Scholars for Peace in the Middle East

Stanford University Chapter



There is No Apartheid in Israel: Evaluating SCAI's Argument


Mission Statement
There is No Apartheid in Israel: Evaluating SCAI's Argument
Scholars Speak Out


There is No Apartheid in Israel: Evaluating SCAI's Argument

A discussion note by SPME at Stanford1

February 4, 2008

            This note evaluates the claim recently made on campus by SCAI (Students Confronting Apartheid by Israel) that Israel is an apartheid state. The evidence that SCAI provides does not support this claim while evidence ignored by SCAI proves its claim wrong. There is no apartheid in Israel


1.         Introduction

            It is useful to begin by stating the obvious: similar to most heterogeneous societies, Israeli society is not free of racial and religious discrimination. Moreover, the lengthy and bitter Israeli-Palestinian conflict strains ethnic relations and the principle of equality before the law. But SCAI does not argue that there is racial or religious discrimination in Israel comparable to discrimination in other countries. It argues instead that racism is the essence of the conflict and apartheid is used by Israel to perpetuate its occupation.

            Apartheid, according to the United Nation is "racism made law" under which human and political rights are conditioned on race.2 Hence, to evaluate whether apartheid prevails one has to examine de jure and de facto rights. This implies, in particular, that the most visible and moving aspects of the conflict, such as the suffering of the Palestinians, do not indicate whether or not apartheid exists. It is similarly uninformative to quote prominent individuals who have made statements associating Israel with apartheid. Any such quotations can be countered by alternative statements; for example, prominent Muslim author Irshad Manji who argued that Israel is not an apartheid state.3


2.         Evaluating SCAI’s Evidence

            SCAI presents three main pieces of evidence to support its claim that there is racism made law. None of these survive scrutiny.

            The most damning alleged evidence is that Israel's "basic Law ... defines Israel as a "Jewish" state rather than a state for all its [sic] citizens.4" This quotation is incomplete and hence also misleading. Israel's Basic Law defines it "as a Jewish and democratic state."5 More importantly, the Basic Law is subject to the Declaration of Independence (of the State of Israel, 1948). This Declaration places democracy above Jewishness. Israel "will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or gender; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.6

            SCAI also claims that by law, "Palestinians cannot buy state [e.g., Israel's] land, which represents 91% of the country’s territory." This statement is misleading although correct. It is misleading because Israeli law prohibits selling state land to anyone regardless of his or her race or religion. State land can only be leased and cannot be bought. 7 SCAI also fails to note that there are no legal restrictions on private land sales. In particular, there are no racial or religious restrictions. Arabs freely buy and sell land in Israel.

            Similarly uninformed is SCAI’s claim that because Israel does not award citizenship to the Palestinians in the occupied territories of the West Bank and Gaza it is an apartheid state. SCAI claims that this policy constitutes racial discrimination because "the ultimate control over the daily lives of Palestinians remains in Tel Aviv." What SCAI fails to realize is that giving the Palestinians citizenship would be illegal under international law. It would amount to annexing occupied land.8 Because SCAI failed to study the relevant laws, it ends up accusing Israel of racism for not violating international obligations. Lack of voting rights in the occupied territories is a problem that will be resolved when there is a political resolution to the conflict; it neither reflects apartheid nor discrimination by race or religion.


3.         Evidence Contradicting SCAI’s Argument

            Evidence that SCAI does not present contradicts its argument about apartheid. Suffice to note two evidence indicating that Arabs have equal legal and political rights in Israel.

