As tends to happen whenever Mahmoud Ahmadinejad delivers a speech, especially one in commemoration of Al-Quds Day that explicitly rejects the ideology of Zionism and condemns the Israeli government for its inherently discriminatory, exclusivist, and ethnocentric policies and actions, all hell broke lose after the Iranian President addressed a large crowd at Tehran University on Friday.
"The existence of the Zionist regime is an insult to all humanity," Ahmadinejad said, adding that "confronting the existence of the fabricated Zionist regime is in fact protecting the rights and dignity of all human beings."
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon referred to the remarks as "offensive and inflammatory." The European Union's foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who is leading nuclear negotiations with Iran, also denounced Ahmadinejad's speech as "outrageous and hateful."
Naturally, Ahmadinejad's words also sparked the usual shock and horror from the usual people, the same people who still insist that (1) Ahmadinejad called for Israel to be "wiped off the map" and (2) believe that such a comment constituted a direct threat of military action against the superpower-backed, nuclear-armed state of Israel.
Without delving into the persistent myths and deliberate falsehoods surrounding that particular talking point (one that has been sufficiently debunked countless times though obviously never seems to cut through the hasbara) or seeking to justify anything said by Ahmadinejad, a few things should be noted:
First: While Associated Press described Ahmadinejad's comment as "one of his sharpest attacks yet against the Jewish state," which seemed to indicate that this is the first time such language has been used, they failed to point out that Ahmadinejad has used this exact same phrase before.
After Ahmadinejad delivered a speech at a "National and Islamic Solidarity for the Future of Palestine" conference in February 2010, Ha'aretz reported he had said that "the existence of 'the Zionist regime' is an insult to humanity, according to Iranian news agency IRNA."
Later that year, he said the very same thing.
Second (and more important): The "insult to humanity" phrase was not coined by the Iranian President to describe a political power structure defined by demographic engineering, colonialism, racism, and violence.
For example, a December 11, 1979 editorial in California's Lodi News-Sentinel stated clearly, "Apartheid is an insult to humanity" and "must be ended."
But the phrase has far deeper roots - roots with which the UN Secretary-General himself should be well acquainted.
A joint declaration by 20 Asian and African countries issued to the General Conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on October 1, 1963 called upon the agency to reject the membership of South Africa due to its racist and discriminatory regime of Apartheid. It noted "with grave concern that the South African Government continues stubbornly to disregard all United Nations and Security Council resolutions and to maintain its apartheid policies in defiance of the United Nations General Assembly, of the Security, and consequently of the IAEA Statute."
The declaration stated:
1. We condemn categorically the apartheid policies of the Government of South Africa, based on racial superiority, as immoral and inhuman;The very first International Conference on Human Rights, held by the UN in (get this) Tehran from April 22 to May 13, 1968, "condemned the brutal and inhuman practice of apartheid," "deplore[d] the Government of South Africa's continuous insult to humanity," and "declare[d] that the policy of apartheid or other similar evils are a crime against humanity."
2. We deprecate most strongly the South African Government's irresponsible flouting of world opinion by its persistent refusal to put an end to its racial policies;
3. The apartheid policies of the Government of South Africa are a flagrant violation of the principles of the United Nations Charter, as well as being an insult to humanity.
On February 15, 1995, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights adopted a resolution praising the end of "the era of apartheid in South Africa" which also reaffirmed that "apartheid and apartheid-like practices are an insult to humanity..."
The UN General Assembly has repeatedly reaffirmed "that the conclusion of an internal convention on the suppression and punishment of the crime of apartheid would be an important contribution to the struggle against apartheid, racism, economic exploitation, colonial domination and foreign occupation" and, more specifically, the UN has affirmed time and again "the inalienable rights of all peoples, and in particular...the Palestinian people, to freedom, equality and self-determination, and the legitimacy of their struggles to restore those rights."
A clearer connection between Israeli policies toward non-Jewish communities under Israeli control and the system of Apartheid has also been made by the United Nations. The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination released a report in February 2012 which repeatedly notes the institutional discrimination and systemic "segregation between Jewish and non-Jewish communities" in Israel and the "difficulties faced by members of these [non-Jewish] communities in gaining access on a basis of equality with Jewish inhabitants to land, housing, education, employment and public health."
More specifically, the Committee draws direct attention to Israel "concerning the prevention, prohibition and eradication of all policies and practices of racial segregation and apartheid, and urges the State party to take immediate measures to prohibit and eradicate any such policies or practices which severely and disproportionately affect the Palestinian population in the Occupied Palestinian Territory."
