The Israeli Apartheid Week lecture series is hosted annually in several universities and institutions in the U.S., and all over the world. The lecturers classify Israel as an "apartheid" country for its treatment of Palestinians. A similar sentiment is held by US secretary of state, John Kerry.

I am Israeli and I don't quite understand what they are talking about.

Why do these lecturers consider Israel an apartheid country?

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    You answered it in your question: "for its treatment of Palestinians"
    – user1530
    Mar 25, 2014 at 1:17
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    – user1530
    Mar 25, 2014 at 1:19
  • 1
    I'm confused if you think the Palestinians are not really separated-there is a giant border fence-so that cannot be it...maybe you think the Arabs are not part of the Israeli state?
    – Razie Mah
    Mar 25, 2014 at 6:46
  • 8
    -1 The answer you've accepted doesn't technically answer your q. It is the logical equivalent of "Q: Why do some people say Russia is not a democracy? A: Obviously they are wrong, Russia is a democracy because it has elections." Thus it seems pretty obvious you were looking for a (fairly trivial) refutation, not any sort of explanation. Your q wasn't: "Why is this a bad analogy?" (Which, by the way, is also a good question, and admits some good answers, but it isn't what you openly asked.) Mar 13, 2021 at 14:45
  • 3
    @Fizz (+1) If the horse hadn't already fled the stable I would VTC as "not questioning in good faith".
    – Rekesoft
    May 24, 2021 at 9:21

8 Answers 8


Well you could start by looking at the yearly report on human rights prepared by the US State Department.

You'll find lots of examples of systematic discrimination here, like how - although they may legally have a right to - Arab-Israelis can't obtain building permits or can't buy land. Then of course we have things like how Arab-Israeli easily may lose their citizenship through marriage and be expelled. The use of "administrative incarceration" - in practice, being jailed for an unspecified time; without being charged and without being judged. And while Arab-Israelis may legally be allowed to fully participate in Israeli politics, being labeled an "enemy of the state" undoubtedly reduces their participation.

These are all things that happen to Arab-Israelis regularly and in numbers - how often does it happens to Jewish-Israelis?! It may not be "Apartheid", but it certainly smells of at least "'Equal' but Separate"...

From the report:

"Arab citizens faced institutional and societal discrimination."

"Resources devoted to education in Arabic were inferior to those devoted to education in Hebrew in the public education system"

"Approximately 93 percent of land is in the public domain, including approximately 12.5 percent owned by the NGO Jewish National Fund (JNF), whose statutes prohibit sale or lease of land to non-Jews."

"The law bars family reunification when a citizen’s spouse is a non-Jewish citizen of Iran, Iraq, Syria, or Lebanon. Citizens may apply for temporary visit permits for Palestinian male spouses 35 years old or older or Palestinian female spouses 25 years old or older, but they may not receive residency based on their marriage and have no path to citizenship."

"An estimated population of 130,000 Ethiopian Jews faced persistent societal discrimination, although officials and the majority of citizens quickly and publicly criticized discriminatory acts against them."

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    These things don't constitute Apartheid. You won't see me supporting the de Facto discrimination that occurs in Israel, but Apartheid requires institutional discrimination, i.e. separate laws for Arabs and Jews, and that's not the case. Richard Goldstone, who helped to dismantle Apartheid in South Africa, will tell you that Israel is not Apartheid: nytimes.com/2011/11/01/opinion/…
    – Publius
    Apr 7, 2014 at 16:18
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    Furthermore, administrative detainment is used to detain terror suspects, not as a systematic tool to discriminate against Israeli-Arabs. Arab-Israelis can obtain building permits and buy land, and the term "enemy of the state" doesn't appear in the paper to which you linked. In fact, there are a few Arab parties in the Knesset, and the only party to ever be removed from the Knesset was a Jewish party. Arab voter turnout is low because Israeli Arabs feel their politicians represent the Palestinians more than they represent them.
    – Publius
    Apr 7, 2014 at 16:19
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    @Avi, the question isn't asking why Israel is an Apartheid country, but why some consider it an "Apartheid" country. Your comment is valid, but is answering a different question (namely why do some people consider Israel to not be Apartheid?)
    – user1530
    Apr 8, 2014 at 3:27
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    @Avi So? If they've actually committed acts of terror, it should be possible to present the evidence and try and judge them in an open court - that's what democracies and free justice systems usually do! Administrative Incarceration, is a way to lock-up someone without a trial - often not because what they've done or you suspect they did; but because the regime suspect trouble from them in the future or need hostages against their friends and family. Besides, it doesn't matter what the police think someone did - innocent until proven guilty in a court! Apr 8, 2014 at 10:26
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    @DA I disagree. He's saying "People consider Israel Apartheid because they did X". That's wrong. He can say "People consider Israel Apartheid because they believe Israel did X".
    – Publius
    Apr 8, 2014 at 18:06

Edit 4/29/2021: Human Rights Watch just put out a report declaring Israeli rule in the West Bank apartheid. The report is very long and detailed and worth reading for those interested.

