Is Israel an apartheid state like South Africa?

January 14, 2021

FPO Apartheid graphic_adobe889418541.jpeg


Isn’t it true that Israel is an apartheid state, just like South Africa was? Doesn’t that justify the same type of boycotts, divestment, sanctions and isolation from the civilized world?


Simply stated, NO.

“Apartheid” is: “a system of institutionalized racial segregation and discrimination.” In South Africa, it was a unique, repressive system through which the minority white population enforced its domination over the black and other non-white minorities. Apartheid was put into effect through a systematic framework of racist legislation imposing strict segregation, including laws forcing blacks to live in separate areas from whites and preventing them from using public facilities. Apartheid prevented blacks from voting, prevented blacks from living next to whites, did not permit blacks to use the same transportation system as whites, banned blacks from “white areas,” prevented blacks and whites from marrying or having sexual relations with each other, regulated the education of black children in accordance with their “subservient” social position and established other prohibitions to prevent the black population from participating in public life. South African blacks were not permitted to hold government jobs.

Some examples of what some South Africans say about Israel as an “apartheid state” some of whom originally believed Israel was indeed an apartheid state?

Olga Meshoe compares her parents life in South Africa with that of Israeli Arabs and unequivocally states the claim that Israel is an “apartheid state” is a lie.

Klass Mokgomole and Yolanda Makhasi as college students believed strongly that Israel was an “apartheid state” and engaged in violent protests against Israel. After learning more facts about Israel, they now speak out about how the claim of apartheid in Israel is a lie and hijacks the heritage and experience of South Africans.

Leon Jamaine Mithi, a Black law student from Zimbabwe, grew up under the strict apartheid of South Africa. While originally supporting protests against Israel as an “apartheid state”, he has learned and states the claim of apartheid is Israel is not only false, but “is an insult to black South Africans who suffered under the . . . system of strict racial segregation.” He goes on to state his feeling of a personal “loss of the true black South African narrative, because the term has been appropriated to wrongly label Israel when referring to the conflict with Palestine.

Kenneth Meshoe, a Member of the South African Parliament, states the claim that Israel is an “apartheid state” is false and an impediment to peace. The charge that Israel is an “apartheid state” betrays the memory of those who had to endure apartheid in South Africa. He further points out those who have promoted the claim of Israel as an “apartheid state” are seeking to demonize and isolate Israel.

Benjamin Pogrund, a South African born Israeli journalist, published a 2017 op-ed in the New York Times explaining why Israel is not an apartheid state. He recognizes there are issues and elements of discrimination, but that it does not come close to being a basis for calling Israel an apartheid state.

In its Declaration of Independence, Israel pledges to safeguard the equal rights of all citizens. There were no similar laws in apartheid South Africa that exist in Israel. Arab citizens of Israel enjoy the full range of civil and political rights, including the right to organize politically, the right to vote and the right to speak and publish freely. Israeli Arabs and other non-Jewish Israelis serve as members of Israel’s security forces, are elected to parliament and serve as judges, including being appointed to the country’s highest courts. They work side by side with other Israelis. They work in hospitals; they appear on television; and they participate on national sports team. They are afforded equal educational opportunities, and there are ongoing initiatives to further improve the economic standing of all of Israel’s minorities.

Israel is a country with a very diverse population. That statement may seem contradicted by the fact that about 75% of Israel’s population is Jewish. There are secular and observant Jews. There are Jews from Ethiopia, India, North Africa, Russia and Europe. A majority of Israeli Jews are descendants of Jewish immigrants from Arab countries. There are Ashkenazi, Sephardic, Mizrachi, Beta Israel Jews, Bene Israel, Bene Menashe, Bene Ephraim, Cochin, and Karaite Jews. The non-Jewish population include Muslim Arabs, Christian Arabs (Greek Catholics, Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholics), Sunni Arabs, Shi’ite Arabs, Druze, Bedouins, Circassians, Armenians, Baha’i, Samaritans, Seventh-day Adventists, Messianic Jews, Jehovah’s Witnesses, non-Arab Christians and more.

Arabs are integrated and participate throughout Israeli society. Some examples:

Israeli Arabs serve in Israel’s legislature, the Knesset, and have done so since the first Knesset elections were held in 1949. There are currently 17 Israeli Arabs serving as Members of Knesset (“MK”) out of 120 Members. Since Israel’s founding, 81 Israeli Arab and Druze MKs have served in the Knesset. If Israel were an apartheid state, Israeli Arabs would not be permitted to serve in the national legislature. Some of the Arab-Israeli MKs are pictured below. One of those, Dr. Ahmed Tibi served as an advisor to Yassir Arafat. Not only are Israeli Arabs serving in the Knesset, but they are able secure leadership roles. One MK shown below, Aida Touma-Suliman, was the first and only woman to head a daily newspaper and succeeded in advancing the passage of three laws before becoming a Member of Knesset. MK Touma-Suliman was elected chair of the Knesset’s Committee on the Status of Women.