            The Israeli legal system is constantly used by Jewish and Muslim individuals and organizations to promote the rights of Arabs in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza. Consider, for example, the route of Israel’s Security Barrier. In 2004 Palestinian villagers petitioned Israel’s High Court arguing that the Security Barrier violates their rights. The High Court ruled against the state noting that there is an alternative route that could provide security, while imposing less hardship on the villagers. Israel destroyed and rebuilt 30km of the barrier. Similarly, Adalah - The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel – routinely and successful uses the Israeli legal system to alter discriminatory behavior.9

            More generally, Israel is a democracy which does not legally discriminate between individuals based on their race or religion. Voting rights, for example, are based on nationality and are independent of race or religion. Elections are general, national, direct, equal, and secret. The Declaration of the Establishment of Israel provides "the Arab inhabitants of the State of Israel ...  full and equal citizenship and due representation in all its provisional and permanent institutions.10" International authorities confirm that this is the case.11 Voting rights are respected and voting rates in areas populated by Arab are high. Indeed, there are 13 Israeli-Arab representatives (out of 120) in the Israeli parliament.12


4          Ignoring the Broader Context: the Peace Process

            SCAI argues that divestment is required to force peace on Israel. Once again, the alleged evidence (provided in the Q&A section) seems very clear. "In 2002, all 22 member states of the Arab League voted for a proposal to recognize Israel in exchange for, among other things, an end to the occupation; however, it was rejected by Israel." However, Israel's rejection of the Arab proposal does not imply that it is not seeking a just peace. On the contrary, the rejection reflects unwillingness by Israel to agree on giving up its right for self-determination and the Arab state insistence that peace will be based on an outdated, non-binding UN Resolution instead of a subsequent, binding UN Resolution.

            The Arab peace proposal is based on the non-binding UN Resolution 194 of 1948. Although arguably the resolution does not stipulate that the Palestinian refugees have a right to return to Israel proper, it is commonly argued by Palestinian and Arab leaders as stipulating a 'right of return' It is not a wonder that Israel rejects a 'take it or leave it' offer whose moral justification is a non-binding UN Resolution and whose implementation would deprive Israel of its right for self-determination. Indeed, UN Resolution 194 was superseded, in 1967, by a binding, UN Resolution 242. It calls for "a just settlement of the refugee problem" and for Israel to end the occupation in return for peace. Israel accepted this resolution in 1967. Although the PLO officially accepted 242 in 1988, various documents issued by the Palestinian Authority and other Palestinian and Arab organizations call for implementing 194 according to their interpretation.13

            The considerable evidence that indicates that Israel wants peace is ignored by SCAI. The Israelis have often elected pro-peace governments and in 2002, Israel's PM Ehud Barak offered the Palestinians a state in roughly the pre-1967 borders. The Palestinian delegation rejected the offer and, more devastating to the peace process, never articulated a counter-proposal. Hamas, which currently control Gaza, rejects both UN Resolution 242 and the Arab peace proposal. Its charter calls for Israel's destruction.14

            Nevertheless, the Israeli government and public still seek peace. The Kadima party won Israel's last election (2006) not despite its pro-peace stand, but because of it.15 Kadima supports the creation of a Palestinian state based on the peace plan proposed by the "quartet" (the US, EU, Russia, and the UN) in 2002. This plan is based on UN Resolution 242, among others, and not on UN Resolution 194.

            Even according to research done by Palestinians, the majority of Israelis seek peace and are willing to accept a two-state solution. This research was conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research; an independent, nonprofit research organization located in the West Bank city of Ramalla. (PCPSR; Since its first public opinion poll (2004) it consistently found that the majority of Israelis support the two-state solution. In the last survey (Dec. 2007) 53% supported such a solution and a significant majority (74%) would accept it if achieved. Public opinion polls conducted by Israeli researchers yield similar results. In March 2007, more than half of the Israeli-Jewish population supported peace negotiation with the Palestinian Authority.16

            SCAI asserts that Israel must be forced to seek peace and negotiate, but the evidence indicates otherwise. Israel seeks peace and its government is negotiating peace. Not every Israeli government sought peace, there are still Israeli policies that many view as detrimental to the peace efforts, and there are Israelis who object to compromise. The same, however, can also be said about the Palestinian side. There are many Palestinians who seek peace but many do not, calling for the destruction of Israel.


5.         Conclusion

            SCAI has not practiced due diligence in collecting and evaluating evidence. In general, the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth have not characterized what has been written about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and thus one should approach alleged 'evidence' with the utmost care. SCAI did not and hence, unsurprisingly, reached a wrong conclusion. There is no apartheid in Israel. In our opinion, those Israelis and Palestinians who reject peace, intentionally inflame the conflict by demonizing the other side. By propagating the false message that Israel is an apartheid state, SCAI helps these extremists. It promotes conflict, not peace.