Quoting from the summary:

About 6.8 million Jewish Israelis and 6.8 million Palestinians live today between the Mediterranean Sea and Jordan River, an area encompassing Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT), the latter made up of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip. Throughout most of this area, Israel is the sole governing power; in the remainder, it exercises primary authority alongside limited Palestinian self-rule. Across these areas and in most aspects of life, Israeli authorities methodically privilege Jewish Israelis and discriminate against Palestinians. Laws, policies, and statements by leading Israeli officials make plain that the objective of maintaining Jewish Israeli control over demographics, political power, and land has long guided government policy. In pursuit of this goal, authorities have dispossessed, confined, forcibly separated, and subjugated Palestinians by virtue of their identity to varying degrees of intensity. In certain areas, as described in this report, these deprivations are so severe that they amount to the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution.

Original answer below.

TL;DR : Jews in Israel are treated better and have more rights than Arabs. If we consider Palestinians to be Israelis (which they effectively are after 50+ years of occupation) then the system of military control and subjugation of people living in the occupied territory is tantamount to apartheid.

The word apartheid technically refers to the legal system of racial segregation and white supremacy in South Africa from 1948 – 1991. To keep things simple, by "apartheid" I mean a legal system in which a particular class of people (Arabs/Blacks) are treated different from the ruling class (Israeli Jews/South African whites). The parallel is not perfect of course, there are significant differences between the two countries, but in essence the broad injustices are the same. There are two classes of Arabs in Israel primarily: Israeli Arabs, who are citizens of Israel, and Palestinian Arabs, who mostly live under occupation by the Israeli military. Israeli Arabs, as citizens, have rights, though there is a non-trivial amount of discrimination against them in Israel. Palestinian Arabs have essentially no rights and live under what amounts to martial law.

I will primarily focus here on the striking parallels between arguments made defending Israel and arguments made defending apartheid in South Africa, and point out a few parallels. I will focus on this article defending South African apartheid published in the Christian Science Monitor in 1989. A much deeper discussion of this can be found on the excellent podcast Citations Needed. I also will point out a few basic examples of how these arguments fail to absolve Israel of the claims against it.

Here are a few common arguments which are made defending Israel which are paralleled by the arguments made to defend apartheid South Africa:

  1. It is often argued that the land was barren and empty when Israel was founded and that Israelis "put it to good use"; the slogan "A land without a people for a people without a land" was used as a rallying call for Jews to move to Israel. Compare this to the quote from the article regarding South Africa:

Contrary to popular belief, the whites did not take the country from the blacks. When the Dutch settled in the Cape in 1652, they found a barren, largely unpopulated land. Together with French and German settlers, they built a dynamic society.

This argument in regards to Israel is simply false.

  1. We often hear the argument that Israel has brought technological advancement, whereas the Palestinians have not. Israel is often referred to as "Startup Nation". Pro-Israel sources often bring up the technological achievements of Israel: For example,

Everybody agrees that the current affluence of Israel, its modern infrastructure and economy were developed by the Jews

Compare to:

When the whites met the blacks, the blacks had no written language, no technological knowledge, no cure for infectious diseases. In the 20th century, economic activity organized by whites gradually drew blacks out of their tribal lands into the cash economy and into the cities.

Yes Israel is extremely technologically advanced, but that is primarily due to heavy investment from Western sources. Meanwhile advancements in Palestine are much slower, as there are far fewer opportunities for Palestinians and they have to deal with the destruction of infrastructure due to regular invasions by the Israeli military, especially in Gaza, where there is less than four hours of electricity daily due to the Israeli blockade. Israel has hindered economic development in the occupied territories for decades.

  1. Arabs enjoy better living standards in Israel than in other Arab countries: for example this article, Standard of living for Arabs in Israel in a 'different league' - Israel Today. Compare with:

Blacks possess one of the highest living standards in all of Africa. Although black living conditions in South Africa (as in America) cover a wide spectrum, the housing is unequalled anywhere on the continent.

First off, the quality of life of a class of people in one country has nothing to do with the quality of life in any other country. This is simply deflecting from the issue. There is ample evidence that Arabs in Israel do not enjoy the same standard of living as Jews. Some examples: here, here. And that is only for Israeli Arabs (who are citizens). Now if we consider the Palestinians, their quality of life is utterly different. As I stated before, the siege of Gaza has led to a humanitarian crisis and massive protests. In the West Bank, things are better, but the residents live under a military occupation, with movement restricted by military checkpoints, and protesting can get you arrested. Since they are not Israeli citizens, they are subject to military courts, which have nearly a 100% conviction rate. While Palestinians are not strictly Israeli citizens, this might not be considered apartheid in a technical sense, but the analogy is fairly clear.

