The time is now long overdue to recognize that Adolph Hitler's contribution to political wisdom -- the Big Lie -- has reappeared in the Palestinian narrative of the state of Israel as an "apartheid state." "[T]he broad masses of a nation," Hitler wrote in Mein Kampf, "will more readily fall victim to the big lie than to the small lie." The constant repetition of the Big Lie, he explained, made it acceptable, especially when it could be manipulated to appear to have a certain credibility. The world is all too familiar with the success of Hitler's Big Lie narrative that the Jews were internationally powerful, responsible for World War I -- and, in his view, for most of the problems of the world.
This new Big Lie about Israel being an "apartheid state" that has been trumpeted by the Palestinian narrative of Middle Eastern history and politics has, in recent years, been accepted not only been accepted by "the broad masses," but also by more educated and supposedly politically sophisticated individuals in the media, the churches, and academia.
The official definition of the crime of "apartheid" was first formulated in the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on November 30, 1973. The definition was "inhumane acts committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group…over another racial group…and systematically oppressing them." A later version of the definition was included in the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, of July 17, 1998 which came into force in July 2002. The definition became inhumane acts concerning an identifiable group on political, racial, national, ethnic, cultural, religious grounds "committed in the context of an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime."
The change in legal terminology is important for political reasons. Israelis and Palestinians can be considered as "identifiable groups" and therefore the provisions of international law in the 1973 Convention and the 1998 Statute can be applied to them, thus opening the opportunity for a legal charge of the crime of apartheid against Israel.
Yet this legal issue has little to do with the real life political attempt to bring the charge against Israel. That action began in the 1970s when the Soviet Union, for its own political purposes, organized a coalition with Arab states and other willing countries in what was then considered the group of "non-aligned" countries of the world. The greatest success of the coalition was to obtain an overwhelming majority, 72-35-32, for the infamous UN General Assembly Resolution 3379 of November 10, 1975 which defined Zionism as a form of racism and racial discrimination, and years later repealed only after great efforts by American diplomats, including, finally, the US Ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton.
Similar declarations followed. The most forthright was the Declaration of the first Durban conference (The UN World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance) in September 2001 that "We declare Israel as a racist, Apartheid state in which Israel's brand of Apartheid as a crime against humanity has been characterized by separation and segregation, dispassion, restricted land access, denationalization, 'bantustanization' and inhumane acts." Since then an "Israel Apartheid Week" has become an annual event on many college campuses in the United States and elsewhere.
The declaration of Durban 1, which reads as an indictment, was certainly applicable to the old, unlamented South Africa where blacks were indeed segregated in many ways by legal and other restrictions, and were treated as inferior human beings; but it has no application to the state and society of Israel. Within the state of Israel, Israeli Arabs, 20% of the population, have equal political and social rights as Jews; full citizenship; members of the Israeli Parliament, called the Knesset; a seat on the Supreme Court; diplomatic representation at the most senior levels, a free press in Arabic, which is, along with Hebrew, an official language; the capacity to move freely; equal opportunity to enter universities, to be employed, and to enter freely into marital relations with fellow Arabs or with Jews. If Jews and Arabs do live in different areas of the country it is not through a state-imposed segregation, enforced by legal means, but by choice. There are no segregated roads, as there are in Saudi Arabia, and there are no segregated schools, housing, drinking fountains, buses or any officially imposed limits whatsoever. Discrimination does not exist on the basis of race, religion, or sex; and all groups have legal protection of the law. Unlike Muslim countries Israel has no state religion, but rather contains some 15 recognized religions. Israel, unlike the old South Africa, is a multiracial society.
In the absence of a peace settlement between the parties that will determine the boundaries of territories currently dispute, both the Palestinian Authority and Israel control parts of the West Bank. Measures such as roadblocks, checkpoints and a fence have been imposed not for the purposes of segregation, but for security and for self-defense. Although it is true that these security measures cause inconveniences and some hardship, they have been created to prevent terrorist attacks, not to impose discrimination by an oppressive regime. It is a tribute to the nature of democracy in Israel that its Supreme Court on a number of occasions has ordered the state to make changes in the fence route, often by a small amount, when the fence seemed to be imposing hardship on the Palestinians.
The world is all too well aware of the disputes between Israel and Palestinians, especially on the complex issues of settlements, refugees, and Jerusalem, but to accuse Israel of being "apartheid" is not only false, it is unhelpful and counterproductive for any hope for a peaceful settlement .
The unjustifiable, misguided, and extensively expressed "moral outrage" over the Big Lie directed against Israel can partly be explained by ignorance of the reality of political and social conditions in Israel and in the territories. For all the problems encountered by a state created by Jews, and with 21 Arab and Muslim neighbors openly threatening to destroy it -- sometimes, as with Iran, to the illegal point of publicly advocating genocide -- it is a remarkable success story -- unlike the failures of every surrounding Arab and Muslim state except those benefitting from enormous oil resources.
One must conclude that the enemies of Israel, or inflexibly biased critics, are maliciously demonizing it with repetition of the word "apartheid" in the hope of goading the international community into denying Israel's legitimacy as a state, in an effort to destroy it. Regrettably, one must also conclude that the perceptions of Israel have been colored for many people, now including Muslims, by an antisemitism which has become increasingly conspicuous both by rhetoric and physical assaults on Jews and Jewish institutions.
Critics of Israel may understandingly claim the mantle of compassion and express empathy for the Palestinians whom they consider the weaker party in the enduring conflict with Israel. They may argue the case against what they consider oppressive behavior by Israeli authorities, and point to instances of injustice. Yet at the same time they ignore not only the repressive and corrupt governance of the Palestinian Authority to its own citizens, but also the principles of liberty and equality inherent in the state of Israel, and above all the need for all nations to take appropriate measures to defend themselves against those in hostile environments who are eager to destroy them.
Those individuals, groups, and organizations making use of the word "apartheid" are appealing to the emotions of those who rightfully find the concept deplorable, but by doing so they are polarizing political positions and unjustly oversimplifying a complex situation, in which one side, Israel's, has so often offered reasonable compromises for peace, and the other side, the Palestinians, backed by many of the 21 Arab and Muslim countries has refused to enter into any real meaningful negotiations.
Michael Curtis is Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Rutgers University and author of Should Israel Exist? A Sovereign Nation under attack by the International Community.