On my recent trip to San Francisco, I was deeply disturbed to learn about the posters in The City accusing Israel of apartheid. As a black South African who lived under apartheid, this system was implemented in South Africa to subjugate people of color and deny them a variety of their rights. In my view, Israel cannot be compared to apartheid in South Africa. Those who make the accusation expose their ignorance of what apartheid really is.
Apartheid was a legal system of segregation and oppression based on skin color, with a very small white minority dominating over the vast majority of people of color.
As a black South African under apartheid, I, among other things, could not vote, nor could I freely travel the landscape of South Africa. No person of color could hold high government office. The races were strictly segregated at sports arenas, public restrooms, schools and on public transportation. People of color had inferior hospitals, medical care and education. If a white doctor was willing to take a black patient, he had to examine him or her in a back room or some other hidden place.
In my numerous visits to Israel, I did not see any of the above. My understanding of the Israeli legal system is that equal rights are enshrined in law. Black, brown and white Jews and the Arab minority mingle freely in all public places, universities, restaurants, voting stations and public transportation. All people have the right to vote. The Arab minority has political parties, serves in the Israeli parliament (Knesset) and holds positions in government ministries, the police force and the security services. In hospitals, Palestinian patients lie in beds next to Israeli Jews, and doctors and nurses are as likely to be Israeli Arabs as Jews. I also understand that an Israeli Arab judge presided over the trial of former Israeli President Moshe Katsav, who was convicted of misconduct. An Ethiopian Jew recently won the title of Miss Israel. None of the above was legally permissible in apartheid South Africa!
I believe that it is slanderous and deceptive for Israel’s self-defense measures against the terrorists’ campaign of suicide bombing, rocket attacks and other acts of terrorism that have occurred, and continue to occur, to be labeled as apartheid. I am shocked by the claim that the free, diverse, democratic state of Israel practices apartheid. This ridiculous accusation trivializes the word apartheid, minimizing and belittling the magnitude of the racism and suffering endured by South Africans of color.
I urge all people, young people in particular, to visit Israel and learn the facts for themselves so that they can confidently refute these false allegations against Israel. The misapplication of the term apartheid makes a mockery of a grievous injustice and threatens to undermine the true meaning of the term.
In my view, Israel is a model of democracy, inclusion and pluralism that can be emulated by many nations, particularly in the Middle East.
The Rev. Dr. Kenneth Meshoe is a member of the South African Parliament, the president of the African Christian Democratic Party and the chairman of the South African Israel Allies Caucus.