U.N. Targets Israel: Apartheid or Antisemitism?


Shaheryar Gill

September 22, 2021

5 min read




Today, several countries will boycott the U.N. General Assembly’s high level meeting called Durban IV—a forum known for its antisemitic attacks on Israel under the guise of combatting racism.

September 22, 2021, marks the 20th anniversary of the Durban Declaration and Program of Action. In 2001, the U.N. General Assembly held the “World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance,” which became known as “the Durban Conference.” The purpose of this framework was to fight racism. Instead, the conference promoted the very thing it intended to fight against—it engaged in antisemitic bigotry aimed at Israel. Several countries are boycotting the event due to its antisemitic content, including the highly offensive and baseless accusation that Israel is an apartheid State.

Such accusations are not new. The U.N.’s behavior is closely connected to the way international organizations twist the law and repeatedly make such baseless claims in hopes that people will believe the lies if they repeat them often enough.

According to the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid (Apartheid Convention), the crime of apartheid includes “inhumane acts committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons and systematically oppressing them.” Apartheid is “institutionalized racism of a government against the citizens and residents under its sovereign regime.” It does not apply to persons in territories beyond a State’s sovereignty.

Proponents of the apartheid claim argue that Israel’s treatment of “Palestinians” constitutes apartheid. They define “Palestinians” to include Arabs who are Israeli citizens; Arabs residing in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, including East Jerusalem; and Arabs who left or were expelled as a result of conflicts in 1948 and 1967 from what is now the State of Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip. If Israel were actually practicing apartheid against all of them as one group on the basis of their race, Israel would treat all of them in the same manner. This is not the case.

Israel treats all of its citizens, including Arab citizens, equally before the law. 64.7% of Arab citizens of Israel freely voted in the 2020 election. As a result, Arab politicians held 15 out of 120 seats in the Knesset, making them the third most powerful coalition in the legislative branch. In fact, the United Arab List, an Arab political party, is currently a part of the governing coalition in Israel. In addition, Arabs have served in cabinet positions, and several Arabs have sat on Israel’s Supreme Court. Arab citizens of Israel, including women, have full and equal voting rights. These facts should be sufficient to establish that Israeli policies for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza are not racially motivated.

Palestinians who reside in the disputed territories of the West Bank and Gaza are not citizens of Israel and are not entitled to be treated as such. Key international treaties that deal with racial discrimination recognize that “distinctions, exclusions, restrictions or preferences . . . between citizens and non-citizens” of a State do not constitute prohibited discrimination. Additionally, Palestinians argue that the West Bank and Gaza are Palestinian territories “occupied” by Israel and that Israeli actions in those territories should be governed by the Hague and the Geneva Conventions. In order to achieve a peaceful resolution of the issues between themselves and the Palestinians, Israel chose to govern the disputed territories under those conventions (instead of enforcing its domestic law) after it gained control of the territories in 1967.

Furthermore, Palestinian groups from both Gaza and the West Bank carry out repeated attacks against Israel. These include indiscriminate rocket attacks, suicide bombings, car bombs, incendiary balloons, shootings, knife attacks, etc. A situation of armed conflict does in fact exist between Palestinians and Israel and, accordingly, the disputed territories are governed by the Law of Armed Conflict (LOAC). While almost every Palestinian attack in the categories mentioned above violates the LOAC, every Israeli security measure (e.g., the Gaza blockade, travel restrictions, security check points, the security fence, military tribunals, and administrative detentions) alleged to be an apartheid policy is allowed under the LOAC. Not only is Israel allowed to take these security measures in the face of such attacks, it is obligated to take appropriate measures for the security of its territory and its citizens. Palestinian attacks amply demonstrate that Israeli policies are based on real security needs, irrespective of any alleged racial consideration. Israel’s security measures cannot be lawful under the LOAC and unlawful under the Apartheid Convention at the same time. To argue both positions simultaneously is not only a legal absurdity but illogical as well.

Finally, the Apartheid Convention references actions undertaken with the intention “of establishing and maintaining domination.” Israel’s continuous attempts to pursue peace with the Palestinians demonstrate that Israel has no intention to dominate, despite the Palestinian leaders’ rejection of those peace attempts. Israel has again and again offered virtually everything the Palestinians have asked for, only to be repeatedly rebuffed. Over and over again, Israel has offered to the Palestinian Authority a future Palestinian state including almost the entirety of the West Bank, all of the Gaza Strip, a land bridge between the two regions, and even a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem. Israeli leaders have expressed their constant willingness to enter into peace negotiations and to seek a resolution to the conflict. In response, Palestinians have only doubled down on violence and continued to engage in terrorist attacks on Israeli civilians.

To claim that Israel is guilty of apartheid requires the blind acceptance of a number of legal errors that build misunderstanding and misstatements to create a false reality. Apartheid and racial discrimination are simply not legally or factually relevant to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. To call Israel a racist regime, as the Durban Conference and its parallel events do, is both absurd and antisemitic.