Israeli Apartheid? Comparisons with South Africa

Sent On: 
Wed, 2021-12-01
Newsletter Number: 

Author Britt van Rossum has written an extremely interesting paper about comparisons between the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories since 1967 with the South African apartheid system from before 1990. The end of the apartheid system in South Africa was initiated by the de Klerk government (1989-1994) that engaged in a series of negotiations between 1990 and 1993 between the governing National Party, the African National Congress (until this moment seen by many white South Africans as a terrorist organization), and a wide variety of other political organisations.

Map of Israeli occupation


Van Rossum writes that in 1961, Israel condemned the South African policy of apartheid in the General Assembly through a vote in support of a resolution which declared the policy as reprehensible. Then Prime Minister of South Africa, Hendrik Verwoerd (1901-1961), responded that “the Jews took away Israel from the Arabs after the Arabs had lived there for a thousand years. In that I agree with them, Israel, like South Africa, is an apartheid state.”


The Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories in 1967, the fragmentation of the West Bank after the 1993 and 1995 Oslo Accords, and more recently the announcement of plans by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for de jure annexation of parts of the West Bank, has given a strong impulse to the use of this analogy.


The use of the word apartheid is highly politicized, with opponents to the Israeli occupation policy arguing in favor of this comparison and with this of course hope the Israeli apartheid will end just as the South African apartheid had ended. There are, however, also many who have strongly rejected the analogy which has resulted in an interesting debate that Britt van Rossum has analyzed. Her paper aims at providing an overview and understanding of the broader debate around the analogy between Israel and its policies and South African apartheid. She has used the method of Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA), which is a theory that studies discourse within texts and considers it to be a form of social practice and thereby helps to provide deeper insights into a debate. Britt van Rossum’s study showed that the Israel apartheid analogy principally serves as a strategy of mobilization and delegitimization and that it is often either supported or rejected by making appeals to notions of generic or historical apartheid, victimhood, demonization, self-glorification and historical claims. Both proponents and opponents of the analogy refer to these notions in a manner that fits their own narrative and this often results in two incompatible accounts of reality. Britt van Rossum is to be complimented for her excellent paper that indeed shows how political debates can impede substantial dialogue. For the full text please click here.



December 1, 2021


Cornelis Hulsman

Editor-in-chief Arab-West Report