  1. It is often said that Arabs enjoy great healthcare in Israel, for example as touted in this Jerusalem Post article. Compare with:

South Africa's health care complex is the best on the continent. In Soweto, for instance, there is a large hospital facility known throughout the world as a great center for the study and treatment of traumatic injuries. Blacks going to outpatient departments of hospitals are treated by the best physicians and pay an average $2 per visit, regardless of treatment. Major surgery, performed by the best specialists in the country, costs less than $5 per day.

Just because a subordinate class benefits from living under "apartheid" conditions does not take away the fact that those conditions are unjust. The World Health Organization says that in the West Bank the permit system which inhibits movement of people denies many from getting access to hospitals which can treat them. In Gaza the situation is much, much worse. Palestinians in Gaza are not allowed to leave, and it has been compared to an open air prison

  1. Recently the mayor of Jerusalem claimed “The quality of life of the Arab residents of Jerusalem is far superior to anywhere else around us in the Middle East … and they know that very, very well.”. Compare this with:

In South Africa the literacy rate is 70 percent for blacks compared to average 40 percent in the 51 independent African states. Education is the single highest budget item as opposed to military and security spending in most of the black-ruled states.

Income in South Africa is higher for blacks than in any other African state. In reality, there is a strong emerging black middle class. There is a steady increase in the number of dentists, doctors, lawyers and other senior positions. South Africa's black prosperity and emerging black middle class is rarely mentioned.

Israeli Arabs make up about 20% of the population, yet they are not represented equally in the health care system. For example less than 3% of psychologists in Israel are Arab, and around 10% of doctors and nurses are Arab. Generally Arabs who are Israeli citizens face many obstacles that Jewish people do not. As one example, consider this article:

They have the right to vote and have representatives in parliament but have traditionally faced discrimination in planning, land use, employment and government budgets. In recent years verbal attacks against Arabs, such as an infamous comment on election day in 2015 by Mr Netanyahu saying they were flowing to ballot stations in "droves", a legislative push adversely affecting them and threatening to implicitly define them as second class citizens are seen as contributing to a hardening of Arab attitudes. The demolition of Arab homes built without permits - which are difficult or often impossible to obtain - also breeds bitterness.

  1. It is often said that Israel is the "only democracy in the Middle East", a "beacon of freedom", etc. For example, here. We often hear arguments when Israel is criticized for the situation in Palestine, "what about Syria" or some other diversionary line deflecting from the actual issue, for example:

By focusing disproportionately on Israel, the human rights community pays disproportionately less attention to the other occupations, such as those by China, Russia and Turkey, and to other humanitarian disasters such as that occurring in Syria.

Compare with:

The western world closes its eyes to the true situation in Africa. All the hand wringing over South Africa turns to hand washing when it comes to condemning black Africa. The West soothes its conscience by injecting development aid. Nobody seems to have noticed that despite the aid, the situation keeps getting worse.

Why is South Africa so harshly condemned while completely different standards apply to black Africa? Despite human rights violations in Zaire, President Bush applauds Mr. Muboto for his contribution in the Angola talks, while mentioning the atrocities in South Africa.

Hopefully it's obvious why the oppression of some people in one place doesn't diminish the oppression of other people in another place.

Ultimately the fact is that Israel may not meet the strict definition of "apartheid", due to the fact that Arabs who are Israeli, though they are not entirely equal in all regards, do in fact vote and have representatives in the government. However as I have shown above, there are substantial differences between the two populations.

However, when the word "apartheid" is used in relation to Israel, it is almost always with respect to the Israeli occupation of Palestine, which has continued for over 50 years. While the Palestinians living in the occupied territories may not technically be considered Israeli citizens, they also do not have the right to self-determination, freedom of travel, etc. They are ultimately a subordinate class with no real options. So as long as they are continued to be subjected to Israeli governance, they are "effectively citizens", and therefore their treatment in that sense does constitute a state of apartheid.

Furthermore, there are significant differences between Arabs and Jews in Israel regardless of what is happening in Palestine. Israel is considered to be a Jewish ethno-state. Any person of Jewish heritage has the right to claim Israeli citizenship, called the Law of Return. In fact, a person can claim Israeli citizenship if they are married to a Jew. But there is a catch: this doesn't apply to Palestinians. A UN report says

Israel defends its rejection of the Palestinians’ return in frankly racist language: it is alleged that Palestinians constitute a “demographic threat” and that their return would alter the demographic character of Israel to the point of eliminating it as a Jewish State.

This article says

The combination of the blood line related requirements to be considered Jewish by the Orthodox Rabbinical Court and the restriction of marriage requiring religious ceremonies shows an intent to maintain race purity. At its core, this is no different than the desire for pure blooded Aryans in Nazi Germany or pure blooded whites in the Jim Crow Southern United States.

