DEBUNKED: Palestinians and Jews, each form a distinct race & the conflict is thus like apartheid

IT WAS South Africa’s Hendrick Verwoerd who first resorted to the apartheid analogy in 1961 when he dismissed an Israeli vote against South African apartheid at the United Nations, throwing blame and deflecting attention by saying, “Israel is not consistent in its new anti-apartheid attitude … they took Israel away from the Arabs after the Arabs lived there for a thousand years. In that, I agree with them. Israel, like South Africa, is an apartheid state. (1)

The primary objection to the apartheid analogy which may be raised is that Nations are not races. The result is what philosopher Gilbert Ryle referred to as a ‘category error’. A semantic or ontological error in which ‘things belonging to a particular category are presented as if they belong to a different category’. While ethnicity plays a part, there is no scientific nor any legal basis for making such a claim.(2) (3).

Attributing race to Jews in order to make a false comparison with apartheid is racism and anti-Semitism, and meets definitions of anti-Semitism proposed by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA).

A 2020 academic paper on the question Is Replacement Theology Anti-Semitic? begins by defining anti-Semitism as “normally understood as prejudice or hatred against Jewish people as a race” before concluding that since Christianity doesn’t perceive the Jews as a race, Christian theology cannot, by definition be anti-Semitic.

Advocates of the analogy often refer to the infamous 1975 UN resolution 3379 ‘equating Zionism with racism‘ which was overturned by an overwhelming majority of nations in 1991. The same assertion was voted out of the final text of the controversial 2001 Durban Conference on Racism  and the text reaffirmed at Durban II

A highly flawed 2017 UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) report examining the policies of Israel within the context of a UN definition of apartheid, admits the error of race, proceeds to supply “reasons for the error of comparison” and states, there is ‘no single, authoritative, global definition of any race’ at the same time that it attributes race characteristics to Jews for the purposes of analysis.

The ESCWA report was withdrawn by UN Secretary-general Guterres in 2017, while the Goldstone report was similarly retracted in part. The same category error appears in an equally flawed 2009 local HSRC report written around the time of Durban II. 

While the policies of Israel may, for many of its critics, be reprehensible and morally indefensible, the root cause is not race, (a loaded term) but rather the confluence of religion and nationality and in particular, religious schism which results in nationality on the basis of religion, a fact common to many Middle Eastern countries.

Such bald-faced assertions and resort to unproven authority emerged during the late 1980s alongside claims of a conspiracy between Pretoria and Tel Aviv to share nuclear secrets, however it is more likely that the regime first gained its technologies from the USA and France, when the Safari 1 reactor was built in cooperation with the ‘Atoms for Peace’ program run by the US DOE in the 1950s and ’60s, only later resorting to cooperation with Israel’s Menachem Begin in order to refuel reactors and share nuclear technology as sanctions kicked in.

Nelson Mandela was a bipartisan

The analogy received renewed impetus after the release of Nelson Mandela. At the International Day of Solidarity with Palestinian People in 1997, Mandela famously said: “Our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians; without the resolution of conflicts in East Timor, the Sudan and other parts of the world”.

The quote is often redacted to exclude other conflicts, and should be seen within the context of his earlier 1990 statement: “Support for Yasser Arafat and his struggle does not mean that the ANC has ever doubted the right of Israel to exist as a state, legally. We have stood quite openly and firmly for the right of that state to exist within secure borders“.

Subsequent reports (Amnesty, HRW) for the most part, refer to the 1973 United Nations International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid which is targeted at crimes against humanity “committed in the context of an institutionalized 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.” [my underline]

Without any hint of the irony, the UN and Criminal Court definitions are routinely stripped of their meaning by pundits, as the term ‘racial group’ is applied to nationality by various NGOs, and subsequently applied willy nilly, to arrive at imposed race definitions from above and outside the country.

In 2009 Human Rights Watch (HRW) founder Robert Bernstein slammed the organisation’s handling of Israel as a betrayal of its founding values.

“The claim that Israel is an ‘apartheid state’ is equally tendentious,” writes historian James Heartfield. “Israel’s critics can point to Amnesty International’s 2022 report, Israel’s Apartheid Against Palestinians. But they don’t mention the qualifying paragraph in the report that says Israel’s treatment of Palestinians is not ‘the same or analogous to the system of segregation, oppression and domination as perpetrated in South Africa between 1948 and 1994′.”

During Fall 2011, academic Robbie Sabel wrote in vol 23, 3/4 of Jewish Political Studies ReviewThe comparison of Israel to South Africa under white supremacist rule has been utterly rejected by those with intimate understanding of the old Apartheid system. Israel is a multi-racial and multi-colored society, and the Arab minority actively participates in the political process. Incitement to racism in Israel is a criminal offence, as is discrimination on the basis of race or religion. The accusation is made that the very fact that Israel is considered a Jewish state proves an “Apartheid-like” situation. Yet the accusers have not a word of criticism against the tens of liberal democratic states that have Christian crosses incorporated in their flags, nor against the Muslim states with the half crescent symbol of Islam. For Arab states to denote themselves as Arab Republics is not objectionable.

As early as 2013 black South Africans such as politician Kenneth Meshoe have objected to the use of the term as a ‘betrayal of the struggle against apartheid.’ Here is a video.

In 2014 Desmond Tutu delivered a sermon on Israel and Palestine. The theologian claimed “Israel has created an apartheid reality within its borders and through its occupation.” It reiterated upon a theme that Tutu is claimed to have begun decades previously.

