Apartheid – In South Africa where it originated, apartheid was a legalized system of physical racial segregation and other forms of discrimination imposed in 1948 by the minority white government against all persons of color. Based on white supremacy, apartheid instituted a system of racial stratification that ranked whites at the top, followed in order by Asians, Coloreds, and Blacks and that provided, or denied, political power and economic and social benefits accordingly. Repeated United Nations resolutions passed over the years until apartheid ended in the early 1990s condemned the systematic racial oppression. Israel has long rejected any linkage of its Zionist system with apartheid because it has always maintained that it is a democracy. Indeed, many of the physical separation laws of South African apartheid, such as pass laws and forced segregation of Blacks in townships, are not applied in Israel, and Palestinian Arab citizens may vote in elections. But, despite its claim to be a democracy, Israel has always openly discriminated against its Arab citizens on the basis that they are not Jewish. More than half the Arab population of Palestine was forcibly expelled when the Israeli state was created in 1948, and Palestinian Arab citizens who have remained in Israel are disadvantaged, by law, in a number of ways. As one prime example, the state officially holds 93 percent of its land in trust for the Jewish people, meaning that only Jews may use this land and no non-Jews may buy or lease it. These discriminatory provisions have been in force since Israel’s beginning, but the passage in 2018 of the “nation state” law formally designating Israel and all territories it occupies as the “national home of the Jewish people,” where “the right to exercise national self-determination…is unique to the Jewish people,” clearly renders Israel an apartheid state.
Zionism – Zionism began in the late 19th century as a secular nationalist movement advocating the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine, the area to which both secular and religious Jews looked as the land of their ethnic, as well as religious, origins. Founded by Austrian journalist Theodore Herzl, Zionism initially grew as a movement to rescue Jews from virulent anti-Semitism in Europe and Russia and to bring prominent Jews together as a political force able to engage with world powers. Zionist strategy was formulated by several international Zionist congresses, and by the end of World War I in 1918, Zionist leaders had gained enough influence to persuade Britain to issue the Balfour Declaration, officially affirming British support for the establishment of a Jewish “national home” in Palestine. Israel’s founding as a Jewish state in 1948 was the culmination of Zionist political efforts, especially coming after the disaster of the Holocaust. Although never stated explicitly until Israel enacted the “nation state” law in 2018, Jewish national exclusivity has always been Zionism’s ultimate goal, and is supported by most world leaders. The Balfour Declaration, for instance—issued at a time when Jews made up only ten percent of Palestine’s population, spoke of establishing a national home for “the Jewish people,” specifically named, but mentioned Palestinian Arabs only as “existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine”—in effect denying an identity to ninety percent of the indigenous population. Zionism has constituted a foundational set of political principles guiding Israel ever since—including most notably through the 1948 ethnic cleansing of over half the Palestinian Arab population—and the continued Zionist effort to reduce the numbers and political power of this indigenous population has proceeded inexorably.