There is currently one Israeli Arab justice out of fifteen justices on the Israel Supreme Court. There have been as many as two Israeli Arab justices serving at the same time. One Israeli Arab justice, Salim Joubran, served as Deputy President of the Supreme Court. That could not occur if Israel were an apartheid state.


In addition, as of 2015, approximately 8% of Israeli judges at various levels were Israeli Arabs. Again, this could not happen if Israel were an apartheid state.

Israeli Arabs serve in all levels of government positions, including in some very high levels. There would be no participation in the government on any level if Israel were an apartheid state.

There have been a few Israeli Arabs who have served in Israeli Cabinets. The reason there have been only a few is because none of the “Arab” political parties have ever joined the ruling coalition. The first to serve was Salah Tarif, a Druze member of the Labor Party, who served as a Minister Without Portfolio in 2001. The First Israeli Muslim Arab MK to hold a Cabinet portfolio position was Raleb Majadle, a member of Labor Party, who became Minister of Science, Culture and Sport in Ehud Olmert’s government. Most recently, Ayoob Kara, a Druze, served as Minister of Communications.

One of the Druze Members of Knesset, Majali Wahabi, served as both the Speaker of the Knesset and President of Israel in 2007. Wahabi, who received degrees from both Hebrew University and University of Haifa, also served in the Israeli Defense Forces where he was an instructor at the intelligence school and subsequently became an officer in an infantry battalion where he reached the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.

Israeli Arabs serve in Israel’s Ministry of Foreign of Affairs. Israeli Arabs could not represent Israel at these highest levels of diplomacy if Israel were truly an apartheid state. Just a few of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Israeli Arab officials are discussed below.

The first Israeli Arab to hold the post of Ambassador was Ali Yahya who served as Ambassador to Finland and subsequently as Ambassador to Greece.

George Deek, a Christian Israeli Arab, is currently ambassador to Azerbaijan. He previously served as a deputy ambassador to Nigeria and to Norway.


An Israeli Arab Druze poet, Naim Araidi, when appointed as Israel’s Ambassador to Norway stated: “It will be a great honor for me to represent Israel and . . . express that there is a co-existence [between Arabs and Jews] that can only exist in a true democracy.”


While most Israeli Arabs are exempt from mandatory military service, both Druze and Circassian are subject to the draft and other Israeli Arabs volunteer to serve in the military. In 2020, the number if volunteers from the Israeli Arab sector more than doubled from previous years and included Muslims, Bedouin and Christian Arabs. No apartheid state would permit minorities to serve in the armed services, let alone serve in command positions.

ali-wababAlaa Waheeb, an Israel Arab Muslim, is a major in the Israeli Defense Force. Not only does he fight alongside Jewish soldiers, but he trains them as well.

Christian Arab Jonathan Elkhoury, Muslim Bedouin Mohammad Kaabiya, Muslim Arab Dema Tayah, and Druze Arab Ram Asad are Reservists in the Israel Defense Force who praise their military service and are among IDF minorities who speak out to combat the concept that Israel is an apartheid state and to fight the BDS movement on college campuses.

Israeli Arabs participate in professional life in Israel. Some of the specific examples are set forth below.

Israeli Arabs serve as professors in Israeli universities. They serve in academic leadership positions. Some examples: Mousa Karayanni, an Israeli Arab, is the Dean of Hebrew University Law Faculty. Fadia Nasser-Abu Alhija is not only a professor at Tel Aviv University, but also served on the Higher Education of Israel. Elinor Saiegh-Hadad was the first Arab female appointed a full professor at Bar-Ilan University where she also served as a Department Chairperson. This could not occur in an apartheid state.


Israeli Arabs are able to go to medical school and serve as doctors in hospitals and practice throughout Israel, including serving as director of government hospitals. As an example, the Galilee Medical Center, near the Lebanese border, serves a population that includes Muslims, Jews, Christians and Druze. Its staff matches the population. The Director the Medical Center is an Israeli Arab physician. The motto of the hospital is “Adam L’Adam-Adam” meaning that all patients entering the hospital are treated equally regardless of religion or ethnicity. During the COVID crisis, Israeli Arab doctors and nurses worked side by side with their Jewish colleagues and were recognized and lauded for their efforts in a video viewed by more than two million Israelis (over 20% of the population). This could not happen in an apartheid state.

