Israel Takes Cue From Apartheid 'Divide-and-Rule' Playbook

Jewish State Seeks To Give Christian Arabs Higher Status

One People: Christian Palestinians protest a portion of the Israeli security wall in the occupied West Bank. A new Israeli law seeks to enhance the status of Christians, with the goal of dividing them from Muslims.
getty images
One People: Christian Palestinians protest a portion of the Israeli security wall in the occupied West Bank. A new Israeli law seeks to enhance the status of Christians, with the goal of dividing them from Muslims.

By Heidi-Jane Esakov

Published March 03, 2014.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Few things get under the skin of supporters of Israel like the use of the term ‘apartheid’ to describe the state or its policies. Less than two weeks ago, a campaign named Rethink2014 was launched by pro-Israel activists to challenge what it calls “the Apartheid smear,” just ahead of the global event known as Israel Apartheid Week that looms in March.

In an especially stunning blow to the campaign, Israel’s Knesset took a page from the apartheid policy playbook by seeking to divide and rule its Arab population — just as South Africa once sought to play off parts of its black majority against one another.

Just last week, the Israeli parliament enacted a law that calls for the expansion of the Advisory Committee for Equal Opportunity in the Employment Commission. It essentially aims to distinguish between Christian and Muslim Arabs, with the goal of giving preference to the former. The law further hopes, according to its sponsor, Yariv Levin of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud-Beteinu Party, to “de-Arabize” Christians.

A law that offers material benefits to one group over another — in this case, Christian over Muslim Arabs — in order to maintain the privilege of the dominant group is precisely the sort of law that served as the cornerstone for apartheid in South Africa. Apartheid was not just about enacting laws to directly maintain white domination and privilege. It was a carefully crafted system of social engineering that attempted to reinforce difference through policies and laws.

The divide-and-rule objective of the new law is underscored by Levin himself.

“[The law will] grant separate representation and separate treatment to the Christian community, which will be distinguished from the Muslim Arabs,” he said, according to Haaretz

“We and the Christians have a lot in common,” he added. “They’re our natural allies, a counterweight to the Muslims who want to destroy the country from within’” He makes no effort to hide his antipathy towards Palestinians or conceal his attempt to place a wedge between Christian and Muslim Palestinians by saying about Christians: “I take pains not to call them Arabs.”

As a South African who grew up under apartheid, I see strong echoes of laws and policies used to implement and sustain apartheid. In a striking parallel, the Coloured Labour Preference Area Policy of 1955 sought to privilege mixed-race so-called “coloured” South Africans over other blacks.

This policy decreed that no “black African” could be employed if a “coloured” applicant for the job was available in certain parts of South Africa. The policy was aimed at extending limited privilege to one discriminated group over another in order to further assert white domination and privilege.

Laws and policies like the Coloured Labour Preference Area were intended to divide South Africans and hinder a collective struggle against apartheid. What is of particular concern is that the ramifications of this sort of policy are still being felt today – 20 years after the official termination of apartheid.

Last year, a case was brought against the Western Cape’s correctional services department for allegedly discriminating against ‘coloured’ South Africans. Some of the protesters outside the courthouse argued that they were not ‘white’ enough under apartheid, and now not ‘black’ enough in a post-apartheid South Africa.

Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, predicts the new pro-Christian law will have little practical impact. But it suggests the lengths many Israelis will go to avoid accepting a Palestinian identity and dealing with the grievances Palestinians — both Christian and Muslim — hold against Israel.

“[it] is a dangerous attempt by the state to distort the Arab identity of Palestinians in Israel,” the group said.

What is of even greater concern is the normalisation of the racist mindset behind the new law. Its passage by a lopsided 31-6 vote suggests that the Israeli government and public sees no moral or sociological problem with embarking on a campaign of social engineering in order to protect Jewish dominance in Israel.

South Africans can attest that such a policy will ultimately fail. And policies once enacted live on long after their demise.

Dismantling legislation does not neatly coincide with the dismantling of the psyche of a nation. We South Africans remain a painfully divided nation. Anyone familiar with the textures of Apartheid can attest that it is nearly impossible to escape the real legacy Apartheid left; the burden of living in a world defined and divided by difference.

Israel should start confronting and healing the wounds of division now — instead of exacerbating them.

Heidi-Jane Esakov is a Cape Town-based graduate student and researcher.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "Dear Diaspora Jews, I’m sorry to break it to you, but you can’t have it both ways. You can’t insist that every Jew is intrinsically part of the Israeli state and that Jews are also intrinsically separate from, and therefore not responsible for, the actions of the Israeli state." Do you agree?
  • Are Michelangelo's paintings anti-Semitic? Meet the Jews of the Sistine Chapel: http://jd.fo/i4UDl
  • What does the Israel-Hamas war look like through Haredi eyes?
  • Was Israel really shocked to find there are networks of tunnels under Gaza?
  • “Going to Berlin, I had a sense of something waiting there for me. I was searching for something and felt I could unlock it by walking the streets where my grandfather walked and where my father grew up.”
  • How can 3 contradictory theories of Yiddish co-exist? Share this with Yiddish lovers!
  • "We must answer truthfully: Has a drop of all this bloodshed really helped bring us to a better place?”
  • "There are two roads. We have repeatedly taken the one more traveled, and that has made all the difference." Dahlia Scheindlin looks at the roots of Israel's conflict with Gaza.
  • Shalom, Cooperstown! Cooperstown Jewish mayor Jeff Katz and Jeff Idelson, director of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, work together to oversee induction weekend.
  • A boost for morale, if not morals.
  • Mixed marriages in Israel are tough in times of peace. So, how do you maintain a family bubble in the midst of war? http://jd.fo/f4VeG
  • Despite the escalating violence in Israel, more and more Jews are leaving their homes in Alaska to make aliyah: http://jd.fo/g4SIa
  • The Workmen's Circle is hosting New York’s first Jewish street fair on Sunday. Bring on the nouveau deli!
  • Novelist Sayed Kashua finds it hard to write about the heartbreak of Gaza from the plush confines of Debra Winger's Manhattan pad. Tough to argue with that, whichever side of the conflict you are on.
  • "I’ve never bought illegal drugs, but I imagine a small-time drug deal to feel a bit like buying hummus underground in Brooklyn."
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.