Israel Apartheid Week ?
We need a real ‘Middle East Apartheid Week’…. by Alan Dershowitz

Published: 8 June 2010
Briefing Number 256

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Summary:    This Briefing contains a critique of the ‘Israel Apartheid Week’ campaign by US attorney Alan Dershowitz, author of ‘The Case for Israel’. Dershowitz argues that the organisers are demonstrating a double-standard by demonising Israel, which safeguards the democratic rights and religious freedoms of its Arab citizens, while “covering up” genuine apartheid in the region, which is apparent in the Arab and Muslim world. Dershowitz calls for an annual Middle East Apartheid week to highlight these injustices.      

Alan Dershowitz, author of ‘The Case for Israel’, and well-known US attorney, wrote the following opinion piece in the Jerusalem Post on 8 March 2010 ( in response to the holding of ‘Israel Apartheid Week’ events on university campuses around the world.

‘Let’s Have A Real Apartheid Education Week….’

Every year at about this time, radical Islamic students – aided by radical anti-Israel professors – hold an event they call ‘Israel Apartheid Week’.  During this week, they try to persuade students on campuses around the world to demonise Israel as an apartheid regime.  Most students seem to ignore the utterances of these extremists [We think Dershowitz’s claim is over-confident, in relation to the UK, where such events are steadily gaining credibility, and increasing their impact – Beyond Images] but some naïve students seem to take them seriously.  Some pro-Israel and Jewish students claim that they are intimidated when they try to respond to these untruths.  As one who strongly opposes any censorship, my solution is to fight bad speech with good speech, lies with truth and educational malpractice with real education.

Accordingly, I support a ‘Middle East Apartheid Education Week’ to be held at universities throughout the world.  It would be based on the universally accepted human rights principle of “the worst first”.  In other words, the worst forms of apartheid being practised by Middle East nations and entities would be studied and exposed first.  Then the apartheid practices of other countries would be studied in order of their seriousness and impact on vulnerable minorities.

Saudi Arabia…..
Under this principle, the first country studied would be Saudi Arabia. This tyrannical kingdom practices gender apartheid to an extreme, relegating women to an extremely low status.  Indeed, a prominent Saudi imam recently issued a fatwa declaring that anyone who advocates women working alongside men, or who otherwise compromises with regard to absolute gender apartheid,  is subject to execution.

The Saudis also practice apartheid based on sexual orientation, executing and imprisoning gay and lesbian Saudis.  Finally, Saudi Arabia openly practices religious apartheid.  It has special roads for ‘Muslims only’. It discriminates against Christians, refusing them the right to practice their religion openly.  And needless to say, it doesn’t allow Jews the right to live in Saudi Arabia, to own property or even (with limited exceptions) to enter the country. Now that’s apartheid with a vengeance.

Hamas in Gaza…..

The second entity on any apartheid list would be Hamas, the de facto government of the Gaza Strip.  Hamas too discriminates openly against women, gays and Christians.  It permits no dissent, no free speech and no freedom of religion.


Every single Arab Middle East country practices these forms of apartheid to one degree or another.  Consider the most ‘liberal’ and pro-American nation in the area, namely Jordan.  The Kingdom of Jordan, which the King himself admits is not a democracy, has a law on its books forbidding Jews from becoming citizens or owning land.  Despite the efforts of its progressive Queen, women are still de facto subordinate in virtually all aspects of Jordanian life.

Iran and Pakistan, and elsewhere in the region…..

Iran of course practices no discrimination against gays, because its president has assured us that there are no gays in Iran.  In Pakistan, Sikhs have been executed for refusing to convert to Islam, and throughout the Middle East, honor killings of women are practiced, often with a wink and a nod from the religious and secular authorities. 

Every Muslim country in the Middle East has a single, established religion, namely Islam, and makes no pretence of affording religious equality to members of other faiths. 

This is a brief review of some, but certainly not all, apartheid practices in the Middle East.

Israel: freedom of expression and freedom of religion….