In 2015 BDS leader Klaas Mokgomole experienced an epiphany on a fact finding trip, when reality failed to confirm what he had been told. “We really believed these guys pushing BDS to us,” “half-truths and even outright lies” about Israel.

On August 30, 2018Law activist Jamie Mithi appeared in an explosive interview on ENCA. The interview demonstrates the refusal of an obviously Muslim television presenter on “Let’s have it out” to engage with Mithi while ignoring callers to the show. Mithi says: “The claim Israel is an Apartheid state is intellectually dishonest and an insult to black South Africans.” 

On June 29, 2021 Former United Nations’ chief Ban Ki-moon suggested that Israel is ‘arguably’ imposing apartheid, and the key word here is argue. Indeed the case may be made, but it has never received any ventilation in a court of law.

Also in June, 2021, Marcus Montague-Mfuni, wrote in’ Harvard Crimson’ (Social Studies and African and African American Studies): Don’t Call What Israel is Doing Apartheid  “Apartheid, to the people it has directly affected, refers to something quite distinct” he says, “and I would like to give those events their own sanctified space in our language.”

February 21, 2022 Amnesty delivers its report on Israel-Apartheid. The report is nothing more than an exercise in ellipsis and paradox.

Institute for Study of Global Antisemitism & Policy (ISGAP) followed up with a strong rejection of the “biased antisemitic tropes found within the latest Amnesty International report”.

Olga Meshoe-Washington in her address to the UN, on June 13, 2022 claims: “We have propped up the morally and legally corrupt notions that Israel is guilty of apartheid, colonialization and genocide. To what benefit? Africa is now the global eye of terrorism and slavery is rampant in no less than 5 African countries, some of which have had a seat on the UNHRC.” 

July 18, 2022 Australian Labour Party leader, Anthony Albanese said his party rejects use of the term ‘apartheid’ to describe Israel, endorses IHRA definitions of Anti-Semitism.

27 July 2022 Naledi Pandor, South African foreign minister, called for the classification of Israel as an apartheid state, to hold it responsible for its violations against Palestinians.

Then on August 16, 2022 German Chancellor Scholz rejected use of ‘apartheid’ to describe Israel, following claims by Palestinian leader Abbas the ‘Palestinians had experienced 50 Holocausts’. 

September 2022 Francesca Albanese, ‘Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967′, issued her own report, reiterating the findings of the withdrawn 2017 UN ESCWA report. She claims the definition of apartheid with regards Israel, is “practically and legally correct”

On January 20, 2023 the European Commission issued a statement that it “considers that it is not appropriate to use the term apartheid in connection with the State of Israel. The Commission uses the non-legally binding working definition of antisemitism of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA definition) as a practical guidance tool and a basis for its work to combat antisemitism. Claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour is amongst the illustrative examples included under the IHRA definition.”

In an August 2023 televised debate, politician Kenny Kunene said: ‘Calling Israel an apartheid state is an insult to South Africans”.

September 2023, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby dismissed comparisons with South Africa, stating Israel’s constitution was “unlike the former regime in South Africa, which was built on a system of apartheid that institutionalised racial segregation.”

The Archbishop said Israel is a country in “turmoil”, adding: “It remains a risk if the constitution changes to an apartheid constitution, then it obviously would become an apartheid state. But until that happens, I won’t use that word about Israel.”

It is clear that the apartheid analogy remains a highly contested terrain when it comes to current relations between Palestine and Israel. Ignoring the various claims and counter-claims made on either side, merely feeds into the growing perception the conflict is ethno-religious in nature — those making such claims are in reality issuing the world fanciful ‘articles of faith’, religious directives which are required to be accepted without question, instead of engaging an intellectual framework, one with any legal relevance to the situation.

(piece updated 9/9/23)


  1. FACT CHECK: In his address, Verwoerd perpetuates a common myth of continuous Arabist occupation since the Byzantines surrendered to Caliph Omar in 637 AD. There have been successive periods in which Jerusalem was occupied by Christiandom, notably 1099-1187 and 1229-1244. The British Mandate under the League of Nations (LON) was terminated on May 14, 1948.
  2. A 2001 research paper subsequently retracted amidst controversy, on “The origin of Palestinians and their genetic relatedness with other Mediterranean populations” found that “Archaeologic and genetic data support that both Jews and Palestinians came from the ancient Canaanites, who extensively mixed with Egyptians, Mesopotamian, and Anatolian peoples in ancient times. Thus, Palestinian-Jewish rivalry is based in cultural and religious, but not in genetic, differences.” In common with earlier studies, the team claimed to have found ‘no data to support the idea that Jewish people were genetically distinct from other people in the region’.
  3. If anything, current genetic research supports claims made concerning the Jewish connection to the region. For example: The Y Chromosome Pool of Jews as Part of the Genetic Landscape of the Middle East (2004) and Abraham’s children in the genome era: major Jewish diaspora populations comprise distinct genetic clusters with shared Middle Eastern Ancestry (2010) which suggests ‘similar origins for European Jewry and refuted large-scale genetic contributions of Central and Eastern European and Slavic populations to the formation of Ashkenazi Jewry.’ (2010) High-resolution inference of genetic relationships among Jewish populations “genetically, most Jewish samples fall into four major clusters that largely represent four culturally defined groupings, namely the Ashkenazi, Mizrahi, North African, and Sephardi subdivisions of the Jewish population”.

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