No one can accuse Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of having any affinity whatsoever for Zionism or the government of Israel. Clearly he believes that Israel practices its own form of Apartheid against the Palestinian people. And he is not alone.
Back in 1961, Hendrik Verwoerd, South Africa's notoriously racist Prime Minister said, "The Jews took Israel from the Arabs after the Arabs had lived there for a thousand years. Israel, like South Africa, is an apartheid state."
In April 1976, just two months before the Soweto Uprising, South African Prime Minister (and known former Nazi sympathizer) John Vorster took an official state visit to Israel, where he was hosted by Israeli Prime Minster Yitzhak Rabin. A number of friendship pacts and bilateral economic, military and nuclear agreements were signed. At a banquet held in Vorster's honor, Rabin hailed "the ideals shared by Israel and South Africa: the hopes for justice and peaceful coexistence" and praised Vorster as a champion of freedom. Both Israel and South Africa, Rabin said, faced "foreign-inspired instability and recklessness."
Vorster lamented that both South Africa and Israel were victims of the enemies of Western civilization. Only a few months later, an official South African Government's document reinforced this shared predicament: "Israel and South Africa have one thing above all else in common: they are both situated in a predominantly hostile world inhabited by dark peoples."
Both Nelson Mandela, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and as well as many other South Africa anti-Apartheid activists and religious leaders, have consistently called Israel an Apartheid state.
Michael Ben-Yair, Israel’s attorney general from 1993 to 1996, has written that following the Six Day War in June 1967,
We enthusiastically chose to become a colonial society, ignoring international treaties, expropriating lands, transferring settlers from Israel to the occupied territories, engaging in theft and finding justification for all these activities. Passionately desiring to keep the occupied territories, we developed two judicial systems: one ‑ progressive, liberal ‑ in Israel; and the other ‑ cruel, injurious ‑ in the occupied territories. In effect, we established an apartheid regime in the occupied territories immediately following their capture.In 2002, Yigal Bronner, then a professor at Tel Aviv University, wrote in Ha'aretz of the true purpose of the Israeli separation wall: "Ours will be a brutal land of pens stretching between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean that will make South African apartheid pale. The outcome is too terrible to even imagine."
That oppressive regime exists to this day.
The same year, the Israeli human rights group B'tselem released a report entitled, "Land Grab: Israel's Settlement Policy in the West Bank," which concluded, "Israel has created in the Occupied Territories a regime of separation based on discrimination, applying two separate systems of law in the same area and basing the rights of individuals on their nationality. This regime is the only one of its kind in the world, and is reminiscent of distasteful regimes from the past, such as the Apartheid regime in South Africa."
Avraham Burg, Israel's Knesset Speaker from 1999 to 2003 and former chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel, has long determined that "Israel must shed its illusions and choose between racist oppression and democracy," insisting the only way to maintain total Jewish control over all of historic Palestine would be to "abandon democracy" and "institute an efficient system of racial separation here, with prison camps and detention villages." He has also called Israel "the last colonial occupier in the Western world."
In a 2004 article for The New Yorker, Jeffrey Goldberg, a mainstream journalist who served in as a
Yossi Sarid, who served as a member of the Knesset between 1974 and 2006, has written of Israel's "segregation policy" that "what acts like apartheid, is run like apartheid and harasses like apartheid, is not a duck – it is apartheid." He added, "It is entirely clear why the word apartheid terrifies us so. What should frighten us, however, is not the description of reality, but reality itself...The Palestinians are unfortunate because they have not produced a Nelson Mandela; the Israelis are unfortunate because they have not produced an F.W. de Klerk."
A Ha'artez editorial from October 2007 states, "The de facto separation [in the West Bank] is today more similar to political apartheid than an occupation regime because of its constancy. One side - determined by national, not geographic association - includes people who have the right to choose and the freedom to move, and a growing economy. On the other side are people closed behind the walls surrounding their community, who have no right to vote, lack freedom of movement, and have no chance to plan their future."
Yossi Paritzky, former Knesset and Cabinet minister, writing about the systematic institutionalization and legalization of racial and religious discrimination in Israel, stated that Israel does not act like a democracy in which "all citizens regardless of race, religious, gender or origin are entitled to equality." Rather, by implementing more and more discriminatory laws that treat Palestinians as second-class citizens, "Israel decided to be like apartheid‑era South Africa, and some will say even worse countries that no longer exist."
Shulamit Aloni, another former Knesset and Cabinet member, has written that "the state of Israel practices its own, quite violent, form of Apartheid with the native Palestinian population."
