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Judge Goldstone presides: Apartheid vs. State of Israel

Racked by guilt for having exposed a modicum of the truth regarding Israel’s policies towards the Palestinians, Judge Richard Goldstone does an about-face and becomes a spokesperson for the Israeli right wing. Is Goldstone the new Benny Morris?

By Omar Rahman and Abir Kopty

Protest against the apartheid wall, Bilin, Palestine, 07/11/2008 (photo: Activestills)

Protest against the apartheid wall, Bilin, Palestine, 07/11/2008 (photo: Activestills)

Richard Goldstone could give those guys at AIPAC a run for their money. So misleading was his recent whitewash in the New York Times on the apparent slander “Israeli Apartheid,” that hasbara peddlers everywhere were taking his picture off their dartboards and putting them on their mantles.

It was incredibly telling that the words “settlement” and “settler” did not appear once in the entire article, as if they are not worth mentioning in a discussion of apartheid. On the contrary, settlers are one of the two main protagonists in the story of apartheid in the occupied territories, where they are given privilege over Palestinians in every facet of life—but Goldstone apparently felt they were not worth his attention, or maybe just detrimental to his argument.

Instead Mr. Goldstone thought it best to highlight how equal Palestinian citizens of Israel are with their Israeli compatriots. What he once again failed to mention was the 63-year process of dispossession those Palestinians have endured by the hand of their state, which has stripped them of 90 percent of their land and allocated it for Jewish use only. Nor does he reference the vast disparities in public funding and resources between Israel’s Jewish and Palestinian communities or the discriminatory legislation like the Law of Return, the Population Registry Law, or the myriad land laws that prevent Palestinian leasing and ownership. For Goldstone, it is much more important to let the world know that Palestinians are not prohibited from using the same toilets as Jewish-Israelis.

Neither does Goldstone actually dispute that the instruments of apartheid exist in the occupied territories, but rather, he excuses this because Israel does not really “intend” to enforce racial segregation for the benefit of one people over another. Yet, the mere fact that Israel continues to settle its population in the occupied territories, and has been for 44 years, demonstrates explicit intent. A short visit to the West Bank will reveal the permanent structures on the ground: huge city-settlements, cement barriers, and permanent checkpoint “terminals.”

Jewish settlers have access to separate roads, infrastructure, neighborhoods and services, and enjoy a freedom of movement denied to Palestinians. They are allowed arms and protection from the military. The allocation of fresh-water resources has repeatedly been documented to be excessively disproportionate between Jews and Arabs.  More than anything else, however, it is the separate legal systems for both peoples living on the same piece of land that exemplifies their unequal treatment. Jewish settlers are under the extra-judicial jurisdiction of the State of Israel and its civilian courts, while a Palestinian that may live next door to an Israeli settler is subject to the military court system. Every Palestinian living under the military authority has been subject to hundreds of military orders that arbitrarily govern their lives.

Activists rebuild Palestinian homes demolished by Israel in the village of Shukba (photo: Activestills)

Mr. Goldstone intentionally fails at portraying the big picture

Simply because Israeli apartheid is not a mirror image of its South African counterpart does not preclude it from the term. If we take Goldstone’s advice and look separately at Israel’s treatment of its Palestinian citizens and those it occupies, it is easy to lose sight of what has been happening over the past 63 years. Israel has been operating an apartheid regime by controlling the lives of all Palestinians—albeit in different ways—living on the entirety of the land where it exercises its sovereignty. Although Palestinian governance has changed over the last 20 years with the creation of the relatively autonomous Palestinian Authority, ultimate control has remained with Israel, which it has used to keep power in the hands of its Jewish citizens. As long as there is no permanent agreement, the conflict and solution is an open question and Israel remains responsible for the government it administers and the crime of apartheid.

It is the false notion that Israeli control over the West Bank and Gaza Strip is ‘temporary,’ which Goldstone echoes, that serves the purpose of treating Israel’s regime in the occupied territories as somehow immune to that crime. A perpetually looming peace agreement has been Israel’s best defense against a whole scale reevaluation of the conflict.

