The prominent Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem on Monday defiantly defended its position that Israel is an apartheid state after the country’s education minister banned members of groups that call the Jewish state “false, derogatory names” from entering its schools.
Last week, B’Tselem published a position paper that cited “a wide array of Israeli policies” it said are “advancing and perpetuating the supremacy of one group—Jews—over another—Palestinians” before concluding that “we must look at the full picture and see it for what it is: apartheid.”
While not specifically naming B’Tselem, Education Minister Yoav Galant on Sunday sent a letter to his office’s director and to school district managers nationwide directing them to deny entry to “groups that act in contradiction with the education system’s goals, including calling Israel false, derogatory names, opposing Israel as a Jewish, Zionist, and democratic state, discouraging meaningful service in the Israel Defense Forces, or acting to harm or humiliate IDF soldiers during or after their service.”
On Monday, B’Tselem said Galant’s directive would not stand in the way of its work, and that it had already delivered a virtual lecture on Israeli apartheid to a school in Haifa that day.
“B’Tselem is determined to keep with its mission of documenting reality, analyzing it, and making our findings publicly known to the Israeli public, and worldwide,” the group said in a statement sent to Al Jazeera. The statement continued:
[The] education minister… while ordering schools to ban B’Tselem, claims that he is against ‘lies’ and for a ‘Jewish and democratic’ Israel. But it is Minister Galant who is lying, as Israel cannot be considered a democracy, for it works to advance and perpetuate the supremacy of one group of people, Jews, over another, Palestinians, within a single, bi-national polity. This is Israel’s apartheid regime. No one can censor reality.
The Arab legal rights group Adalah told Al Jazeera Monday that it has appealed to Israel’s attorney general to cancel Galant’s directive, claiming it was issued without the proper authority and that it is an effort to “silence legitimate voices.”
“The Israeli education minister has no legal authority to prevent human rights organizations from meeting with students simply because they have criticized the definition of Israel as a Jewish Zionist state,” Adalah said. “Minister Galant’s order prevents students from receiving an education that exposes them to legitimate, diverse, pluralistic opinions and positions—particularly those from civil society and human rights organizations.”
Prominent international critics have long called Israel’s exclusively Jewish settlements—which, like the occupation, are illegal under international law—its segregated roads, separation wall and other infrastructure, and other policies and actions in both the occupied territories and inside Israel a form of apartheid.
Nobel laureate Desmond Tutu, the South African civil rights leader who helped lead his country’s fight against the apartheid regime imposed by its former white supremacist government, has repeatedly called Israel an “apartheid state” and has voiced strong backing for the nonviolent Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
Another Nobel laureate, former U.S. president Jimmy Carter—who brokered the historic 1978 Camp David peace agreement between Israel and Egypt—in 2006 accused Israel of “worse… apartheid than we witnessed even in South Africa.”
In 2017, a United Nations agency for the first time called Israel an apartheid state when the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia concluded that “Israel has established an apartheid regime that dominates the Palestinian people as a whole.”
That domination applies not only to Palestinians in the occupied territories but also to those living as Israeli citizens who purportedly enjoy the same civil rights as Jews. However, even Israel’s staunchest defender, the United States, has repeatedly accused it of practicing “institutional racism” toward its Arab citizens, who comprise one-fifth of the nation’s population.