Consider [this person's account] of being an Israeli citizen married to a Palestinain:

A series of walls, checkpoints, settlements and soldiers fill the 30-mile gap between our hometowns... because my wife has a Palestinian ID, she cannot fly [to Tel Aviv's Ben-Gurion International Airport]; she is relegated to flying to Amman, Jordan... we are forced to take different bridges, two hours apart, and endure often humiliating waiting and questioning just to cross into Israel and the West Bank... If we lived in the region, I would have to forgo my residency, since Israeli law prevents my wife from living with me in Israel. This is to prevent what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu once referred to as "demographic spillover."

Consider also this report on racism in Israel. Or this story about being a Palestinian who must pass through an Israeli military checkpoint every day:

“It’s like we’re in a prison,” said Ala al-Shweiki, 30, who uses Qalandiya every morning to get to work, arriving shortly after 5 a.m. with the aim of making it through security to meet his boss on the other side at 6:30 a.m.

And all of this is to say nothing of the fact that thousands of Palestinian civilians have been killed by the Israeli military. During Operation Protective Edge in 2014,

2,100 Palestinians were killed in the Gaza Strip, along with 66 Israeli soldiers and seven civilians in Israel... The UN says at least 2,104 Palestinian died, including 1,462 civilians, of whom 495 were children and 253 women.

There is no parity between the two sides. Israel uses "defense" as the excuse for how it treats the Palestinians, but as the numbers clearly show, it is the Palestinians who need defending.

So ultimately the answer to the question is: Israel blatantly violates the human rights of Palestinians. Since the Palestinians are subjects of the Israeli government, under its jurisdiction and governance and control, they are effectively Israeli citizens, whether legally or not. And their treatment by the Israeli government therefore constitutes a system of apartheid, in which one class of people (Jews) have more rights and better quality of life than the subservient class (Arabs, and especially Palestinian Arabs).

  • 1
    Welcome to Politics Stack Exchange. Please note that this website is different from most politics-oriented websites. We expect answers to answer the question, nothing more and nothing less. Your answer, however, does not seem to provide an answer to the question "Why do people constantly call Israel an apartheid country?". It just seems to talk about economic developments in Israel (only tangentially related to the topic of the question) and South Africa (completely unrelated to the question).
    – Philipp
    Apr 28, 2018 at 20:08
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    The word apartheid would not exist if not for the existence of South Africa, I don't understand how exactly they are unrelated. But I will update the answer with more information.
    – Kai
    Apr 28, 2018 at 20:43
  • Note that if the point you actually want to make is "Israel is not an apartheit country" or "It is good that Israel is an apartheit country", then an answer to this question is not the right place to do that.
    – Philipp
    Apr 28, 2018 at 21:00
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    I certainly hope that is not the impression my answer gave, but I certainly think that there will be no more confusion anymore.
    – Kai
    Apr 28, 2018 at 22:51
  • While generally good answer (yes, similar mechanisms to apartheid), on edges, I wonder about a few things: "they are not represented equally in the health care system". Do they have a level comparable to the one in other Arab countries? Assuming that here indeed would be suspiciously low even by their standards, you indeed have some hint of discrimination or brain drain emigration, otherwise, you are just proving that those two populations, subjugated or not, simply behave differently from unrelated reasons.
    – Shadow1024
    May 25, 2021 at 10:37

This answer is largely going to be based on Richard Goldstone's New York Times Op-Ed, in which he criticizes those who call Israel Apartheid. Richard Goldstone was a South African judge who helped dismantle Apartheid, so he's somewhat an expert on the matter.

First, people confuse the situation of Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza with Israeli Arabs. You can read more about this in some of my other answers, but in 1967, Israel captured the West Bank and Gaza from Jordan and Egypt, respectively. In 1994, Israel agreed to divide the West Bank and Gaza into three areas, Areas A, B, and C. Area C would remain under Israeli military and civil control (though would not become part of Israel unless a final status agreement resulted in that), Area B would be under Israeli military control and Palestinian civil control, and area A would be under full Palestinian control. In 2005, Israel ceded all of Gaza to the Palestinians.

When people criticize Israel as Apartheid, they often argue that Israelis and Palestinians live under different laws. However, Israelis and Palestinians generally live under different governments. A small percentage of Palestinians live in Area C, which is not subject to the same laws as Israel is, but those Palestinians are not citizens of Israel (and almost every Palestinian who has been offered citizenship has declined).

So, people criticize Israel as Apartheid due to the difference in law between Palestinians and Israelis. But Apartheid is not a difference in law on the basis of citizenship, it is a difference in law on the basis of race. No country applies laws equally to citizens and non-citizens.

If Apartheid is a difference in law on the basis of race, then to determine whether Israel is Apartheid, we must determine whether Israel has laws discriminating on the basis of race. Though there is a certain amount of de Facto discrimination that Israeli Arabs experience, and though this discrimination is used to justify accusations of Apartheid, they cannot support those accusations. Israeli Arabs have the same right as Israeli Jews (though only Jews are required to join the military).