Goldstone’s central conclusion is that attempts to place the apartheid mantle on Israel will ‘retard’ rather than forward the peace process. This argument, which has been a common anthem for those intent on keeping the Palestinians shackled to a process that has failed to deliver them their freedom, runs counter to empirical evidence. Only through increased pressure and isolation was apartheid South Africa motivated to relinquish its racist regime. In Israel’s case, dismantling the colonial architecture in the occupied territories will be no small task. It is a naive and imprudent expectation to believe that Israel will come to an agreement absent any real pressure that will force them to reconsider the cost/benefit value of the occupation and the settlement enterprise.

We all remember when George Bush Sr. wielded the money card to Israel over its settlements and how this caused Israel’s prime minister to put a halt on settlement construction. Compare that to President Obama’s sharp words over settlements hedged against an increase in financial and military support, as well as diplomatic cover for Israel at the United Nations. The countless condemnations fell on deaf ears and Israel’s government repudiated its American counterpart numerous times in public, including the announcement of 1,100 settlement units during Vice President Joe Biden’s visit to the country. Even after Israel signed the Oslo Accords it continued to expand settlements and multiply their population in the occupied territories.

The term apartheid being popularly applied to Israel is no accident, or malicious attack as Goldstone insists. The rise in its use has paralleled the loss of faith in the implementation of the two-state solution, which strips the veil and allows all observers of this conflict to look at the situation on the ground and recognize that Israel has been in the process of instituting an apartheid regime for decades.

*Abir Kopty is a blogger, media analyst and consultant. She is a former city council member for Nazareth.

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    1. Richard Witty

      Apartheid-like is descriptive, representative, informative.

      Apartheid serves more as a name-call, and is therefore dismissed.

      Apartheid was a description of a society in which 10% ruled 90%, in which the 90% did not have the right to vote, in which there were none of the minority population in any role of significant responsibility.

      The West Bank relationships do resemble apartheid.

      The progress of negotiations up to Olmert’s administration, lent credibility to the likelihood of a viable two-state approach.

      Even in the river to sea Israstine, the population figures are 50/50 roughly. Its possible that one-person one-vote would yeild distribution of political parties that would emphasize the cosmopolitan over the exclusive Zionist nationalist and the exclusive Palestinian nationalist, and that the cosmopolitan parties would refuse to participate in nationalist coalitions even.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Tal

      Witty is Right about the use of the “A” word as a mean to slander Israel.
      Arabs in Israel do not suffer from “Apartheid” more than Coptic Arabs in Muslim Egypt but no one slanders Egypt as Apartheid.
      Abir herself admits in this article that “The rise in its use has paralleled the loss of faith in the implementation of the two-state solution”.

      All this is not to say that Israel is not guilty of immorally subjecting the Palestinians in the west bank to a humiliating, discriminative occupation regime.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Ben Israel

      Any state that uses “Sharia law as a basis for legislation” is going to discriminate against non-Muslims, for example prohibiting conversion out of Islam . I believe most if not all of the Arab states in the Middle East define their relationship with Islam as such.

      Reply to Comment
    4. @Richard
      Sorry Richard but apartheid also has a definition in international law. Rome Statute: “Inhumane acts … committed in the context of an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime.”
      The Palestinian citizens of Israel are absolutely nothing like the Copts of Egypt. And the quote that you referenced is not an admission that proves your point. It says that as people lose faith in two-states they begin to reevaluate the situation on the ground, which leads them to conclude that there is apartheid.
      The peace process acts as a shield for Israeli apartheid policies by giving the appearance of being ‘temporary.’

      Reply to Comment
    5. zvi

      There are plenty of valid criticisms of Israeli policies, and there is no shortage of legitimate terms to describe these criticisms. In my opinion, using terms from other contexts (and making such analogies) such as “Apartheid”, “Nazi”, “Genocide”, etc. is an invitation to shut down debate, not engage with finding solutions.

      Every conflict has it’s own unique historical context, and the Palestine/Israel conflict is no different. We will need to find solutions which are unique to our particular situation. Of course we can learn from what has happened elsewhere and apply this knowledge to our conflict, but ….

      And in terms of speaking about Apartheid, I am sorry, but I certainly do think that Judge Goldstone certainly speak knowledgeably on this subject. He was one of several liberal judges who issued key rulings that undermined apartheid from within the system. To the best of my knowledge, not too many people outside of South Africa have any idea what went on in that country during the apartheid era.

