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Apartheid wears a veil

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A report commissioned by the UN agency ESCWA (Economic and Social Comission for Western Asia), released Wednesday, concluded unequivocally that Israel practices Apartheid policy. It saw official daylight for two days.

The spokesperson for Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Emmanuel Nahshon tweeted “#UN #ESCWA has issued today a ‘Der Stürmer’ like report, NOT endorsed by @UNSG. Friendly advice- dont read it without anti nausea pills….” He was referring to the Nazi propaganda outlet, Der Stürmer.

The report, authored by Richard Falk, Professor Emeritus of International Law at Princeton and former UN Special Rapporteur, as well as Virginia Tilley, professor of political science at Southern Illinois University, was taken down, under harsh pressure from Israel and USA, by order of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. Under-Secretary General Rima Khalaf, who also heads the Beirut-based ESCWA, refused to remove the report and resigned in protest. “I resigned because it is my duty not to conceal a clear crime, and I stand by all the conclusions of the report,” said Khalaf. Fortunately, the report is available by many outlets who have saved it and reproduced it, including here.

Let me first address the ‘Nazi’ comparison.

Now, I admit I have not read Der Stürmer, and have no special intention of doing so. What I can say, nonetheless, is that I have read every word and footnote of the 74-page report. If ‘anti-nausea’ pills were necessary, as Emmanuel Nahshon suggests, it would only have been to quell the nausea arising from the reality which this report describes – in a remarkably lucid manner.

It would appear, that the typical ‘Nazi’ and ‘anti-Semitic’ accusations are a smoke-screen to avoid discussion about the actual issues brought forth in the report. The synthesis of the report is not merely an innovative intellectual exercise. As Nelson Mandela noted, the issue of Palestine is “the greatest moral issue of our time”. Had the report regarded a long-past historical event (as for example Apartheid in South Africa), the hyperbole accusations would no doubt be put aside, in light of the grave issues addressed. Yet it is precisely because the crime is current and ongoing, that every effort is made to shoot it down by those involved. As the report notes in its Conclusions (p. 50):

[T]he situation addressed in the report is ongoing. Many investigations of crimes against humanity have concerned past behaviour or events, such as civil wars involving genocides, which have formally concluded. In such cases, the international community faces no particular pressure to act in a timely way to terminate an ongoing crime prior to investigating the legal facts of culpability. In the case of Israel-Palestine, any delay compounds the crime by prolonging the subjugation of Palestinians to the active practice of apartheid by Israel. Prompt action is accordingly imperative to avert further human suffering and end a crime against humanity that is being committed now.”

That urgency means, that even if one is unconvinced that the crime of Apartheid applies in full to Israel, it is important to give this report time, rather than dismiss it as ‘propaganda’. If indeed the hat fits, then the implications are grave. As further noted in the same page (footnote 90):

[A]partheid has been considered in the annals of the United Nations and world public opinion to be second only to genocide in the hierarchy of criminality”,


Genocide and apartheid are the only two international crimes, the commission of which States have a duty to prevent.

Those who take such matters seriously, would thus do well to read the report in its entirety. I would nonetheless like to offer my appraisal as to why this report is so crucial.

The report is arguably a ground-breaking one, in that it cuts across all the formations which serve not only the fragmentation of Palestinians (in four domains – citizens, East Jerusalemites, occupied and refugees), but also the obfuscation of the discussion about Israel’s overall policy – of Apartheid. As noted in page 30:

By developing discrete bodies of law, termed “domains” in this report, for each territory and their Palestinian populations, Israel has both effected and veiled a comprehensive policy of apartheid directed at the whole Palestinian people. [my emphasis].

The notion of Israel applying Apartheid policy has already been brought forth by Virginia Tilley in a study from 2009 for the Human Sciences Research Council of South Africa (HSRC), at the request of the South African Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The study was coordinated, co-authored and edited by Tilley under the title Occupation, Colonialism, Apartheid? A Reassessment of Israel’s Practices in the Occupied Palestinian Territories under International Law. But this sort of comprehensive appraisal has not featured yet in any comprehensive UN report.

The methodical comparison to the 1973 Apartheid convention provides a ‘checklist’ that is satisfied almost completely on all points. Nonetheless, as noted in p. 17:

[A] check-list method alone — such as looking for the “inhuman acts” mentioned in the Apartheid Convention — would be a misreading of the [Apartheid] Convention’s intention. In article II, it explicitly establishes that such acts are illustrative, not mandatory, and are crimes of apartheid only if they serve the overarching purpose of racial domination. Hence, such acts can be considered crimes of apartheid only after the existence of an “institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination” has been conclusively established.

Thus, the report seeks to establish two main issues concerning Israeli Apartheid policy: overarching purpose and intention.

The notion of ‘purpose’ comes from the Apartheid convention, as cited in p. 17:

For the purpose of the present Convention, the term “the crime of apartheid”, which shall include similar policies and practices of racial segregation and discrimination as practiced in southern Africa, shall apply to the following inhuman acts committed for the purpose of (emphasis added) establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons and systematically oppressing them  (article II).