Lian-NajamiLian Najami from Haifa is Israel’s first Arab Rhodes scholar. She is fluent in Hebrew, Arabic, English, German and Spanish. A graduate of Haifa University her message to Israeli Arabs, who make up some 20 percent of Israel’s citizenry, is they can succeed in the Jewish state. She has held herself up as living proof. This would not occur in an apartheid state.

Israeli Arabs are part of Israel’s entertainment industry – on television and in the movies. This could not happen in an apartheid state.

One film, Sand Storm, a film about about the complex lives of a modern Israeli Bedouin family, was directed by an Israeli Arab and had Israeli Arab actors and received six Ophir Awards (Israel’s equivalent of the Oscars).


Israeli Arabs are actors and newscasters on Israeli television. Lucy Aharish was the first Muslim Israeli Arab to appear on mainstream Israeli television as a newscaster in 2007.

Nissren Kader won a popular Israeli television singing competition. She is one of many Arab Christian and Muslim entertainers who have risen to prominence in Israel.

Rana-RaslanRana Raslan, an Israeli Arab Muslim, became Miss Israel in 1999. She is quoted as saying “I am totally Israeli, and I do not think about whether I am an Arab or a Jew.”

Israel has youth programs that include Israeli Arab youth together with Israeli Jewish youth and other minority youth.

israeli-tennis-centersThe Israel Tennis and Education Centers serve over 20,000 Israeli children annually. There are fourteen centers throughout Israel. The tennis centers serve mix of Israelis including Jews, Muslim Arabs, Christian Arabs, Bedouins, Druze and refugees from many countries around the world. The tennis centers offer neutral ground for the diverse population of students to come together and learn not only tennis but engage in dialogue. They work with at risk children and have after school meal programs and tutoring programs to give children an opportunity for success. A recent group of students came to south Florida for exhibitions to help raise funds for this non-profit. The children included an Arab Muslim, Arab Christian, and Jewish players and were trained by an Ethiopian Jewish coach.

Another program that brings Arab and Jewish students together through sports is SquashBond Israel. The program’s mission is to “bring together children from diverse segments of society to foster personal growth and cross-cultural cooperation.” The program brings Jewish and Arab children together to learn the basics of squash and to provide cross-cultural programming. In addition, the program provides enrichment activities with Arab, Hebrew and English language skills as part of the curriculum. Both Arab and Jewish role models work with the children.

hand-in-hand-logoHand in Hand Schools is a school designed to build inclusion and equality for all citizens of Israel. The school is open to both the Jewish and Arab population of Israel.

Hand in Hand Schools are public schools and are overseen by the Israeli Ministry of Education. All classes are co-taught by an Israeli Arab and Israeli Jewish teacher. The curriculum is bilingual and multi-cultural. Not only are the students taught in fully integrated classes, but as part of the program, families are brought into community events to help create a shared community. Hand in Hand is not the only public school to provide integrated education for Jewish and Arab students, but it is one of the largest with seven campuses throughout Israel and over 2100 Jewish and Arab students.


Dror Israel is a program serving thirty-two localities in Israel where Jewish and Arab students are brought together to discuss democracy and social justice issues.


The sports and education programs described above are just some of the programs that exist in Israel. Some are under the auspices of the government and some are independent non-profit programs. In an apartheid nation, these types of integrated programs could not and would not exist.

Mohammad Darawshe is Director of The Center for a Shared Society at Givat Haviva. He has dedicated his life to improving Jewish-Arab relations and integrating Israeli Arabs into society. Darawshe provides some statistics in 2016 that contradict the fabricated inflammatory rhetoric that we hear so often. Here are some of the facts:

23% of Israeli doctors are Arabs
46% of Israeli pharmacists are Arabs
28% of hi-tech students at the Technion are Arabs
16% of the students in all of Israeli higher education are Arabs
In a study released in April, 2020, the Israel Democracy Institute found 77% of the Israeli Arab community felt they were part of Israel and shared in its problems.

In another poll, reported upon by Israel Hayom, 75% of Israeli Arabs define themselves as Israeli while only 7% defined themselves as Palestinian.

In their 2020 survey, the Jewish People Policy Institute found an even higher percentage, 84%, of Israeli Arabs who identified themselves as Israeli. In the same survey 91% of non-Jews disagreed with the concept that in order to be a real Israeli one had to be Jewish. 85% of non-Jews felt comfortable being themselves in Israel.

These various statistics and poll results are contraindicative of Israel being an apartheid state.

~ Author: David Millstone*

*Any opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee or of the Community Relations Committee.

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