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    6. RichardNYC

      Or maybe he realized that all of the “international law” rhetoric coming out of the anti-Israel community was 100% cynical, and that he had been used by liars and hypocrites who treated his report like a final judgment, though it wasn’t.

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    7. Mikesailor

      Rather than endorse his own report which was based on fact, Goldstone, since publication, has repeatedly backtracked on his own conclusions. Why? Did the facts change? Were white phosphotus shells not used by the IDF? Were over 400 women and childresn not killed in Cast Lead? Is an apartheid system not being promulgated by Israel in the West Bank? Is settling a civilian population in occupied territory not a violation of the Geneva Conventions? Or is it because Goldstone could not accept being considered an outsider by the ‘tribe’ and rather than face oppobrium by his zionist brethren he now renounces and excuses the indefensible? Isn’t his the face of moral and intellectual cowardice? When you have something personal to lose, isn’t it easier to ‘go with the flow’ rather than stand courageously against the tide and declare the ’emperor has no clothes’? If he would produce facts contradicting his earlier report, then he might have a point. But to merely renounce or reinterpret or redefine the original report is hypocrisy at least and moral cowardice in its most exemplary form.

      Reply to Comment
    8. zvi

      @Mikesailor, perhaps he is speaking out because he is frustrated with his previous report being distorted and completely taken out of context by people like you. And that report had virtually nothing to do with the subject of “Apartheid”.

      Reply to Comment
    9. Mikesailor

      @Zvi, perhaps the problem is redefinition. For example, Netanyahu has now declared that he is accelerating settlement construction in Jerusalem and that Jerusalem is entirely Israeli. Yet, never mind that that the boundaries of Jerusalem have already been redefined by Israel unilaterally (if you don’t believe it, look at a municipal map of Jerusalem in ’67 and the modern Israeli map) and in the same breath declares there are no preconditions to ‘peace negotiations. Or the US considering waterboarding, widely considered torture and accepted as so in the past, now redefined as ‘enhanced interrogation’. Now, Goldstone attempts to redefine ‘apartheid’. Why? Can forty plus years of occupation be really redefined as ‘temporary’? Can clear violations of international law be considered merely aberrant behavior? Interpreting facts is one thing but Goldstone does not seem to be content with accepting his own facts, he ignores that which is inconvenient and substitutes conclusion for facts. Isn’t that intellectual dishonesty at least? Or conscious duplicity? When is apartheid not apartheid? When the actions are performed by Jews rather than white South Africans? Isn’t that the real problem? “Truth” or “truthiness”, that is the question.

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    10. zvi

      @Mikesailor, I trust that Judge Goldstone is more familiar with the legal definition of apartheid and the various subtleties of international law than most people (myself included). Lawyers and judges are like scientists – they are very careful and cautious with their words. And yet most people are quick to make interpretations of their judgments.

      Have you read the Goldstone report? Are you familiar with it’s terms of reference?

      Israelis have their historical narratives, and Palestinians have their narratives. And you know what? They are *both* valid! Perhaps the search for “truth” and “justice” is getting in the way of finding a resolution to this conflict.

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    11. Sinjim

      @Zvi: It’s only Zionists who ever complain about how justice is getting in the way of a resolution. If you want to throw justice out the window, then be prepared for ethnic cleansing becoming a legitimate solution to the conflict.
      Of course, Israel is well-practiced in that regard–just ask the Bedouin today–so I guess no one in Israel needs to prepare for that.
      As for whether Israel is an apartheid state, all I really need to know is that with few exceptions there are separate Jewish and Palestinian towns. When Palestinians try to move to Jewish towns, the state passes laws that allow communities to decide who does and doesn’t get to move there.
      On top of that, the idea that the occupation can be separated from Israel is either naive or dishonest. The occupation regime is as a part of Israel as its parliamentary system. If it practices apartheid anywhere, then it’s an apartheid state.

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    12. zvi

      @sinjim – you tell me, what would be a “just” solution to this conflict?

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    13. sinjim

      @Zvi: Any solution, in which the founding principles and the end result is equality for all before the law and respect for basic civil rights, is a just solution by my standards. And no, lip service alone isn’t satisfactory to fulfill that criterion.