In 2008, the Association of Civil Rights in Israel released its annual human rights report which found that the dynamic between settlers, soldiers and native Palestinians in the occupied West Bank was "reminiscent, in many and increasing ways, of the apartheid regime in South Africa."
Ehud Olmert, when he was Prime Minister, told a Knesset committee meeting, "For sixty years there has been discrimination against Arabs in Israel. This discrimination is deep‑seated and intolerable" and repeatedly warned that if "we face a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights (also for the Palestinians in the territories), then, as soon as that happens, the State of Israel is finished."
Ehud Barak has admitted that "[a]s long as in this territory west of the Jordan river there is only one political entity called Israel it is going to be either non-Jewish, or non-democratic. If this bloc of millions of Palestinians cannot vote, that will be an apartheid state."
Poet and author Yitzhak Laor has written that Israel is already a "binational state" that maintains "a rigid apartheid legal system, as the High Court of Justice fades away," continuing, "The system preserving this apartheid is more ruthless than that seen in South Africa, where the black were a labor force and could therefore also make a living. It is equipped with the lie of being 'temporary.'"
Zvi Bar'el, history professor and columnist for Ha'aretz, has written that the discriminatory legislation proposed and passed by the "racists in the Knesset" prove that "Israel's apartheid movement is coming out of the woodwork and is taking on a formal, legal shape." In an article entitled "South Africa is already here," Bar'el explained, "It is moving from voluntary apartheid, which hides its ugliness through justifications of 'cultural differences' and 'historic neglect' which only requires a little funding and a couple of more sewage pipes to make everything right - to a purposeful, open, obligatory apartheid, which no longer requires any justification."
In April 2011, Professor Daniel Blatman, a Holocaust researcher and head of the Institute for Contemporary Jewry at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, wrote that the purpose of the recent "tsunami of racist laws passed by the Knesset" was "the gradual establishment of an apartheid state in Israel, and the future separation on a racial basis of Jews and non-Jews." Tracing the "Israeli apartheid state-in-the-making," back to 1967, Blatman explained:
"What started as rule over another people has gradually ripened - especially since the latter part of the 1970s - into a colonialism that is nurturing a regime of oppression and discrimination with regard to the Palestinian population. It is robbing that population of its land and of its basic civil rights, and is encouraging a minority group (the settlers) to develop a crude, violent attitude toward the Arabs in the territories. This was exactly the reality that, after many years, led to the establishment of the apartheid state in South Africa."Shlomo Gazit, former member of Palmach, an elite unit of the Haganah, wrote in Ha'aretz that "in the present situation, unfortunately, there is no equal treatment for Jews and Arabs when it comes to law enforcement. The legal system that enforces the law in a discriminatory way on the basis of national identity, is actually maintaining an apartheid regime."
Last summer, Knesset minister Ahmed Tibi told the Jerusalem Post that "keeping the status quo will deepen apartheid in Israel as it did in South Africa," while Gabriela Shalev, former Israeli ambassador to the UN, told The Los Angeles Times last year that, in terms of public opinion of Israel, "I have the feeling that we are seen more like South Africa once was."
Council on Foreign Relations member Stephen Roberts, after returning from a trip to Israel and the West Bank, wrote in The Nation that "Israel has created a system of apartheid on steroids, a horrifying prison with concrete walls as high as twenty-six feet, topped with body-ravaging coils of razor wire."
Writing in late 2011, Ha'aretz publisher Amos Schocken described Israel's actions in the occupied West Bank as the implementation of "a strategy of territorial seizure and apartheid" that "ignores judicial aspects of territorial ownership and shuns human rights."
In April 2012, Benjamin Netanyahu's own nephew, Jonathan Ben Artzi wrote that Israel's "policies of segregation and discrimination that ravaged (and still ravage) my country and the occupied Palestinian territories" undoubtedly fit the definition of Apartheid.
