By Rebecca Gonzales
In light of recent events, Israel Apartheid Week at American University and Prime Minister Netanyahu’s congressional address, it is beneficial to put forward a few facts about Israel and what apartheid really means.
According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, apartheid is defined as “racial segregation; specifically: a former policy of segregation and political and economic discrimination against non-European groups in the Republic of South Africa.” The word apartheid originated from the South African segregation movement. Oppressive laws were put into place during this time. Unfortunately, due to prejudice or misinformation, there are people who mistakenly deem Israel an apartheid state. Below are just a few simple facts proving that Israel is not an apartheid state.
One of the first and most important rights taken away from marginalized minorities is the right to vote. When oppressive groups begin to suppress minorities, they often deprive the right to public representation, as we saw in apartheid in South Africa. Israel has a large Arab population, which is why Arabic is one of Israel’s official languages. Fortunately, unlike an apartheid state, Arab Israeli citizens are guaranteed the right to vote as all Israeli citizens are. In fact, voting ballots are in Arabic and Hebrew to make voting simple and accessible for all citizens above the age of 18. Not to mention, Arab Israeli women had the right to vote in Israel before women had the right to vote in most Middle Eastern countries including Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and the United Arab Emirates.
Not only can Arab Israeli citizens vote in elections, they can also hold public office. Currently, Arabs hold ten seats in the Knesset (Israeli Parliament). Abdel Zuabi, the first Arab-Israeli Justice, joined the Israeli Supreme Court in 1999. The first Arab Israeli diplomat, Ali Yahya, was appointed in 1995. For a nation established in 1948, these representation demographics are impressive. It took America 197 years to see its first Senator of Arab descent, James Abourezk. Ultimately, Arab Israeli citizens have an equal right to vote and hold public office in Israel.
Every citizen within Israel has the right to education. The Compulsory Education Law of 1949 required that all children must attend school. Therefore, each child has the right to free education. This right also allows parents to choose which school their child attends. The law resulted in a natural trichotomy of students attending Arab, Christian, and Jewish elementary schools. Each child has the right to an education, and their parents have a right to choose which schools children attend. There are fundamental differences in the teachings of religion, language, and history between the schools, giving parents the freedom to choose the most suitable learning environment.
South African apartheid barred access to health care. Unfortunately, South Africa is still suffering the side effects of these apartheid laws. According to Kenneth Meshoe, a South African politician, patients couldn’t share a hospital room with members of different races. Again, unlike an apartheid state, Israel has universal health care. Every Israeli citizen, including Arab citizens, has the fundamental right to basic health care. The Save a Child’s Heart facilities are perfect examples of the charitable nature of Israel’s health care system. The Save a Child’s Heart facilities provide free heart surgeries to children of any race, religion, sex, color, or financial status. Therefore, Israel places importance on creating the most efficient and accessible health care for all of its citizens, regardless of race or religion.
During the years of apartheid in South Africa, segregation ruled every aspect of daily life. Much like the Jim Crow era in the United States South, race separated everything in apartheid South Africa. People were forced to use separate bathrooms, water fountains, hospitals, and restaurants. Because Israel is not an apartheid state, this behavior does not exist. Jews and Arabs are not forced to use separate bathrooms, water fountains, restaurants, or hospitals anywhere in Israel.
The five aforementioned aspects prove that Israel is not an apartheid state. People wrongfully deem Israel an apartheid state to slander its nature. However, these people may not realize that by accusing Israel of apartheid, they tarnish the potential for peace in the Middle East. Additionally, these same people are minimizing the horrifying, inhumane, and indescribable real apartheid that countless South Africans suffered. As Kenneth Meshoe, a member of the South African Parliament and victim of South African apartheid stated at Prager University, “I ask those in the United States, Europe and anywhere else in the world who charge Israel with practicing apartheid to please stop doing so. You are damaging the truth, you are damaging any chance for peace in the Middle East, and most of all, you are destroying the memory of the real apartheid.” All prejudices, racism, or anti-Semitism aside, do not label Israel as an apartheid state in respect for afflicted South Africans who underwent true oppression.