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    14. zvi

      Do you think that a two-state solution is still viable? If so, would Jews be permitted to live in Palestine (as minority Palestinian citizens)?

      If we are only talking about a one-state solution, where/how would right-of-return be applied?

      Reply to Comment
    15. Richard Witty

      Sorry Richard but apartheid also has a definition in international law. Rome Statute: “Inhumane acts … committed in the context of an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime.””

      That description characterizes MANY locales. Syria in the midst of ethnic strife, Lebanon, Iraq, Iran, in which minorities are institutionally subordinated, even places like Finland (that discrimminates against Lapps, or Spain, or Mexico, that each discrimminate against indigenous).

      The definition that you sited is less specific than necessary.

      As I stated, that definition is useful to describe someone as “bad”, a name-call.

      When what is needed is change, not condemnation.

      Would you guarantee (I mean GUARANTEE), that Jews in a single state would not be persecuted, if the population distribution turned out to be 60/40 Palestinian?

      The Jews that are in Israel are ones that chose to not emigrate to cosmopolitan places like the US, England, France (England and France are periodically quite nationalistic, not as cosmopolitan was professed).

      And, the US is periodically quite xenophobic, historically identifying “native” Americans (meaning of British descent) as privileged.

      The denial of self-governance to Palestinians is a grave wrong. The proposal of denial of self-governance to Israeli Jews is also a grave wrong.

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    16. Richard Witty

      I thought your parallel to Benny Morris was important.

      I didn’t like it.

      For me, Benny Morris informed me, informed me of dirty laundry, and of laundry cleaning.

      As Carlo Strenger wrote yesterday in Haaretz, Righteous Victims uniquely informed of the interplay between two true but contradictory narratives/accurate understandings.

      Benny Morris is still informed, and informing Benny Morris. He didn’t buy back all the copies of books that he wrote describing the elements of ethnic cleansing in 1948.

      Its not clear that his conclusions even changed significantly from 1990 to 2011. (He’s said that the second intifada did change his view of the prospect of peace, and the usefulness of dirty laundry truth-telling.)

      Benny Morris was used similarly editorially very selectively for partisan advocacy, and then were bitter that he didn’t “join”.

      And, he similarly resented his name and work being used for advantage rather than for mutual understanding and respect.

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    17. RichardNYC

      Ah, the old BDS two step:
      (1) “Sorry Richard but apartheid also has a definition in international law.”
      (2) “Only through increased pressure and isolation was apartheid South Africa motivated to relinquish its racist system.”
      ———————————————So…its not that you’re willing to defend a direct comparison to SA up front, you’re just going to make it later…and hope nobody notices the contradiction. You’re not doublespeaking correctly! You’re supposed to say “we’re inspired” by the struggle in SA! come on silly! That way its like you’re not ACTUALLY contradicting yourself!
      I like that you’re making the pragmatic argument though, since its easy to explain away. White ppl in SA did not face anything near the security threat that Israeli Jews face from Palestinians/Arabs/Muslims. So, its much more realistic to conclude that no amount of outside pressure is going to force Israelis to just give up the West Bank without solid security guarantees (demilitarizied Palestine etc.) since its a matter of LIFE and DEATH, unlike ending apartheid was for the Afrikaaners. Sure, some of them were scared, but it was no Israeli-Arab conflict. So, really, giving Israel security guarantees is the way to go, if you sincerely just want them out of the West Bank. But that’s not really what you want, is it? 63 years was it? Everyone knows that whatever succeeds Israel would make Jews either dead, or victims of the worse apartheid that’s ever existed. That’s the main reason ppl don’t take this argument seriously-because Palestinians/Arabs make it in BAD FAITH.

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    18. sinjim

      @Zvi: Do I think a two-state solution is viable? Not really, we’re probably past that point. Even if it were, the only type of two-state solution worth supporting is one that follows the principles of equality before the law and respect for civil rights. Since that necessitates banning discrimination based on religion or national origin, of course Jews would be able to live as equal and free citizens in a Palestine.
      As for the right of return in one state, I believe the largest obstacles are ideological not practical, as a Jewish right of return already exists and the state is able to handle it just fine. Obviously, displacing current inhabitants isn’t a just remedy to a long-standing injustice. There are many ways to implement this right equally for Jews and Palestinians. For example, Palestinians and Jews could be allowed to return to their land if that land is currently unoccupied. If it is occupied, they would be given compensation to be able to settle elsewhere in the country if they haven’t already.

