Open Zion

02.28.13

The False Apartheid Narrative

Apartheid represents a pervasive system of state policies that institutionalize separate and unequal treatment. In March, there will be anti-apartheid activities at many colleges. Most participants judge Israel to be an apartheid society based solely on its actions in the West Bank. However, some like Omar Barghouti and Ben White use the term “apartheid state” to also characterize Israeli policies towards it 1.5 million Arab citizens. In the West Bank, Israel’s differential policies towards the Palestinian and Jewish communities go well beyond security concerns. While I don’t believe these excesses justify characterizing them as apartheid policies, I will focus on claims that Israel within the pre-1967 borders is an apartheid state.

For information on Israel Arabs, critics rely on Palestinian nationalist leaders, like Balad MK Hanin Zuabi, who wrote the foreword to White’s most recent book, and documents, like the 2006 Future Vision statement, written by activists from nationalist organizations. For those like Brent Sasley, who focus on these nationalist leaders and documents, they see a “growing estrangement from the state within the Arab community.” In sharp contrast, there have been remarkable improvements in the economic and educational situation of Israeli Arabs due to government affirmative action policies. These community-based initiatives have convinced many Israeli Arab mayors to work closely with government ministries. Successful collaboration at the local level may explain why in the 2011 IDI survey, the majority of Israeli Arabs are proud to be Israeli citizens.

Successful local collaboration was strengthened by government funding of joint industrial parks that linked neighboring Jewish and Arab communities. This success led to government funding of thirteen industrial parks in Arab communities. Complementing this aid, the government budgeted 21 employment centers and increased the wage subsidy given to firms that employ Arab workers from 25 to 35 percent.  

Government expenditures provided new public transportation in ten Bedouin localities that previously had no public transport and sewage purification plants in three Bedouin towns, linking other localities to plants in neighboring cities. A special allocation provides vocational training and practical engineering studies for Bedouin students that cover tuition fees and living stipends.         

To raise their share of government employment, Arabs must constitute 30 percent of new hires. Since 2003, Arab employment increased by 78 percent so that they comprised 8 percent of government workers in 2011. To reach a goal of 10 percent, the government initiated incentives packages for educational and housing expenses, making it easier for Arabs to relocate to Jerusalem.  

Joint Arab-Jewish policing units now are found in 100 Arab towns compared to only 3 towns a decade earlier, increasing the Arab share of Israeli police from 1.0 to 4.5 percent. Targeted funding has reduced the share of Arab classrooms suffering overcrowding from 35 percent in 2007 to 15 percent in 2011, raising the fifth grade scores on standardized exams by more than 30 percent; and by more than 40 percent for Bedouin Negev students.

To increase Arab men entering the hi-tech sector, targeted policies reduced the Arab student dropout rate at the Technion from 28 percent to 12 percent. These efforts will be strengthened by the Council on Higher Education six-year plan that require all colleges to have: their websites fully available in Arabic, senior administrators dedicated to implementation, and increased numbers of Arab faculty members.          

In the last four years, programs administered by the NGO Tsofen and supported by government funding, more than doubled Arab professional employment in the hi-tech sector. The government also joined forces with Kav Mashve, resulting in the placement of hundreds of Arab professionals. To aid these efforts, the government subsidizes up to 40 percent of the salary of all Arab citizens hired in the hi-tech sector for up to two years.

These successful efforts have had a dramatic effect on many Arab mayors. Today, Nazareth is the center of a hi-tech boom and its Mayor Ramiz Jaraisy—the head of the Council of Arab Mayors—works with government ministries on a wide range of public projects. In Kafr Kassim, Mayor Nader Sarsur worked closely with Israel ministries to successfully improve the town’s transportation infrastructure. In Hura mayor, Mohammed Abnabari, with government support, induced firms to set up Arabic call centers there. Albanari also convinced the government agricultural ministry to fund a joint project with a nearby Jewish kibbutz to produce high value-added agricultural produce.

These collaborative efforts have been strengthened by the roundtable forum initiated by the director-general of the Prime Minister’s office. Together with directors of various ministries, it includes leading Arab mayors, academics and businessmen. Its mandate is to improve the coordination of efforts to implement government initiatives in the Arab sector.  

In East Jerusalem. Mayor Nir Barkat has increased substantially investments in infrastructure, transportation, new schools, and medical facilities where today the health quality indices there are the same as for West Jerusalem. Barkat also solved the problem of ownership rights that has been a barrier to housing renovation and made it easier for residents to be connected to the Israeli water system.   

These efforts have led many East Jerusalem residents to seek Israeli ID cards and students to attend special schools that prepare them to enter Israeli colleges. In a 2012 poll when asked, “In the event of a permanent two-state solution, which state would you prefer to live in?” 35 percent of Arab residents preferred Israel while only 30 percent opted for Palestine.

Significant economic and educational disparities remain and Zionist policies still severely limit Arab political and cultural rights. However, government policies make a sham of any notion that Israel engages in apartheid policies against its Arab residents and those who promote this false narrative should be condemned.