The Irish Times view on accusations of apartheid against Israel: The high moral ground

International law defines apartheid as a crime against humanity in which one racial group dominates another through intentional, systematic and inhumane acts of oppression.

 Lebanese Sunni clerics wear protective face masks as they attend a protest in solidarity with the Palestinians in Jerusalem and the West Bank in front of the headquarters of the United Nations in  Beirut last week. Photograph: Wael Hamzeh

Lebanese Sunni clerics wear protective face masks as they attend a protest in solidarity with the Palestinians in Jerusalem and the West Bank in front of the headquarters of the United Nations in Beirut last week. Photograph: Wael Hamzeh

 

Success in labelling critiques of Israeli treatment of Palestinians as “anti-Semitic” is to put such critiques beyond the Pale of legitimate argument and to deflect the discussion from a specific policy to whether or not it falls within the definition of an offence that is rightly regarded as repugnant.

And it has been one of the successes of Israeli diplomacy to have succeeded in persuading much of the democratic world to accept its definition of “anti-Semitic” to encompass broadly framed statements about the Israeli state or calls for an economic boycott, and hence to make such demands in principle unacceptable.

Palestinians and their supporters have their own version of this definitional, meta argument in pushing for acceptance of the labelling of Israel as an “apartheid” state. And the careful embrace of the term last week by the respected international NGO Human Rights Watch drew the predictable accusation that it too was anti-Semitic.

The “apartheid” claim has been one made for some time by Palestinians but only more recently taken up by rights groups – in January, the Israeli rights group B’Tselem made the charge, joining two other Israeli organisations. They had argued that while Israeli policy had features of apartheid South Africa and its embrace of “separate development”, it was not there yet. The threshold was crossed, they argue, by recent threats permanently to annex the West Bank and the 2018 new basic law enshrining the Jewish people’s specific right to self-determination, allowing institutionalised discrimination against non-Jews ranging from housing and land to immigration, citizenship, political rights, language and culture. “Temporary” measures became embedded in Israel’s DNA.

International law defines apartheid as a crime against humanity in which one racial group dominates another through intentional, systematic and inhumane acts of oppression. Race is interpreted broadly to apply to ethnic groups. Definitions matter in the battle for hearts and minds, shaping the contours of “legitimate” political debate. And Israel has a case to answer.

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