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In the book of essays edited by Akeel Bilgrami which explores the notion of academic freedom, and is titled Who's Afraid of Academic Freedom, John Meirshiemer in the essay Israel and Academic Freedom writes the following:

Greater Israel will be an apartheid state. Former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert made this point in November 2007, when he said that if there was no two-state solution, Israel will face a "South African style struggle". He went so far as to argue that "as soon as that happens, the state of Israel is finished".

What's surprising here, given how often Palestinians are accused of wanting to deny the existence of the state of Israel, is that a former prime minister of Israel is making this claim; and this claim is not isolated for he goes on to write:

Former Prime minister Ehud Barak, who later became Israels defense minister said in February 2010 that

"as long as the territory west of the Jordan river there is only one political entity called Israel is going to be either non-Jewish or non-democratic. If this bloc of millions of Palestinians cannot vote, that will be an apartheid state".

My questions are the following:

  1. What did Ehud Barak mean by saying "this bloc of Palestinians cannot vote"? Was this the case in 2010, and if not, then why did he say such a thing, and is it still the case in 2017?

  2. What did Ehud Olmert mean by saying "the state of Israel is finished"? In what way would he have envisaged the state of Israel finishing? For example, we see that in South Africa the system of apartheid was dismantled, yet there still remains a state called South Africa.

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  • Got a link to the essay? I have a feeling there's some context missing
    – Machavity
    Jul 26, 2017 at 3:13
  • @Machavity: I'm afraid not, no; it's an essay in a book, it's actually called Who's Afraid of Academic Freedom, you're welcome to look up the essay there. Jul 26, 2017 at 3:19
  • I'm sorry, but we can not read minds. An answer like the one by Machavity which tries to reason from the circumstances is the closest we could get.
    – Philipp
    Jul 26, 2017 at 8:21
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    @Philipp - it's not reaing minds at all. He was referring to very specific set of facts.
    – user4012
    Jul 26, 2017 at 8:22
  • @philipp: its not a matter of reading minds, but a matter of reading the essay in question... Jul 26, 2017 at 12:05

4 Answers 4

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The earlier answer by Machavity pretty much nails the general idea on the head but lacks specific #s:

Jews in Israel: 6,119K (growth rate 1.7%)
Arabs in Israel: 1,688K (growth rate 2.1%)
Palestinians in PA+Gaza+East jerusalem: 2,569+192,800+1,657=4,419K (growth rate ~3%)
Total Palestinians: 6,107K

So, there's as many Jews as Arabs NOW. If you consider birth rates, the Jews will be a minority, and more and more so, as time goes on.

This is confirmed by Haaretz quoting Palestinian Central Bureau of Statics (PCBS):

The number of Palestinians in Israel and the occupied territories will equal the number of Jews by the end of 2017, according to a report issued by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statics (PCBS.)

The number of Palestinians worldwide is currently estimated at 12.37 million, with 4.75 million living in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank (1.85 million and 2.9 million respectively,) 1.47 million in Israel, 5.46 million in Arab countries and some 685,000 in non-Arab countries


This means one of two things for one-state solution:

  1. Option 1: "Democratic state". Most importantly, that means Palestinian Arabs have voting rights, same as Israeli Arabs have today.

    Except, unlike in 2017 Israel, in one-state solution, Palestinians are in permanent majority. Jews are at best at permanent minority.

    This is further exacerbated by the fact that there's a reasonably big fraction of left wing Jews who would vote the same way as Palestinians on many issues, such as Meretz and their ilk; making Palestinian majority effectively even larger.

    • Best (imho, less likely) case scenario, it's not a Jewish state because Palestinians vote for it not to be so (as in, any "Jewish specialness" disappears).

      Note that Palestinians don't even support Jewish nature of Israel in the context of two-state solution, never mind one-state one:

      Similarly, only 39% support a mutual recognition of national identity of Israel as the state for the Jewish people and Palestine as the state for the Palestinian people and 61% oppose it.

    • Worse case scenario (extremely realistic): the first law passed is Palestinian right of return, meaning potentially up to another 5.4 to 6 Million Palestinians come from outside world to live in this one state, making Palestinian majority even larger.