People accuse Israel of Apartheid because there are separate laws for Israelis and Palestinians, but that distinction is made on the basis of citizenship and for reasons of security, so cannot be used to justify the accusation.

  • 7
    Ummm, yes. The Palestinians oft spoken of can also be viewed as enemy civilians living under martial law... The apartheid metaphor does break down there a bit, although I have always thought it was supposed to be more charitable to Israel and to emphasize the commonality of the people in the hopes of a peaceful two state solution.
    – Razie Mah
    Mar 25, 2014 at 10:09
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    @RazieMah Obviously I'm not in favor of the interment camps, but that has little to do with the fact that a minority of those interned weren't citizens and much more to do with the fact that somebody's ethnicity isn't good enough reason to herd him into a camp. Israel is not systematically violating the human rights of Palestinians who aren't Israeli citizens.
    – Publius
    Mar 25, 2014 at 11:39
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    @DA It's not a metaphor. People are saying Israel is literally Apartheid (which needn't refer to the South African system specifically but can refer more generally to policies of racial segregation).
    – Publius
    Mar 25, 2014 at 16:16
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    @Avi: Yes, but not Arabs in the West Bank. Area C is 70%+ of the West Bank and areas A and B are in a myriad non-contiguous chunks, so Palestinians have to go through area C to go between cities. Many roads and other things in area C are restricted to Israelis and discriminate against Palestinians. Now you might argue that this distinction is based on Israeli citizenship. But Israeli citizens are overwhelmingly Jewish; while non-Israelis in the West Bank are overwhelmingly Arab, so discriminating in favor of Israeli citizens in the West Bank is largely discriminating on race IMHO.
    – user102008
    Jul 17, 2014 at 5:36
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    @Avi: Yes, it could be considered somewhat discrimination on the basis of race, depending on the circumstances (if we excluded all Asian country citizens from immigrating, could you say it is completely non-racist?). But countries have wide discretion in controlling access of foreigners. However, the West Bank is these people's home country, so discrimination there is much more egregious.
    – user102008
    Jul 18, 2014 at 20:50

Apartheid is a term specific to South Africa's past public policy of discrimination.

Some consider Israel's policies discriminatory, and use Apartheid as an analogy.

Wikipedia has a rather large list of different ways the analogy has been used, along with a list of critiques of said uses:


  • 1
    The wikipedia link provides an excellent explanation. I really should have included it in my answer.
    – Publius
    Mar 26, 2014 at 8:58

Apartheid is a word describing the racist segregation policies of South Africa before these policies were abolished by the ANC under the leadership of Nelson Mandela in the 90s; it is a word that the white minority themselves used to describe their system of control, domination, subjugation and humiliation of the indigenous black African majority.


Apartheid is strong word with hugely damaging associations, yet consider the term that Israel uses to describe their own policies regarding the Occupied Territories: Hafrada, this is a Hebrew word meaning separation. For example, the Israeli West Bank Barrier is called Geder Ha'hafrada, it means separation fence; and separation as a word is synonymous with segregation and this usefully points to another historical situation that casts some light here: the racist segregation policies of the USA concerning their black minority, particularly in the Deep South before they began to be dismantled during the era of the Civil Rights struggle under the leadership of Dr. Martin Luthor King.

It's of course not surprising that advocates for Israel in the context of the ongoing Israeli-Palestine conflict, now going on for 80 years are deeply uncomfortable, angry and upset with the term Aparthied and are critical of its use in the context of the conflict; they would rather it be ignored, dismissed or buried. They say, it demonises Israel for it's legitimate response to the threat of terror and annihilation; they say, that it's a stick for anti-semites to beat Jews with; and that it demeans the South African experience and offensive for this very reason. Still, however much they would like to do so, it remains a contested term within the context of this conflict and not just a term used by advocates of the right of the Palestinians to self-determination as a people.

Acknowdgement of such by politicians

For example, consider a statement made in 1961 by the then Prime-minister of South Africa, Hendrik Verwoerd, when he dismissed an Israeli vote against South African Apartheid at the UN saying:

Israel is not consistent in its new anti-Apartheid attitude ... they took Israel away from the Arabs after the Arabs had lived there for a thousand years. In that, I agree with them. Israel, like South Africa is an Apartheid state.

This was no wild accusation made in the heat of the moment at the prospect of a vote going against them. A South Africa government yearbook published in 1976 had stated:

Israel and South Africa have above all else one thing in common: they are both situated in a predominantly hostile world inhabited by dark people.

So not difference in religion, nor that of culture but by the difference in the colour of their skin.

