Former Head of AJC Says Israel Is Already an Apartheid State

Yesterday Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said that "as long as in this territory west of the Jordan river there is only one political entity, called Israel, it is going to be either non-Jewish, or non-democratic. If this bloc of millions of Palestinians cannot vote, that will be an apartheid state."

Former Prime Minister Olmert has repeatedly said the same thing.

But Henry Siegman, the former head of the American Jewish Congress, an Orthodox rabbi, a former fellow at the Council of Foreign Relations and a major figure in Jewish life for decades, says that Olmert and Barak's prediction has already taken effect.

After all, Israel has held on to the occupied territories for 43 years -- while denying any rights to the millions of Palestinians who live there. At one point does this situation become apartheid? 44 years? 50?

Why is it not apartheid now? Siegman says it is.

Siegman believes that the "relative size of the populations is not the decisive factor in such a transition (to apartheid). Rather, the turning point comes when a state denies national self-determination to a part of its population -- even one that is in the minority -- to which it has also denied the rights of citizenship.

"When a state's denial of the individual and national rights of a large part of its population becomes permanent, it ceases to be a democracy. When the reason for that double disenfranchisement is that population's ethnic and religious identity, the state is practicing a form of apartheid, or racism, not much different from the one that characterized South Africa from 1948 to 1994. The democratic dispensation that Israel provides for its mostly Jewish citizens cannot hide its changed character. By definition, democracy reserved for privileged citizens--while all others are kept behind checkpoints, barbed-wire fences and separation walls commanded by the Israeli army--is not democracy but its opposite."

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