    • Worst case scenario: permanent Palestinian majority votes to implement what most Palestinians want according to 2014 Washington Institute for Middle East policy poll (throw Jews back into the sea)

      ... now, a clear majority (60% overall, including 55% in the West Bank and 68% in Gaza) say that the five-year goal "should be to work toward reclaiming all of historic Palestine, from the river to the sea." ...

      This pattern is confirmed by other questions in the survey. For example, just one-third said that a two-state solution "should be the end of the conflict." Nearly two-thirds said "resistance should continue until all of historic Palestine is liberated."

      A separate Watan research center poll from 2015:

  2. Option 2: A state where Palestinians (who are majority) can't vote.

    That can realistically be considered similar situation to South African Apartheid, even though SA Apartheid included radical amount of oppression that's lacking in Israel (today, while some actual effective discrimination does occur (see Or report), officially Israeli Arabs have virtually same legal rights as Israeli Jews, according to all laws including Israeli Declaration of Independence).

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    It seems like you intended to quote from the Watan research centrer poll, but didn't. Also, your link is to Arutz7, which is strongly biased. A link to Watan research or an objective analysis would be better.
    – ugoren
    Jul 26, 2017 at 20:09
  • Your discussion of option 2 mixes this hypothetical one state, with millions of citizens who can't vote, with today's Israel, where Arab citizens have equal rights. This hypothetical state would be a big step towards SA Apartheid, at least in this aspect.
    – ugoren
    Jul 26, 2017 at 20:21
  • @ugoren - I kind of hoped it would be clear which is which with "oppression that's lacking in Israel (today" wording. Sorry for confusion.
    – user4012
    Jul 26, 2017 at 21:02
  • Your use of "even though" indicates that the lacking oppression in today's Israel somehow contradicts considering the hypothetical Israel as Apartheid.
    – ugoren
    Jul 26, 2017 at 21:04
  • @ugoren - hm. Wasn't what I was trying to express. I was just trying to preempt "Israel is apartheid already" BS responses
    – user4012
    Jul 26, 2017 at 21:38
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There are about 6.1 million Jews in Israel (with about 2 million non-Jews), about 3.7 million in the Palestinian territories. For argument's sake, let's assume a one state solution with Jews and non-Jews as the major political division (so 5.7 million on the other end).

In a one state solution, you now have voting along racial/religious lines. So that means a Jewish state running basically the whole thing. That's not terribly dissimilar to how it is now, but Gaza and the West Bank have their own elected governments (although very few outside governments recognize them). But with a one state solution, Palestinians would now officially be under the Jewish government. That limits any outside influence. Given a permanent minority status, apartheid would probably become the de-facto normal, as the Jewish government would (for security reasons) continue to limit and contain Palestinians, who would likely continue to engage in terrorist acts. Their elected representatives would protest, but not gain any traction in light of the fact that some of their constituents would be actively seeking to undermine the government.

And this is the best-case scenario.

The worst-case would see Palestinians denied the right to vote. A terrorist act against polling places by Hamas, whose charter states

complete liberation of Palestine from the river to the sea.

would be likely, since an open democratic election would ensure the legitimacy of the newly elected government (which is against Hamas' stated goals). Israeli forces would close some, if not all, Palestinian polling places (not hard to imagine given the recent limiting of Palestinian access to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem). So the Jewish population would win a lopsided victory, but without the legitimacy of a full and free election (but arguably not because of their actions). So some governments would not recognize them, while others would note the attempt. This would be an even more ripe environment for apartheid, just with a (somewhat) legitimate government running it.