On May 1, 2012, Henry Siegman, Holocaust survivor and former head of the American Jewish Congress, wrote, "In the 1980s many in the American Jewish establishment (myself included) participated in demonstrations against South Africa's apartheid regime. The struggle against apartheid was considered by the Jewish community (not only by liberals) to be a Jewish cause. But that was in the 1980s, and the apartheid was in South Africa. Today it is in Israel -- and not as a future possibility, as many have been warning, but a current reality." Siegman added:
Netanyahu and his government have sought to disguise their de facto apartheid regime by pretending the status quo in the occupied West Bank is temporary, and that it would lead to a two-state agreement if only Palestinians would return to negotiations in a peace process that has been a farce, having served no purpose other than to disguise the enlargement of the settlement project that created the apartheid to begin with.Linguist, cultural anthropologist, and Hebrew University professor David Shulman wrote in May 2012 in The New York Review of Books that there already exists "a single state between the Jordan River and the sea" controlled by Israel and which fits the definition of an "ethnocracy." He continues,
Those who recoil at the term "apartheid" are invited to offer a better one; but note that one of the main architects of this system, Ariel Sharon, himself reportedly adopted South African terminology, referring to the noncontiguous Palestinian enclaves he envisaged for the West Bank as "Bantustans."In his 2005 memoir, Hirsh Goodman, an Israeli author and intellectual who grew up in Apartheid South Africa, recalls a 1967 radio address by David Ben-Gurion. "Israel, he said, better rid itself of the territories and their Arab population as soon as possible. If it did not Israel would soon become an Apartheid State," writes Hirsh, adding that the statement "resonated" with him because "I understood what he was saying."
These Palestinian Bantustans now exist, and no one should pretend that they're anything remotely like a "solution" to Israel's Palestinian problem. Someday, as happened in South Africa, this system will inevitably break down.
Whether those who get hysterical over Ahmadinejad's rhetoric agree with the above assessments - many of which were made by prominent Israeli and Jewish politicians, officials, and academics - is irrelevant. It's clear that Ahmadinejad himself would agree.
In fact, that the Islamic Republic has long officially recognized a distinct correlation between Apartheid South Africa and Israel is evident in its actions following the successful Iranian Revolution in 1979. The new Iranian government immediately cut diplomatic and economic ties with Israel, which had received upwards of 60% of its oil from the Shah's Iran before the revolution.
Only one other country suffered a similar fate.
Though the Shah had, according to the South Africa Foreign Ministry, "good relations in the fields of trade, science and technology, defence, medicine, energy and mining" with the Apartheid regime, the nascent revolutionary government "severed relations with South Africa in February 1979 and imposed a total trade boycott." Up until that point, Iran supplied South Africa with 90% of its oil. The new Iranian government also openly supported indigenous South African liberation organizations.
Only after Apartheid ended did Iran lift the embargo and reestablish diplomatic relations with South Africa on May 10, 1994.
Ahmadinejad himself pointed out these facts during his 2007 speech at Columbia University. He explained that, following the revolution, "We [Iran] announced our readiness that besides two countries, we are ready to have friendly relations and talks with all countries of the world. One of those two was the apartheid regime of South Africa, which has been eliminated. And the second was the Zionist regime. For everybody else around the world, we announced that we want to have friendly, brotherly ties."
Consequently, Ahmadinejad's reference to Israel (which he sees as an Apartheid state) as an "insult to humanity" (which repeats the same verbiage used repeatedly by the United Nations itself) appears to be far less inflammatory than the outrage that followed would suggest.
During a CNN interview with Wolf Blitzer on April 2, 2006 and speaking in an official capacity as Iranian Ambassador to the IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh stated:
I want to very briefly remind you that the policy of Islamic Republic of Iran and according to spirit and letter of our constitution is against any sort of school of thought or regime such as apartheid, Zionism, racism, and this is a matter of principle.As this is presented by Soltanieh as the "policy" of Iran, there is no reason to doubt that Ahmadinejad would concur with such a statement.
Therefore, what you are talking about as apartheid was disappeared and it could not be accepted by civilized world, this Zionism and aggression of racism is also condemned.
That is the message, and I'm sure that we are -- this message is shared with all the international community and peace-loving people of the whole world.
August 24, 2012 - Jeffrey Goldberg has doubled-down on his use of apartheid terminology, writing that "the description of a two-tiered justice system on the West Bank is still relevant today, and the threat to Israel's democracy, and good name, posed by settlement ideology is more real than ever."
October 16, 2012 - Akiva Elder, the prominent Israeli journalist and current chief political columnist and editorial writer for Ha'aretz, writes today:
Amid a dry economic report published yesterday in TheMarker lies an official announcement/acknowledgment of unparalleled importance: The government of Israel confirms that between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River there is no longer a Jewish majority. In other words, in the territory under Israel's jurisdiction a situation of apartheid exists. A Jewish minority rules over an Arab majority.The subtitle on the article summarizes Eldar's point this way: "The government's acknowledgement that Jews are a minority in this land means one thing only: Apartheid is here."
