Mahmoud Illean / AP
A prominent Israeli human rights group has intensified its criticism of the country’s policy towards Palestinians, saying that Israel pursues a non-democratic “apartheid regime” and “Jewish supremacy” in both Israel and the Palestinian territories.
B’Tselem’s report on Tuesday reflects a recent shift from critics in Israel, expanding their focus beyond the country’s half-century of military occupation of Palestinian territories to policies that stretch back to Israel’s foundations and support highly charged parallels with South Africa’s former white government regime.
Many Israelis certainly reject the comparison. They boast of a vibrant Israeli democracy, say Palestinians have representation in their own semi-autonomous Palestinian Authority, and justify restrictions on Palestinians as necessary security measures in the absence of peace.
B’Tselem Director Hagai El-Ad, there is Jewish, he said he hoped the report would inform the analysis of the upcoming Biden administration as it considers how to govern US policy after the Trump administration sided with Israel and against Palestinian views on the most sensitive aspects of the protracted conflict between the two peoples.
“I expect this will be part of a new chapter in the fight for justice in this place,” Said El-Ad.
B’Tselem, who has documented Israeli human rights abuses in the Palestinian territories since 1989, said it now rejects the general view that Israel maintains two separate regimes side by side: a democracy in Israel where the country’s 20% Palestinian Arab minorities share equally citizenship and rights with its Jewish majority, and a military occupation imposed on Palestinian non-citizens in territories captured in 1967, as Palestinians seek an independent state.
The group’s eight-page report instead claims that an unequal system governs Israel, Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
“An organizing principle underlies a wide range of Israeli policies: the progress and maintenance of the dominance of one group – the Jews – over another – the Palestinians,” B’Tselem said in a statement on Tuesday.
The Israeli government did not provide an immediate public response, but defenders of Israeli politics accused B’Tselem of radicalized anti-Israel propaganda.
“This is no longer the same NGO that once gained respect, even from critics, by fighting for human rights based on credible research. Today, it is a platform for demons,” said Gerald Steinberg of NGO Monitor, an Israeli watchdog of pro- Palestinian groups, said in a statement.
B’Tselem is trying to “fundamentally delegitimize Israel and call for destruction – because not reforming an apartheid regime, it will end,” said Eugene Kontorovich of the Kohelet Policy Forum, a conservative Israeli think tank.
Another prominent Israeli advocate for Palestinian rights, lawyer Michael Sfard, issued a legal statement last year stating that Israelis practice apartheid over Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, but he stopped short to evaluate whether the same definition applied within Israel. correct.
B’Tselem said that Palestinian Arab citizens in Israel have more rights than non-citizens in the West Bank and Gaza, but that they were second-class citizens vis-à-vis Jewish Israelis. It pointed to Israel’s construction of hundreds of Jewish communities while building few communities for the Palestinian citizens of the country; and laws that automatically grant Israeli citizenship to Jews worldwide, but exclude non-Jews, including Palestinians.
B’Tselem’s criticisms of Israel’s military occupation include travel restrictions on Palestinians requiring Israeli travel permits; and the Palestinians’ lack of voting rights in the Israeli political system that keeps track of their lives.
B’Tselem said it decided to embrace the apartheid terminology following the 2018 adoption of Israel’s nation state law, which defined Israel as a Jewish state and gave Jews priority in areas ranging from official use of Hebrew versus Arabic, to land development, to the government’s discussion last year of potentially annexing Occupied West Bank territory without extending voting rights to Palestinians there. living, a step that Israel says is possible.
“Israel is not a democracy attached to a temporary occupation: it is a regime between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean, and we must look at the full picture and see it for what it is: apartheid,” El-Ad said.
The name of the human rights group, B’Tselem, Hebrew for “In the Image”, is taken from Genesis 1:27, which states that mankind was created in the image of God.