            Those who urge social responsibility should practice it. Based on a superficial non-scholarly analysis, SCAI takes the liberty of making a policy recommendation, labeling an entire nation racist, while disrespecting those who suffered under Apartheid in South Africa. Flawed analyses and false solutions are easy to articulate. Useful remedies of complex problems are more demanding and require greater effort. We trust that members of the Stanford community can differentiate right from wrong and destructive from constructive approaches.



1.SPME at Stanford is a faculty group representing about 50 tenured faculty. Its mission is to contribute to peace in the Middle East and to counter bigotry by promoting scholarly discussion and interactions among faculty and students.

2. The following South African laws illustrate what Apartheid was. The Native Labour Regulation Act (No. 15) of 1911 made it a criminal offense for Africans, but not for whites, to break a labor contract. The Mines and Works Act (No. 12) of 1911 legitimized the long-term mining practice by which whites monopolized skilled jobs in the mines. Most important, the Natives Land Act (No. 27) of 1913 separated South Africa into areas in which either blacks or whites could own freehold land. Africans could live outside their own lands only if employed as laborers by whites. The Reservation of Separate Amenities Act (No. 49) of 1953 stated that all races should have separate amenities--such as toilets, parks, and beaches--and that these need not be of an equivalent quality. The Bantu Education Act (No. 47) of 1953 decreed that blacks should be provided with separate educational facilities under the control of the Ministry of Native Affairs. The formal policy was to provide the black with only basic education. The Extension of University Education Act (No. 45) of 1959 prohibited blacks from attending white institutions, with few exceptions, and established separate universities and colleges for non-white. The Industrial Conciliation Act (No. 28) of 1956 enabled the minister of labor to reserve categories of work for members of specified racial groups.

5.Emphasis added. basic3_eng.htm

6.Emphasis add. Similarly misleading is the quotation from a 2004 U.S. State Department report on human rights. The report notes that "The Government [of Israel] generally respected the human rights of its citizens; however, there were problems in some areas. ... The Government did little to reduce institutional, legal, and societal discrimination against the country's Arab citizens." In other words, although human rights are respected, nothing was done to make it better. (See Israel and the occupied territories Country Reports on Human Rights Practices  - 2004. Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, February 28, 2005.

7. A third category of land in Israel is that owned by the Jewish National Fund [JNF] and administered by the state. JNF private charter (1953) restricts it to lease land only to Jewish people. This land is nevertheless leased to Israeli-Arabs (by which we mean non-Jewish Israelis). See

8. The status of the West Bank and Gaza according to international law is a complicated issue. In any case, the Geneva Convention IV, section III, article 47. Similarly, SCAI’s assertion that the ‘Israeli’ only roads in the occupied territories are racist is similarly negligent and misleading. The right to use these roads is based on nationality, not race or religion, and they are often used by Israeli-Arabs..

9. Israel High Court Ruling Docket H.C.J. 7957/04. See, for example, Al-Jazeera 7/13/2004, Regarding Adalay, see

12.Note that Arabs are under-represented in the Knesset compared to their share of the population (circa 19%). A paper by Mohammad Darawshe (a prominent Palestinian from the Jewish-Arab Center for Peace) attributes this outcome to lower voter turnover, demographic structure and the particular legal status of East Jerusalem.

13.Resolution 194 states that "the refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which, ... should be made good by the Governments or authorities responsible." Although the Resolution clearly refers to both Arab and Jewish refugees (which at the time were of about the same number), it is has been propagated in the Arab world as implying a ‘right of return.’ See, for example, It is a 2005, Al Jazeera interview with Salman Abu-Sitta, general coordinator of the Right of Return Congress and founder of the Palestine Land Society.  See also the summary of the 2001 Taba peace talk ( and the more recent 'Prisoners' Letter' of the moderate Palestinian leadership (