In fact three sitting Israeli prime ministers have warned that Israel could become like Apartheid South Africa: David Ben-Gurion in 1967, Yitzhak Rabin in 1976 and Ehud Olmert in 2007; and then in 2010, the then Israeli defence minister and former prime-minister said:

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

In 2003, Haaretz reported that the former Italian prime minister, Massimo d'Alema told dinner guests in a Jerusalem hotel that on a visit to Rome a few years earlier Sharon had told him that the bantustan model was the most appropriate solution to the conflict. When he was told by one of the guests he was interpreting and not quoting, he said:

No sir, that is not an interpretation. That is a precise quotation from your prime minister

So we see here, that at the highest political levels, a recognition of something very much like Apartheid was developing in Israel.

Differences between Israel & South Africa

There are important differences of course: the Jews are a majority in Israel whereas the Afrikaaners in South Africa were a minority; Arab Israelis have the vote (though they could not form their own political party until the 80s); and they are mostly equal under the law and their rights are protected; nor did the armed struggle in South Africa evolve to the level of murderous tactics adopted by the Palestinian groups.

Despite these differences, a former Israeli ambassador to South Africa, Alon Leil was able to say:

If we take the magnitude of injustice done to the Palestinians by the state of Israel there is a basis of comparison with Israel. If we take the magnitude of their suffering, we are in the same league. Of course Apartheid was a very different philosophy from what we do, most of which stems from security considerations. But from the point of view of outcome, we are in the same league.

I would beg to differ here with Alon Leil and ask him is it the case that the South African government was not interested in security when they said were surrounded by a 'predominantly hostile world inhabited by dark people', omitting the perhaps important consideration that they might not have been so hostile had they not taken away all their lands and enforced an alien way of life upon them and then subjugating, dominating and humiliating them. One can make the case, that a large part of the raison d'etre for the architecture of Aparthied was due to reasons of security.


Israeli governments reserved 93% of the land - often expropriated from Palestinians without compensation - for Jews through state ownership. In colonial and then Aparthied South Africa, 87% of the land was reserved for the whites. Their Population Registration Act categorised South Africans on an array of racial definitions, which determined who could live on what land. The Israeli Population Registry Act serves a similar purpose: both Arabs and Jews are both citizens, but each is assigned a different nationality marked out in their identity cards in effect determining where they can live, their access to government services and how they are likely to be treated by them.

Apartheid as a crime against humanity

As such a crime it is defined in the 1973 Convention against the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Aparthied. It was later adopted by the General Assembly of the UN. The Convention defined this crime as:

Inhuman acts committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group ... over another racial group ... and systematically oppressing them.

In 2002, this was further clarified by article 7 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court as encompassing inhumane acts such as torture, murder, forcible transfer, imprisonment or persecution of an identifiable group on political, national, cultural, religious or other grounds, committed in the

context of an institutionalised regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime.

As the word describing this crime suggests it was inspired by the policies of the Aparthied regime in South Africa.

Can the Palestinian experience in Israel and the Occupied Territories be described as Aparthied?

A key concept in the crime of Aparthied as originally laid down is that of race. This is of course central to the South African experience.

The question of whether Israelis or Palestinians can be said to be 'racial groups' has been a point of contention with regards to the Convention and also the Rome Statute. Political writer, Ronald Bruce St John has argued that with respect to the Convention that Israeli policy cannot be technically called Apartheid because it lacks the racial component. However, he then adds with the introduction of the Rome Statute this situation is clarified as

The emphasis shifts to an identifiable national, ethnic or cultural group as opposed to a racial group

And thus technically the definition now applies; the question is now whether there is sufficient evidence to support such an accusation.

Evidence of Aparthied - studies

In 2009, a report was commissioned by the Human Sciences Research Council on Israeli policy in the Occupied Territories. The report noted that one of the most 'notorious' spectra of South African Aparthied was the 'racial enclave policy' manifested in the Black Homelands called Bantustans. They add:

As the Aparthied regime in South Africa, Israel justifies these policies on the pretext of security. Contrary to such claims, they are part of an overall regime imbed at preserving demographic superiority of one racial group over another in certain areas.

According to the report, Israeli policy correlates closely and almost entirely with the definition of Aparthied in article 2 of the Convention. These included violations of international standards for due process (such as illegal detention); discriminatory privileges based on ascribed ethnicity; draconian enforced ethnic segregation in all parts of life; comprehensive restrictions on individual liberties, such as movement and expression; a dual legal system based on ethno-national identity; denationalisation (denial of citizenship) and a system of laws specially designed to punish any Palestinians who resisted the system.

B'TSelem, an Israeli human rights group in a report have pointed out that Israel has constructed a parallel system of roads in the West Bank for Palestinians who are barred from using many existing ones and have described the system as bearing

clear similarities with the racist Apartheid regime that had existed in South Africa

Furthermore, Scott Bollens, a University of California professor of urban planning who has studied divided cities across the globe including Belfast and Berlin said:

Planning and urban policy, which normal cities view as this benign tool has been used as a powerful partisan tool to subordinate and control black people in Johannesburg and is still used that way against Palestinians in Jerusalem. In South Africa there was 'group areas' legislation, and then there was land use, planning tools and zoning that were used to reinforce and back up group areas. In Israel, they use a whole set of similar tools. They are very devious, in that planning is often viewed s this thing that is not part of politics. In Jerusalem, it's fundamental to their project of control and Israeli planners and politicians have known this since day one. They've been very explicit in linking the planning tools with their political project.