Eldar's inescapable conclusion is just the latest in a string of commendable (albeit imperfect and, at times, seemingly begrudging) truths articulated by the journalist. This past September, Eldar wrote in Ha'aretz,
For 64 years the Jewish community realized the Zionist vision using discriminatory immigration and residential laws, unequal division of resources and hegemony over religious and national symbols. For 45 years a Jewish minority has deprived the Palestinian collective in the occupied territories of political rights and violated the dignity, property rights and freedom of movement of millions of human beings.And last December, Eldar condemned the racism of the Israeli government and its eager colonists, admitting, "Jewish ethnocentrism - and the desire to erase the collective identity of the Palestinians and take control of their land - have been a thread linking religious and secular over the past 44 years."
February 21, 2013 - In the wake of recently resurfaced comments allegedly made by Chuck Hagel during a 2010 speech at Rutgers University regarding the risk Israel run of "becoming an apartheid state if it didn't allow the Palestinians to form a state," The Times of Israel has reported even more damning statements made by a former Israeli official.
Alon Liel, a former Israeli Foreign Ministry Director-General and ex-Ambassador to South Africa, said on February 20, "In the situation that exists today, until a Palestinian state is created, we are actually one state. This joint state — in the hope that the status quo is temporary — is an apartheid state."
Liel, speaking at Jerusalem conference dedicated to discussing this very topic, was forthright and unflinching in his assessment of Israel's current policies and predicament regarding the continuing occupation of Palestine:
"As someone who knows the original apartheid well, and also knows the State of Israel quite well – I was born here, grew up here, served and fought for it for 30 years — someone like me knows that Zionism isn't apartheid and the State of Israel that I grew up in wasn't an apartheid state," Liel emphasized.
"I'm here today because I came to the conclusion that the occupation of the West Bank as it exists today is a sort of Israeli apartheid," said Liel. "The occupation became a hump on the back of Zionism; it has now become the hump of the State of Israel."
There is a real danger of Israel's occupation of the West Bank becoming an integral part of the state, he said. "When that happens, when the West Bank and [Israel in the pre-1967 lines] become one, and the Palestinian residents of the West Bank will not have citizenship — we're apartheid," he saidLiel also had a message for U.S. President Barack Obama, who is slated to visit to Israel in March:
"If you, President Obama, intend to come here for a courtesy visit — don't come. Don't come! We don't need you here for a courtesy visit," Liel said. "You cannot come to an area that exhibits signs of apartheid and ignore them. That would simply be an unethical visit. You yourself know full well that Israel is standing at the apartheid cliff. If you don't deal with this topic during your visit, the responsibility will at the end of the process also lie with you."The event at which Liel was speaking was entitled, "Is there Israeli Apartheid?" He was joined by Peace Now board member Amiram Goldblum, journalist Danny Rubinstein, Ha'aretz reporter Gideon Levy, Hebrew University professors emeritus Frances Raday and Gideon Shimoni, Ben-Gurion University professor Oren Yiftachel, Bar-Ilan University political science lecturer and B’Tselem board member Menachem Klein, and human rights lawyer Michael Sfard.
After noting the "systematic discrimination" of Palestinians by Israel, Levy stated his agreement with Apartheid terminology. "What else could we call what's happening here?," he asked. He also pointed out that, while military occupation is not unique to Israel/Palestine, "I don't know any other occupation where the occupier thinks he's the victim, where he thinks he's the only victim," adding, "as long as Israel doesn't pay a price for the occupation, nothing is going to change."
Klein concentrated his comments on East Jerusalem, where he said Israel practices a form of "ethno-apartheid."
Only professor Shimoni challenged the application of the term Apartheid with regard to Israeli policies which he said was "rather unfair and lacks intellectual honesty." He argued that "from land theft to various draconic [sic] restrictions, as much they are worthy of condemnation — they are not apartheid," which he called a "rhetorical weapon...to demonize and excoriate the State of Israel."
The Times of Israel too claimed that the Apartheid analogy is "highly contentious" and "usually employed only by radical anti-Israel activists." However, anyone familiar with the statements of myriad Israeli politicians and commentators (as compiled here) know this is a falsehood.
February 28, 2013 - Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, speaking February 27, 2013 at the official opening of the fifth United Nations Alliance of Civilizations Global Forum in Vienna, explicitly referenced Zionism as an inherently discriminatory ideology akin to Fascism, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.
"We should be striving to better understand the culture and beliefs of others, but instead we see that people act based on prejudice and exclude others and despise them." Erdogan said. "And that is why it is necessary that we must consider — just like Zionism or anti-Semitism or fascism — Islamophobia as a crime against humanity."
March 14, 2013 - Today at the Herzliya security conference, Israeli journalist and Ha'aretz correspondent Barak Ravid opened a panel discussion he was moderating about the so-called Two-State Solution by referring to "the de facto apartheid reality in the West Bank" that is "neither Jewish nor democratic."