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    19. Henry Weinstein

      It doesn’t help to label ‘apartheid’ the Israeli’s policies towards the Palestinians, especially to depict the IOS (Israeli Occupation System) and its business-tycoonist ramifications. For instance, why ‘Apartheid-Israel’ is so eager to build Jewish settlements in Palestinian Territories? How to explain the ultimate apartheid-Israeli goal seems to settle where the Palestinians are?
      It doesn’t help because if ‘Israel=Apartheid’ is an ideological password which means something for his promoters and followers, for the rest of us it’s a well-known red herring which polarizes the discussion on “Israel=Apartheid, yes or no?”, rather on the effects and side-effects of Israel’s policies towards the Palestinians. Zionism, remember?
      So it’s counter-productive, because we debate – have a look on this thread – about a slogan, instead of debating of the IOS (Israeli Occupation System), still in full bloom.
      And by the way, Richard Goldstone wrote something lately on this in The New York Times, and it’s worth to be read.

      Reply to Comment
    20. Richard Witty,
      Yes, I heard Morris say that the suicide bombing war shifted his view. I say “suicide bombing war” even though that is a phrase of the right, for that was what was experienced. And that time, that war, is very often the unspoken text of many comments and responses on this site. We don’t know what to do with what happened. We are afraid it will happen again. Indeed, I think the IDF’s demand of partial legal autonomy is a declaration of “never again.” I can understand that.
      If we do not articulate these fundamental perceptions, on all sides, will we not but continue our comments unto the generations?
      I have no answer. I just state what I think I see.

      Reply to Comment
    21. Shaun

      Let’s look at what we all agree could be Apartheid?
      A country where one racial group is viewed as historically indigenous while the minority whose ancestry goes back over hundreds of years are now regarded as invaders. A country that entrenches laws that “encourage” that government offices stop hiring the minority groups and instead empower the majority… A county where foreign workers and asylum seekers are rounded up and harassed, in some cases even murdered.
      A country that prevents International Human rights activists from visiting and then claims that it was just a technical misunderstanding? A country that Even Bishop Tutu now says is worse than the Old South African Apartheid government…
      Do I need to go on, or is this a real description of Apartheid?
      Oh, BTW all the above is referring to the New South Africa….

      Reply to Comment
    22. Gabriel

      There are really two choices with the term apartheid. Either you can make it specific to the South African experience (as I believe it should be) or, you could, like the writer, make it a broader term. The problem the writer and other proponents of using the term have, is that if you broaden the term enough to include Israel, you will inevitably include dozens of other countries. Is Jordan an apartheid state because it is ruled by a minority group? Is Spain an apartheid state? Is Australia? Best to describe the Israel/Palestine issue on its own merits rather than trying to use some ill-fitting historical short-hand.

      “As for the right of return in one state, I believe the largest obstacles are ideological not practical, as a Jewish right of return already exists and the state is able to handle it just fine.”

      Surely, you jest. The Jewish Right of Return nets Israel about 15 thousand people a year, many of whom leave after a year or two. A Palestinian Right of Return might mean millions of people at once.

      Reply to Comment
    23. hakarahadadit

      “selective immorality” is a better concept than apartheid. if an immoral settler wants to steal palestinian land in migron (one example) should first convince his own “financial backer” (Israel) to give up the entire coastal plain between ashkelon and ashdod, that was never part of Israel or judah kingdoms. Netanyahu (and also a big part of the Israelis) wants everything, that’s one of the main problem.

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    24. Gabriel

      Also, this attacking Goldstone is ridiculous but all too-typical of the language of extremists (“either with us or against us”). He wrote a report, regretted part of it, wanted to clarify other parts, and was disgusted by the way it was used by people who were just interested in vilifying Israel. Same with attacking Benny Morris. Saying Israel is not apartheid is not a message of the far right, it’s a reasonable, measured opinion.