The notion of ‘intent’ comes from the Rome Statute, (article 7 (2) (h), cited same page):

“The crime of apartheid” means inhumane acts of a character similar to those referred to in paragraph 1 [i.e., “when committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack”], 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 [my emphasis] of maintaining that regime.

Purpose and Intention are obviously two very crucial words. In customary criminal law, it is intention that can mark the difference between murder and unintentional manslaughter; It is purpose that can mark the difference between a rogue massacre and genocide.

The report also qualifies (footnote 20, p. 17) that

“former special rapporteurs John Dugard and Richard Falk highlighted the problem of determining when “features of apartheid” signify that an apartheid regime is operating, which would constitute a matter that might be referred to the ICJ. For both rapporteurs, the question arose with regard to the legality of the Israeli occupation. Mr. Dugard described “road apartheid” in the occupied Palestinian territory and noted that the Israeli occupation has “features” or “elements” of apartheid. However, whether Israel is constituted as an apartheid regime remained for Mr. Dugard a question still to be legally determined (A/62/275). Mr. Falk adopted a similar position (A/HRC/25/67, p. 21).”

The report was thus set to determine whether there is a systematic, overarching, purposeful and intentional Israeli policy of Apartheid – one which goes beyond partial appraisals of it in this or that territory.

While acknowledging the different domains of Israeli policy vis-á-vis Palestinians (again: citizens, East-Jerusalem ‘residents’, occupied and refugees), the report regards them as part of a whole. While Palestinians in domain 1 (citizens) are no doubt under the least oppressive circumstances of the four, still, systematic discrimination against them exists – on an established racial basis. Besides the myriad of racist laws applying to them, there is the basic notion, that they are those who did not flee the Nakba of 1948. In the section titled ‘Demographic engineering’ (p. 31), the report notes that

“the first general policy of Israel has been one of demographic engineering, in order to establish and maintain an overwhelming Jewish majority in Israel. As in any racial democracy, such a majority allows the trappings of democracy — democratic elections, a strong legislature — without threatening any loss of hegemony by the dominant racial group.”

Theoretically, one could attempt to argue that Palestinians citizens of Israel could have enjoyed completely equal rights (as Israeli apologists misleadingly do, regularly), and still the Apartheid policy could hold – in that Israel could be using them as an ‘alibi’ or ‘aberration’ to the overwhelming majority of Palestinians upon which it practices more overt and tangible Apartheid. But Israel goes way beyond that, and the report provides examples of how Apartheid applies also for Palestinian citizens of Israel.

The report also goes to a considerable extent to exclude partial, euphemistic or generalist appraisals of ‘Apartheid’, such as (p. 13):

  1. Defining only regimes consistent with the apartheid regime in South Africa as being apartheid, so that, by definition, digressions from South African practices preclude any charge of apartheid.

  2. Treating discrete practices considered to have qualities of apartheid, such as the so-called “apartheid wall” (“separation fence” or “separation barrier” in official Israeli discourse), as signifying that a State has established a comprehensive apartheid regime.

  3. Defining apartheid as the outcome of anonymous structural global forces, such as global corporate influences or neoliberalism, as enforced by Bretton Woods institutions.

  4. Defining apartheid as the aggregate body of private racist practices by the dominant society as a whole, whereby State involvement is a contingent tool for enforcing a draconian social system based on racial hierarchy, discrimination and segregation.

  5. Treating apartheid as pertaining only to Palestinian citizens of Israel, or only to Palestinians in the occupied territory, or excluding Palestinian refugees and involuntary exiles living outside territory under Israeli control.

Hence the question applied, is whether ‘Grand Apartheid’, that is, an overarching Apartheid, is applicable to Israel, in a singular and absolute sense.

One could summate and analyze much more, but the report is available for all to read. The report concludes (final page),

“on the basis of overwhelming evidence, that Israel is guilty of the crime of apartheid”.

This is no light notion. Apartheid is a crime against humanity – as mentioned, second only to Genocide.

If the scholarly integrity of this conclusion is to be criticized, it should follow a serious, detailed and scholarly review. The tarnish campaign by Israel and USA has so far not even addressed the critical issues brought forth by the report. It would appear that the intent is to bury it altogether, and avoid the discussion.

While the report reads cogently like a book, it was not meant as a book. It was meant as a tool for political action. Although its official path through the UN appears to have been blocked, it should serve as an important tool for study, appraisal and activism.

The discussion is now in the open, whether Israel and its patrons like it or not.

Jonathan Ofir

Israeli musician, conductor and blogger / writer based in Denmark.

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18 Responses

  1. amigo on March 19, 2017, 1:22 pm

    You can bet the Congress critters are already preparing laws to make accusing Israel of Apartheid , a crime , (oh the irony) .I wonder if they will include possession of a copy of the report . How long before the UK and the other apologists for Israel,s crimes follow suit.It will be up there with denying the Holocaust.