Anecdotal Evidence

Opinion polls show that large numbers of Israelis think of Arabs as 'dirty' and 'primitive'; so you dispossess their land, confine them to under-developed and over-crowded enclaves, under-educate and the under-develop them and then you turn round to them and say: you're a dirty and primitive Arab.

  • One Jewish settlement mayor tried to require Arabs who entered to wearing a tag which identified them as Arabs. One wonders if he is aware of the Jewish experience in Nazi Germany when the Jewish People were forced to wear the Star of David to identify them as Jewish.

  • in the 1990s, right-wingers menaced shop-keepers into sacking Arab workers. Those who complied were given stickers to declare their shops Arab-Free. Sometimes the discrimination is explained as religious discrimination but the chants on the football terraces do not go 'Death to Muslims' but 'Death to Arabs'

Alternative Views

Ronnie Kasrils, minister for security in Nelson Mandelas government and who is Jewish offers a slightly different perspective:

Yes, there are enormous parallels with the Apartheid, but the problem with making comparisons is that it actually distracts from the Palestinian context. We have to look for another definition. What struck me is disposession, colonial dispossession. Most colonial dispossession took place over centuries through settlers and forced removals. In South Africa that is a 300 year process. Here, it's taken place in 50 years: 1948, 1967 and the present in terms of the heightened nature of militarism in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip leading to the wall, which I don't see as a wall of security but as a wall of dispossession.

Also, another view on this is given by the Palestinian sociologist Elia Zureik; in 1979, he made a distinction: he argued that Israel was not in de jure an Apartheid state but in de facto An Aparthied state; he said, that Israeli civic society was characterised by a latent form of Apartheid but juridically, given what is laid down in Israels Basic Law, it was not.

I'd also add that now, B'Tselem, a widely respected Israeli human rights organisation has recently come forward to confirm that in their view, Israel is an aparthied state because of reasons that I've already detailed above.

source: I haven't bothered to identify all the sources individually here, as there are many; but they are all taken from Israel and the Aparthied Analogy, Wikipedia and also the references within.


You can use the resources page of the website of this event to know why do people consider Israel to be an “apartheid” regime.

The link contains videos and Information resources and reports and fact sheets and Articles on the apartheid analysis and films.

For example it contains:

Advocating for Palestinian Rights in conformity with International Law: Guidelines

This guide is an outcome of the conference “Optionsand Strategies of International Law for the Palestinian People” held at the Birzeit University Institute of Law in May 2013. It aims to help non-lawyers understand and apply international law, including the crime of apartheid, to Israel’s oppressive regime over the entire Palestinian people


Since its foundation Israel is carrying out confiscation of land and property based on criteria like race and religion [1][2].
The first wave of confiscations happened after the 1948 war and the expulsion of the Arabs into neighbouring countries. Then came the creation and expansion of the settlements in the occupied territories all of them created on land confiscated under different laws or simple pretexts [3][4].

Furthermore even though formally the occupied territories are under a separate administration Israel retains full control over certain areas and all the external borders, including the collection of most of the taxes and border duties [5]. Palestinians have no vote, no voice, no right over the way Israel administers that money and the control power it retains.

Last detail are the oil resources found in the sea off Israel and the Palestinian territories. They have been assigned by default to Israel, nobody ever asked questions about their exact location and whether Palestinians would have any rights over part of the revenues. In this case we can say that the discrimination criterion is nationality, not race, but on the other hand when acquiring Israeli nationality religion matters.

[1]Israel’s Continued Land Confiscation in Jerusalem: The Application of Israel’s Absentee Property Law
[2]1948 Palestinian exodus

