In recent years, the word "apartheid" has become more and more prevalent to describe Israel. Ever since the 2001 World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa, which dedicated an entire program to delegitimizing Israel, nongovernmental organizations dealing with the Israeli-Arab conflict have stepped up the use of this word for Israel. The term is only part of the anti-Israel rhetoric they have adopted, alongside "crimes against humanity" and "ethnic cleansing."
The meaning of the Afrikaans word "apartheid" is, literally, "separation." As a policy, according to jurist Richard Goldstone (who headed the U.N. investigative committee that reviewed Israel's 2008-2009 Gaza offensive Operation Cast Lead), apartheid aims to impose racial segregation for the benefit of a particular minority, while granting more rights to that minority. The apartheid regime in South Africa was imposed by a white minority government between 1948 and 1994. Goldstone even published an article in The New York Times arguing that although discrimination issues exist in Israel, its policies are nowhere near the policies of the apartheid regime in South Africa. According to Goldstone, efforts to describe Israel as an apartheid state are merely attempts to isolate, demonize and undermine Israel's legitimacy.
Furthermore, this loose use of the term is an affront to the victims of the South African regime. In the same way that the indiscriminate use of the word "Holocaust" is an affront to Holocaust survivors and diminish the magnitude of the event, black South Africans feel that the terrible, inhuman suffering they went through only 20 years ago is belittled.
Israel is guided by the rule of law and has not imposed any form of apartheid on its citizens or on its Palestinian neighbors. The residents of the West Bank cross the border into Israel every day for their livelihood, and their movements within Israel are not restricted.
But Palestinian NGOs are using this rhetoric as part of their strategy to isolate and ostracize Israel in the international arena. International organizations, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and others are helping promote this strategy, and have also adopted the term apartheid in relation to Israel. The decision to use this word is premeditated, and has a clear political objective: delegitimizing Israel in the international community.
Recently, leaders have also begun randomly using the term apartheid, such as when Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat was quoted as saying, "The apartheid in the West Bank is worse than it was in South Africa." He said this despite, and contrary to, the policy of U.S. President Barack Obama and the work of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.
The term has even taken root in academic institutions across the globe. Suffice to mention Professor Stephen Hawking, who recently joined an academic boycott against Israel and canceled plans to visit the upcoming Presidential Conference in Israel. It has been reported that American author Alice Walker has called on world-renowned singer Alicia Keys to cancel her upcoming concert in Israel and to boycott the "apartheid state." She was unsuccessful, this time, but maybe other performers were influenced by the call and will boycott Israel in the future.
The European Union, incidentally, does not define Israel as an apartheid state, and even seeks to upgrade relations. When EU Ambassador to Israel Andrew Standley hosted a group chat on Facebook in honor of Europe Day last month, he remarked that the EU never saw Israel as an apartheid state. However, the European Union is continuing to fund a large number of NGOs whose objective is to delegitimize Israel.
When you repeat the same thing over and over again, countless times, the human brain begins to believe it, regardless of whether it is true or not. It is not surprising that, for many people, a catchy term like "apartheid" has become a natural way of describing Israel. Unfortunately, the use of the catchy terms like this is succeeding in maligning Israel, as free and democratic as it may be.
Lena Abayev is deputy director of communications at NGO Monitor.