      Reply to Comment
    25. 1. It is fine to have a difference of opinion on the label apartheid. Everyone is entitled to their own, even Goldstone. It was the language and style he used in his article, the complete whitewash of Israeli policies, that got him equated with the Israeli right. It was his flipflop over the past year that raised the question of him being the new Benny Morris.
      2. Dont forget how the Israeli right castigated Goldstone when he called Israeli actions in Cast Lead, war crimes. Or how they rebuked Benny Morris for his early historical work.

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    26. Richard Witty

      The naming is for the purpose of communication, so that change occurs.

      Neither Morris nor Goldstone advocated settlement expsnsion, nor suppression of Palestinian rights in fact.

      Between Morris and the Israeli right, the only similarity is the sense of hopelessness that the Palestinian and solidarity Arab and solidarity left community will accept Israel as Israel.

      The only similarity between Goldstone’s views and the Israeli right is the sympathy for Israel’s continued, permanently continued existence as a state.

      The criticism of Goldstone is that he did not condemn Israel, that he only expressed appreciation for the features that he admires in Israel, and how by his math those features did not add up to apartheid.

      Again, the choice of the word is too often meant as a name-call, a condemnation, not as information.

      I derive two things from his article:

      1. That name-calling is utterly inneffective at succeeding at real social change. Persuasion is needed more.
      2. That Goldstone was personally offended by how his name was used to attack Israel

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    27. RichardNYC

      1) Is it fine to have such a strong opinion, and write about it when you’re supposed to be a journalist?
      2) Don’t forget what lengths the far left went to defend Goldstone’s credibility at the same time. That knife cuts both ways. Its better to rely on substance, even if your facts (“which has stripped them of 90 percent of their land and allocated it for Jewish use only”) are based on axioms like “all public land belongs to Arabs wherever they live.”

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    28. AYLA

      RichardNYC–Boqer Tov: this is a site of opinion editorials. That’s what magazines/blogs are. Many journalists write op eds, many don’t. You’ll find much more strongly stated opinions every day in the Jerusalem Post or Ha’aretz.

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    29. A White South African writes an op-ed about what is and what isn’t apartheid.

      Reply to Comment
    30. RichardNYC

      My point isn’t that its per se unethical for journalists to write editorials, but when their opinions turn into faux legal opinions, or require distortions of fact (speaking generally), there’s a problem.

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    31. AYLA

      RichardNYC–how about you stop speaking generally. (first ‘anti-israel’, now ‘distortion of facts’). how about you speak to what people actually write.

      Reply to Comment
    32. RichardNYC

      +972 is too insecure to let ppl question bloggers’ credibility/honesty. Maybe convince them to change their policy on that and I’ll be more specific.

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    33. AYLA

      RichardNYC–seriously? if 972 were “too insecure to let ppl question bloggers’ credibility/honesty”–I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t be here anymore. If you’re objecting to the ideas, such as the comparison to Apartheid (and I would actually agree that direct comparisons break down; they’re too easy and no situation is identical to another), then okay, plus the writer already conceded this as a perfectly valid disagreement. But this editorial is worthy of print in any major newspaper. And I’m sure that people on the left would find Carolyn Glick a lot more offensive, as people on the right might find Gideon Levy. This editorial is totally kosher, by journalistic standards. I’ve written op eds for major papers, so I know how the fact checking goes, and doesn’t. Where is your expertise coming from?

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    34. BOOZ

      Taken from the Engage Online website (and my thoughts exactly)

      Those seeking to promote the myth of Israeli apartheid often point to clashes between heavily armed Israeli soldiers and stone-throwing Palestinians in the West Bank, or the building of what they call an “apartheid wall” and disparate treatment on West Bank roads. While such images may appear to invite a superficial comparison, it is disingenuous to use them to distort the reality. The security barrier was built to stop unrelenting terrorist attacks; while it has inflicted great hardship in places, the Israeli Supreme Court has ordered the state in many cases to reroute it to minimize unreasonable hardship. Road restrictions get more intrusive after violent attacks and are ameliorated when the threat is reduced.

      Of course, the Palestinian people have national aspirations and human rights that all must respect. But those who conflate the situations in Israel and the West Bank and liken both to the old South Africa do a disservice to all who hope for justice and peace.

      Reply to Comment
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