    Let,s hope they respond with the usual gusto , so US/EU courts are rife with cases and the media is clogged with details and a full and open discussion can follow.This of course is not the intention of those who will scream and holler but it will be the outcome.

    Bring it on .

  2. Ossinev on March 19, 2017, 3:26 pm

    “the first general policy of Israel has been one of demographic engineering”

    Sounds familiar ?

    • Maghlawatan on March 19, 2017, 5:39 pm

      If Israel has been practising demographic engineering it isn’t working. Planting 800K colonists amongst 3 million is stupid.

      • Citizen on March 20, 2017, 6:34 am

        How so? Seems to be working well for the mother state, Israel, and its colonists–who live only a stone’s throw on the other side of said state’s wall.

      • Maghlawatan on March 22, 2017, 10:24 am

        Because it necessitates apartheid, which is a terminal condition

    • Mayhem on March 20, 2017, 11:33 pm

      The Working Definition of Antisemitism gives as one example of antisemitism “Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis”. The definition was created in 2004 by the European Union Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC), now known as the Fundamental Rights Agency of the European Union. It has received widespread international use, for example in its adoption by the US Government for the State Department Report on antisemitism, and in its adoption by the British Police as part of their Hate Crimes Operations Guide. The London Declaration of the Inter-Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Antisemitism, signed by members of Parliaments from all around the world have adopted the Working Definition and encourage its widespread use.
      @Ossinev, you are being called out for anti-semitism by making a snide remark that compares Israel to the Nazis but I don’t expect that would bother you.

      • Mooser on March 21, 2017, 12:51 pm

        “The Working Definition of Antisemitism gives as one example of antisemitism “Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis”.”

        Really? Well, if that’s the case, “Mayhem”, better brace yourself. There’s gonna be a whole lot of antisemitism.

      • oldgeezer on March 21, 2017, 2:05 pm


        The definition was written by tbe AJC and placed on the EUMC site for comments. It was never adopted prior to it’s removal and the FRA had had nothing to do with it.

      • eljay on March 21, 2017, 2:43 pm

        || Mayhem: The Working Definition of Antisemitism gives as one example of antisemitism “Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis”. … ||

        It’s ironic that this example of anti-Semitism as defined by the “Working Definition of Antisemitism” requires the anti-Semitic conflation of Israel with all Jews and all Jews with Israel.

      • Ara on March 25, 2017, 12:24 am

        Thanks to Mayhem for saying cleverly just what I wanted to comment on. Eljay makes a good point too.

  3. QQQ on March 20, 2017, 1:15 am

    Excellent article, thanks for giving it such a careful read and conveying the main points so well ( I’m a co-author of the report).

  4. JimMichie on March 20, 2017, 10:19 am

    VEILED? You’ve gotta’ be kidding, Jonathan. The six decades of racism, brutality, ruthlessness, genocide, ethnic cleansing and raw fascism of Zionist Israel in Palestine is as plain as the nose on your face and mine. Veiled? REALLY?

    • Jonathan Ofir on March 20, 2017, 11:35 am

      Well, James Michie, full disclosure: I did not select the title myself. I think my suggested title was “THE ISRAELI APARTHEID UN REPORT WAS SHOT DOWN AFTER TWO DAYS, BUT LIVES ON”.

      Nonetheless, the title has full validity, in that it refers to a point made in p. 30 of the report: “By developing discrete bodies of law, termed “domains” in this report, for each territory and their Palestinian populations, Israel has both effected and veiled a comprehensive policy of apartheid directed at the whole Palestinian people.”
      Now, I don’t know how ironically, or how seriously, you meant what you wrote, James. Nonetheless, there is a point here which, although having been rather clear to me for some time, does nonetheless fool many. It is the ‘divide and rule’ both in the sense of regime, but also in the sense of propaganda. The report elucidates how Israel is both able to hold the trappings of democracy, whilst not actually having it.

      I have great respect for the ability to convey such notions. It’s not enough to know things. That knowledge needs to become effective, conveyed, disseminated. I am therefore not at all cynical about these findings, formulations or titles.

  5. ignasi orobitg gene on March 20, 2017, 7:23 pm

    Thank you for the example in defense of the Truth.
    Truth is the first love of Freedom.

  6. Michael Rabb on March 20, 2017, 9:09 pm

    yeah i guess the genocide be veiled too ?

  7. Qualtrough on March 21, 2017, 2:03 am

    Despite the remarkable similarities between many elements of Zionism and Nazism we are constantly told that any such comparison is taboo, and many anti-Zionists have bought into that way of thinking. Given that Zionists invoke Nazi analogies at the drop of the hat I can see no reason for others not to point out similarities between the two whenever and wherever they feel like it. We need to stop letting Zionist determine the rules of discussion.

    • JWalters on March 21, 2017, 9:40 pm

      Excellent points. The Nazis too suppressed facts, harassed opponents, and lied to their countrymen in order to justify their wars.

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