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Biden Must Face the Facts: Israel Is an Apartheid Regime

In a position paper released January 12, the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem broke with its own tradition and stated unambiguously that the area comprising Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza Strip is an apartheid regime of Jewish supremacy.

The significance of this paper cannot be overstated. B’Tselem’s status as a leading human rights organization is unassailable (disclosure: I opened B’Tselem’s office in Washington in 2008 and worked for the organization for over two years). B’Tselem’s research is used by other human rights organizations and governments, including the United States, in developing reports on the human rights situation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

B’Tselem has, since its inception in 1989, focused exclusively on the West Bank and Gaza, allowing other groups to address issues of discrimination within Israel’s internationally recognized borders, or to comment on Israel’s actions in other countries, such as Lebanon or Syria. One of the effects of that laser focus was to reinforce the view of a democratic Israel that was engaged in a military occupation, with attendant violations of international law and human rights norms.

This new paper marks a sharp break with that long-held stance. B’Tselem makes it clear, stating, “The Israeli regime, which controls all the territory between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, seeks to advance and cement Jewish supremacy throughout the entire area. To that end, it has divided the area into several units, each with a different set of rights for Palestinians—always inferior to the rights of Jews. As part of this policy, Palestinians are denied many rights, including the right to self-determination.”

As B’Tselem’s statement stresses, the definition of apartheid is not limited to the actions of the South African regime from which the term derives. According to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, “The crime of apartheid means inhumane acts…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 of maintaining that regime.”

Although it has been tendentiously argued by some defenders of Israel that neither Palestinians nor Israelis constitute a “racial group,” the United Nations has defined racial discrimination as “any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life.”

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