW provided governments with a series of recommendations, including the need to condition trade and military agreements on efforts to eliminate apartheid, and imposing sanctions (including asset freezes and travel bans) against Israeli officials. (April 2021)

Palestinian Civil Society

  • Over 100 Palestinian organizations - In January 2021, a joint statement by the Palestinian NGOs Network (PNGO), the Palestinian Human Rights Organisations Council (PHROC) and the Palestinian National Institute for NGOs (PNIN), representing more than 100 Palestinian human rights and civil society organizations, said that Israel's discriminatory COVID-19 vaccine rollout "exposes Israel’s inhumane acts of apartheid": "In its on-going roll-out of COVID-19 vaccinations, Israel is directly violating its humanitarian and human rights law obligations by denying lifesaving vaccines to Palestinians as part of its policy of maintaining its apartheid regime of institutionalised domination. This policy has revealed in a direct and clear manner how the system of apartheid operates."

  • Palestinian and global civil society (Almost 200 Palestinian organizations, 450+ total) - In September 2020, a wide coalition of more than 450 Palestinian and global civil society organizations, including almost 200 Palestinian organizations, urged Member States of the UN General Assembly to launch international investigations into Israel’s apartheid regime over the Palestinian people as a whole. Palestinian signatories included Al-Haq, Al Mezan Center for Human Rights, Addameer, Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR), Defense for Children International Palestine (DCIP), Jerusalem Legal Aid and Human Rights Center (JLAC), and about 170 additional civil society and Palestinian trade union groups.

Israeli Human Rights Groups

  • B’Tselem - In January 2021, Israel's largest human rights organization B'Tselem published a position paper concluding that Israel is an "apartheid" regime, or “a regime of Jewish supremacy from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea.” (January 2021)

  • Yesh Din - In June 2020, Israeli rights group Yesh Din published a legal opinion concluding that "the crime against humanity of apartheid is being committed in the West Bank. The perpetrators are Israelis, and the victims are Palestinians." (June 2020)

  • Gisha Access - Following the B'Tselem report, Israeli rights group Gisha Access wrote: "B’Tselem’s new report 'This is Apartheid,' asks Israelis to confront a painful reality that Palestinians have lived and described for decades. Those who think it’s easier to look away or blame the messenger are mistaken. The faster that Israelis face up to what they are doing and what is being done in their names, the faster the injustice can be brought to an end. The word apartheid evokes revulsion, as it should. There are undoubtedly differences between the apartheid regime in South Africa and Israel, but the thread that connects them is undeniable." Gisha also gave a presentation to a June 2021 conference at the Knesset entitled “After 54 Years: Between Occupation and Apartheid.” 

  • Physicians for Human Rights Israel - Israeli group PHRI's August 2021 report on COVID-19 in the West Bank argues: "This state of affairs demonstrates a reality of apartheid, whereby while two populations live under a single sovereignty, one will receive a high-quality vaccine early on, whereas the other will receive fewer vaccines, of another type and at a later time. The very fact that two populations living under the same regime are treated in such disparate ways is unparalleled confirmation of the existence of a reality of apartheid in the West Bank" (pp. 48-49). 

  • Breaking the Silence - Israeli rights group Breaking the Silence participated in a June 2021 conference at the Knesset entitled “After 54 Years: Between Occupation and Apartheid,” where they made a direct comparison between Israel's policy of 'separation' and South African apartheid: “Does anyone not think that there is a separation-based regime in the territories? [...] Separation in Afrikaans is apartheid. It is time to face the reality we have created and bring an end to the occupation as soon as possible.”  

  • Peace Now Israel - Israeli rights group Peace Now Israel participated in a June 2021 conference at the Knesset entitled “After 54 Years: Between Occupation and Apartheid,” and spoke about how "Israel’s occupation and settlement construction in the West Bank have created an apartheid-like reality." 

  • Adalah - The Legal Centre for Minority Rights in Israel - Israeli rights group Adalah described Israel's "Nation-State Law," passed in 2018, in terms of apartheid: "This law – which has distinct apartheid characteristics – guarantees the ethnic-religious character of Israel as exclusively Jewish and entrenches the privileges enjoyed by Jewish citizens, while simultaneously anchoring discrimination against Palestinian citizens and legitimizing exclusion, racism, and systemic inequality."

Public Opinion

  • Israelis and Palestinians - An April 2021 survey of all Israelis and Palestinians living between the Jordan river and the Mediterranean sea (analyzed together as a single population unit), found that about 25 per cent of Jewish Israelis believe the term “apartheid” is a fitting or very fitting description of the Israeli regime, as did a strong majority (75 per cent) of Palestinians.
  • Middle East Scholars - An August-September 2021 survey of Middle East scholars found that 65% would describe the current reality in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, as “a one-state reality akin to Apartheid.”  

  • American Jews - In a June-July 2021 national survey of Jewish voters in the United States, one quarter (25%) of Jewish voters, and 38% of Jewish voters under the age of 40, agreed that “Israel is an apartheid state." 

Post-Apartheid South Africa and Namibia

  • South Africans - Support for Palestinians and the "apartheid" comparison has been broadly popular in post-apartheid South Africa for many years. Most recently, Cyril Ramaphosa, South Africa's President, told France 24 in May 2021 that Israel’s actions brought back “very terrible memories of our own history and apartheid,” and said that Israel could “quite easily” be characterized as an “apartheid type of state.” In August 2021, the ruling African National Congress (and major liberation movement during the struggle against apartheid) sponsored a massive billboard in Soweto that read: “End Israeli Apartheid Now!" 
  • Namibians - Namibia’s ambassador to the United Nations told the UN Human Rights Council in March 2021 that Israel was practicing apartheid against the Palestinian people, and called for the restoration of the UN Special Committee on Apartheid to investigate Israel's practices. Namibia also called out Israel's "apartheid system" at the UN Security Council in July 2021. This is significant because Namibia was illegally occupied by South Africa for decades (at the time it known then as South West Africa), where South Africa imposed its apartheid policies on the population. 

Other Notable Figures and Organizations

  • Ban Ki-moon, former secretary-general of the United Nations - wrote in June 2021 that Israel’s “structural domination and oppression” of the Palestinian people “arguably constitutes apartheid.”

  • Yuval Noah Harari, Israeli author of the bestselling book Sapiens - while not using the "apartheid" word itself, very explicitly described the political reality in Israel a way identical to that of apartheid: "In short, the ruling powers in Israel moved from a two-state solution to a three-class solution. They foresee one country between the sea and the Jordan, where three types of people will live: Jews, who will enjoy all the rights; Type A Arabs, who will have some of the rights. And Type B Arabs, who will have almost no rights. This is the reality today, and judging by the votes at the ballot box, it seems that most Jews in Israel prefer that this is how it will remain." 

  • Two former Israeli ambassadors to South Africa - wrote in June that Israel’s activities in the occupied Palestinian territories amount to a “reality” of apartheid, adding: “It is time for the world to recognize that what we saw in South Africa decades ago is happening in the occupied Palestinian territories too.

  • United Church of Christ (UCC) - The UCC, a mainline church in the United States, voted 83% in July 2021 for a policy to "reject Israel’s apartheid system of laws and legal procedures."  

  • UK Labour Party conference - In September 2021, the UK Labour Party conference overwhelmingly adopted a motion referring to the HRW and B'Tselem reports concluding that Israel practicing the crime of apartheid.

  • Yehudit Karp, former Israeli deputy attorney general - wrote in October 2021: "the time has come to call a spade a spade: An apartheid regime is the name given in international law by the international community to a regime of the type that Israel is maintaining in the occupied territories."

Background - Notable Analyses