Now let’s turn to Israel.  The secular Jewish state of Israel fully recognises the rights of Christians and Muslims and prohibits any discrimination based on religion.  Muslim and Christian citizens of Israel (of which there are over 1 million) have the right to vote and have elected members of the Knesset, some of whom even oppose Israel’s right to exist.  There is an Arab member of the Supreme Court, an Arab member of the Cabinet and numerous Israeli Arabs in important positions in businesses, universities and the cultural life of the nation.

A couple of years ago I attended a concert at the Jerusalem YMCA at which Daniel Barenboim conducted a mixed orchestra of Israeli and Palestinian musicians.  There was a mixed audience of Israelis and Palestinians, and the man sitting next to me was an Israeli Arab – the culture minister of the State of Israel.  Can anyone imagine that kind of concert having taken place in apartheid South Africa, or in apartheid Saudi Arabia?

There is complete freedom of dissent in Israel and it is practised vigorously by Muslims, Christians and Jews alike.   And Israel is a vibrant democracy.

The West Bank: it’s not apartheid

What is true of Israel proper, including Israeli Arab areas, is not true of the occupied territories.  Israel ended its occupation of the Gaza Strip several years ago, only to be attacked by Hamas rockets (see Beyond Images Briefing 150 – Israel’s Gaza pullout and Palestinian extremism). Israel maintains its occupation of the West Bank only because the Palestinians walked away from a generous offer of statehood on 97% of the West Bank, with its capital in Jerusalem and with a $35b billion compensation package for refugees (see Beyond Images Briefing 21 – Camp David and Taba: What did Israel offer?)   Had it accepted that offer by President Bill Clinton and Prime Minister Ehud Barak, there would now be a Palestinian state in the West Bank.  There would be no separation barrier.  There would be no roads restricted to Israeli citizens (Jews, Arabs and Christians). And there would be no civilian settlements [We don’t think this is quite correct – under the Barak / Clinton proposals, Israel would have retained certain major settlements blocs – Beyond Images]           
I have long opposed civilian settlements in the West Bank, as many, perhaps most, Israelis do.  But to call an occupation, which continues because of the refusal of the Palestinians to accept a two-state solution, ‘apartheid’, is to misuse that word.  As those of us who fought in the actual struggle of apartheid well understand, there is no comparison between what happened in South Africa and what is now taking place on the West Bank. 

As Congressman John Conyors, who founded the congressional black caucus, well put it: “Applying the word apartheid to Israel does not serve the cause of peace, and the use of it against the Jewish people in particular, who have been victims of the worst kind of discrimination, discrimination resulting in death, is offensive and wrong”.

‘Israel Apartheid Week’ demonises a democracy and covers up real apartheid  

The current Israel Apartheid Week on universities around the world, by focusing only on the imperfections of the Middle East’s sole democracy, is carefully designed to cover up the far more serious problems of real apartheid in Muslim and Arab nations.  The question is why do so many students identify with regimes that denigrate women, gays, non-Muslims, dissenters, environmentalists and human rights advocates, while demonising the democratic regime that grants equal rights to women (the chief justice of the Israeli Supreme Court, and the speaker of the Israeli Parliament are women), gays (there are openly gay generals in the Israeli Army), non-Jews (Muslims and Christians serve in high positions in Israel) and dissenters (virtually all Israelis dissent about something).

Israel has the best environmental record in the Middle East, it exports more life saving medical technology than any country in the region, and it has sacrificed more for peace than any country in the Middle East.  Yet on many college campuses democratic egalitarian Israel is a pariah, while sexist, homophobic, anti-semitic, terrorist Hamas is a champion.  There is something very wrong with this picture.

Some related Beyond Images resources, and see All Beyond Images Briefings

Briefing 257 – Israel as an ‘Apartheid State’ and the demonisation of Israel (8 June 2010)
Briefing 241 – Israel Apartheid Week on campus: critique by Israeli Bedouin diplomat (10 May 2009)

Briefing 222 – Israeli Arab rights: facts which refute the ‘apartheid’ myth (19 October 2008)

Briefing 109 – The legal rights of Israel’s Arabs: two illustrations (1 Nov 2004)

Briefing 53 – Israel as an “apartheid state”?  The High Court and leading Israeli Arab politicians (9 July 2003)