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  • Interesting analysis; however it doesn't really explain the comments made by either Ehud Olmert or Ehud Barak, apart from ratifying that aparthied is a suitable lense to view the situation. Jul 26, 2017 at 4:04
  • In fact, that was a worry of mine, as aparthied in the South African context is ostensibly about race, whereas in the situation referred to this seems less so, after all both Hebrew and Arabic are called Semitic languages. Jul 26, 2017 at 4:10
  • @MoziburUllah - that's just a colloquialism. Using the word in terms of "oppression" in general as opposed to "race based oppression".
    – user4012
    Jul 26, 2017 at 7:58
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    @MoziburUllah Unlike South Africa, I don't think Israel wants apartheid. Instead, you would have a sort of "reverse" apartheid, where one side forces the other to oppress it, since it helps their political goals (Hamas in particular seems to prefer mass Palestinian casualties to peace, and for that reason they could never run Israel). Sorry if that wasn't clear. As to colloquialism, he's using this term for lack of a better one. Sometimes you have to use the next closest term so people understand what you mean
    – Machavity
    Jul 26, 2017 at 12:14
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    @MoziburUllah A colloquialism is using a common word or phrase in a way that doesn't necessarily mean everything the original word meant. So, in this case, apartheid was a deliberate attempt to segregate races in South Africa. Israel has something very similar to apartheid now, but there's a legitimate case to be made that terrorism is necessitating some of it. Olmert was using the term apartheid (which carries a deeply negative connotation) to describe why he felt a one-state solution would never work.
    – Machavity
    Jul 26, 2017 at 12:38
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Most Jewish Israelis do not believe that they can live in freedom in a state with too many Arabs. Right now, Israel is a Democratic state with an Arab minority encompassing about 20%. Jewish Israelis believe that if the Arab portion of the population grows too large, the state will no longer be Jewish or Democratic.

The sentiment is well described in this essay which was written shortly after Obama became President of the United States:

If, in a century, shifting demographics led Congress to become predominantly African-American, or Asian, or Hispanic, that change would simply be further indication of the flourishing of America's vision, a sign that the scourge of racism had receded even further. It would be testament to the realization of America's purpose, not its demise. Not so, however, in Israel. For while Israel must absolutely strive to make race a non-issue (even among Jews, as with Ethiopians, for example) and to accord Israeli Arabs a significantly greater piece of the pie, we ought to be honest: If Israel one day were to have a Knesset in which a majority of the members were Arab, Israel will have failed in its purpose.

In the US, a black man becoming president was considered a success for racial equality. But in Israel, the prospect of an Arab assuming the prime minister post is terrifying.

This answers your first question. Ehud Barak said "this bloc of Palestinians cannot vote" because if "that bloc" of Palestinians were allowed to vote in Israeli elections, the probability of an Arab being elected prime minister would be much to high.

The second statement ties in with the first. He said "the state of Israel is finished" not because he believe Israel would cease to exist, but because he believes that if the state is not dominated by Jews, it is worthless.

Barak and Olmert's statements are not unlike Secretary of State John Kerry's who said that Israeli can either be Jewish or Democratic:

  • Jewish: Israel annexes the West Bank but does not grant Palestinians citizenship. The state continues to be Jewish but clearly becomes an undemocratic Apartheid state.
  • Democratic: Israel annexes the West Bank and grants the Palestinians citizenship. The Palestinians can now vote and an Arab P.M. is probable. The state would then not be "Jewish."

The third solution, a (partial) withdrawal from the West Bank and reaching a deal with the Palestinians, is what Kerry, Barak and Olmert favors. It would save Israel's Jewish and Democratic character. But for various reasons, the two-state solution is very unlikely these days.

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The other answers are not bad, but I'll try to concentrate on the asked questions, i.e. explaining the words of Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert.

An underlying assumption in the words of both is that in a one state solution, The Palestinians of the west bank and Gaza won't be given equal rights. Many Israelis believe that equal rights to Palestinians will be used for anti-Jewish moves. For example, the right to vote could lead to an Arab majority passing anti-Jewish laws, and freedom of movement could be abused by terrorists. This assumption is somewhat supported by research quoted in user4012's answer.

Therefore, Olmert and Barak assume that this one state, or Greater Israel, will not give equal rights to the Palestinians of the west bank and Gaza. So in Barak's words, this bloc of millions of Palestinians cannot vote (unlike today, and in 2010, where all citizens can vote, including Arabs). This situation would not be democratic, and has significant similarty to South-African Apartheid.

Ehud Olmert goes further to claim that Israel will not be able to survive in such a situation, probably due to international isolation and sanctions. This view seems to be shared by some Palestinian organizations, that endeavor to equate Israel and Apartheid, in hope to reach isolation and sanctions.

Both Olmert and Barak use this argument to promote the two state solution, which they see as the only alternative to the above.

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