[3]Israeli land and property laws
[4]Israeli demolition of Palestinian property

[5]Taxation in the State of Palestine

  • 1
    #1 In every country, unowned land belongs to the government. #2 There is no system or agenda in Israel of expelling arabs from their homes and confiscating their properties. During the 1948 war, arabs who didn't want to live in the Jewish state and who believed that the Jews will soon be annihilated by the armies of the arab legue, have abandoned their homes. #3 The areas of Judea and Samaria don't belong to any geopolitical entity, it was conquered from Jordan who conquered it from England who conquered it from the Turks...
    – Jacob3
    Mar 15, 2021 at 14:44
  • #4 Palestinians vote for the Palestinian Authority. Which has failed to stop supporting terrorism and violence. #5 Gaza, areas A and B in Judea and Samaria are de facto Palestinian States. All they lack is international recognition, which they will soon obtain once they abandon the 100 year old campaign of terrorism.
    – Jacob3
    Mar 15, 2021 at 14:50
  • @Jacob3 In the 20s the British Empire wanted to expand in the oil rich Arab countries, but after WWI it was overstretched and heavily indebted. Therefore they decided to plant a Jewish state to foment hatred, permanent war and divide and rule the Arab peoples. Although the British authorities claimed that they treated the Haganah as a terrorist organisation they allowed them to operate freely. As a result it is not a surprise that the Arabs didn't want to live in a Jewish state they already knew well their terrorism, it was already active 20 years before Israel foundation.
    – FluidCode
    Mar 16, 2021 at 15:27
  • @Jacob3 #4 The Palestinian Authority didn't exist when the policy of land confiscation based on race and religion began, definitely it cannot be ibto justify discriminatory policies started 50 years before it was created. Furthermore in my post I focused only on land I glossed over other discriminations already cited in other posts. Actually the discrimination over water distribution is not mentioned anywhere, but it is another very sore point.
    – FluidCode
    Mar 16, 2021 at 15:31
  • @Jacob3 #5 The occupied territories will obtain international recognition, when oil will be finished and the permanent state of war helping the puppet states in the Gulf region to suppress dissent will become too expensive.
    – FluidCode
    Mar 16, 2021 at 15:31

First of all, it's not even remotely "Apartheid" country.

If you compare treatement of Palestinians in Israel to treatment of any other minorities in many other countries, you'll notice that Palestinians have it pretty good de facto compared to, say, same Palestinians living in other Arab countries. They have virtually no discimination de jure (as Avi noted, the only disparate legal treatment is that they are not forced to serve in the Army and in the rare case they want to, they have to pass a much more stringent security screening. Not really "discrimination" - they ARE allowed to serve, just most don't want to).

As a matter of fact, Israeli Arabs are the only minority that I'm aware of whose political representatives in the parlament are officially endorsing the foreign enemies of their own state, with no repercussions to either said representatives or their constituents. Try to imagine a pro-India faction in Pakistani parlament; or pro-Germany faction in 1945 USSR Supreme Soviet. Yet, there are pro-Hezbollah and pro-Hamas factions in Knesset.

As far as why people "consider" it an apartheid country, that's easy:

  • Arabs have a lot more voice than Jews. Both at UN, and in the media in most Western countries outside USA and Canada (e.g. in France the media is nearly 100% pro-Arab). Obviously, the media will carry the viewpoints that reflect their biases and people buy into that. They see/hear "Israel destroyd an Arab's home". What they DON'T hear was that said arab committed an act of terrorism - the home was destroyed because of than and not because of Arabness.

  • People don't like Jews. That hasn't started with Israel or its policies. Same person claiming Israel's an "apartheid country" would have 200 years ago scream about jews killing Christian children and using their blood for Matzah. This is especially true in non-English Europe, as well as Spanish-dominated South America - which is one reason why the "apartheid" viewpoint is significantly less widespread in USA and Anlo-speaking portions of Canada, outside rabid political liberals.

  • Political liberals in the west generally like the narrative of poor oppressed Palestinians - same way they spin the narrative of poor oppressed any-other-minority.

    It's never the fault of Palestinians that their goverment spends 99% of their income on rockets and corruption - it's the fault of Israel.

    It's never the fault of Palestinians in Israel that they choose to have tons of kids. Despite the fact that the demographic segments of Jews who have the same child bearing behavior (ultra orthodox) is ALSO poor, precisely because having tons of kids highly correllates with lack of economic success no matter what your race is.

    It's never the fault of Palestinians in Israel that they refuse to serve in Israeli army (Army service - in both Israel and many other countries - is an important path for economically disadvantaged people to obtain job skills and education to advance in life. That helps poorer Jews. It could and would also help poorer Arabs).

  • 4
    The difference is that they're refugees - or more likely, illegal aliens (ie. not being given status as asylum-seekers or refugees) - in those other countries; so it's no-wonder they're treated badly. Israel on the other hand, is the country which they were born in; and you should automatically be given basic rights in the country of your birth. Remember, it's the Jews - not the Arabs - who have come as settlers in the millions from the rest of the world. As for the treatement of people in the Occupied territories, some of that is clearly Israeli war-crimes! Jul 11, 2014 at 11:28
  • 5
    @BaardKopperud - actually, no. Jews lived there oh, about 1000-2000 years before Arab settlers came in with Ottoman empire. Hebron (the favorite "settlement" poster child) was a Jewish city millenia before the first Arab lived there. And no, hunting terrorists isn't a war crime.
    – user4012
    Jul 11, 2014 at 17:41
  • 2
    Lol "In France media is 100% pro-Arab"? From where is this assertion based? Would you care to resource such an enormous claim? No, in my informed opinion as a french resident french media is almost 100% pro-Jewish. Even if the muslim population in France is substantial it is the jewish viewpoints that are usually portrayed. Be it during the 2014 war, the 2nd intifada etc...
    – Jose Luis
    Jul 22, 2015 at 11:59

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