In the past 18-months, at least 15 political non-governmental organizations (NGOs) involved in anti-Israel advocacy, as well as their UN allies, have issued publications accusing Israel of “apartheid.” This offensive term is used to advance a narrative of unparalleled Israeli immorality, and to promote demonization through BDS and lawfare, including in the International Criminal Court (ICC). As shown below, many of these NGOs are funded by European governments and the EU.
The apartheid smear has a long history. Building on the campaigns led by the Soviet and Arab blocs in the UN (including the 1975 “Zionism is racism” resolution), the NGO Forum at the 2001 UN conference in Durban referred to “Israel’s brand of apartheid and ethnic cleansing methods” to justify “a policy of complete and total isolation of Israel.”
To exploit the apartheid claim, HRW and the other NGOs erase the basic nature of the South African regime, which was characterized by systematic, institutionalized oppression, particularly in the realm of political and civil rights. In contrast, and notwithstanding the ongoing ethno-national conflict, Israel’s non-Jewish population has full rights, thus rendering the analogy moot. No other regime, aside from South Africa, has ever been deemed to meet the international definition of apartheid, not even murderous and oppressive regimes practicing separation based on race, religion, and gender such as Saudi Arabia and China. The abuse of the “apartheid” label in the context of the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a particularly cynical appropriation of the suffering of South Africans under the actual apartheid regime. (For detailed analysis of the apartheid canard, see NGO Apartheid State Campaign: Deliberately Immoral or Intellectually Lazy?)
The current wave coincides with developments at the ICC (most recently, the March 2021 decision to open an investigation against Israel). The NGOs are echoing a 700-page submission in 2017 by four Palestinian NGOs to the ICC Prosecutor, alleging that “Israel persecutes the occupied Palestinian population and subjects them to the crimes of persecution and apartheid” (emphasis added).
The outpouring of reports, webinars, academic articles, and social media posts reflect a concerted and well-financed attack by EU- and European-government-funded NGOs.
Recent Elements in the NGO Apartheid Campaign
- In November 2019, a group of NGOs (including Al-Haq, BADIL, Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR), Al-Mezan, Addameer, and Civic Coalition for Palestinian Rights in Jerusalem) submitted a joint report to UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), alleging that “Israel has created and maintained an apartheid regime over the indigenous Palestinian people.”
- In December 2019, CERD’s “concluding observations” of its review of Israel referenced “practices of racial segregation and apartheid.” The NGOs that submitted the joint report issued a statement “welcom[ing] the adoption…of its Concluding Observations on Israel, which highlight, for the first time, Israeli policies and practices of racial segregation and apartheid over the Palestinian people on both sides of the Green Line.”
- In March 2020, Breaking the Silence alleged, “Israeli officials are now actively promoting an apartheid reality which itself blurs the lines, and our position [of not participating in ‘Israel Apartheid Week’ events on campus] may therefore have to change in the future accordingly.”
- In September 2020, NGOs from the Palestinian Human Rights Organization Council (PHROC) and Palestinian NGO Network (PNGO) called on all Member States of the UN General Assembly to:
- “Launch international investigations into Israel’s apartheid regime over the Palestinian people as a whole, as well as associated State and individual criminal responsibility, including by reconstituting the UN Special Committee against Apartheid and the UN Centre Against Apartheid to end apartheid in the 21st century.
- Ban arms trade and military-security cooperation with Israel.
- Prohibit all trade with illegal Israeli settlements and ensure that companies refrain from and terminate business activities with Israel’s illegal settlement enterprise.”
- In December 2020, BADIL released a working paper “Israel’s Apartheid-Colonial Education: Subjugating Palestinian Minds and Rights.”
- In December 2020, Breaking the Silence and The Israeli Centre for Public Affairs (a new NGO employing former Breaking the Silence staff) published “Highway to Annexation,” repeatedly accusing Israel of constructing an “Apartheid Road.”
- On July 9, 2020, Yesh Din published a legal opinion by Michael Sfard, “The Israeli Occupation of the West Bank and the Crime of Apartheid.”
- On January 12, 2021, B’Tselem launched a high-visibility international campaign, under the headline, “A regime of Jewish supremacy from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea: This is apartheid.” B’Tselem used antisemitic rhetoric that labels Jewish self-determination as inherently racist.
- In November 2020, Yesh Din, Physicians for Human Rights-Israel (PHR-I), and Breaking the Silence publish a joint report titled “A Life Exposed: Military invasions of Palestinian homes in the West Bank,” claiming that “Israel is committing the crime of apartheid in the West Bank.”
- In December 2020, European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) released “The end of Oslo: A new European strategy on Israel-Palestine,” claiming that “Israel has created a situation of egregious human rights violations and institutionalised discrimination that amounts to modern-day apartheid.”
- Also on January 12, UK-based War on Want published an “Israeli apartheid factsheet.”
- In March 2021, B’Tselem and Kerem Navot published “This Is Ours – And This, Too,” funded by the government of Norway and accusing Israel of “appear[ing] more determined than ever to continue upholding and perpetuating an apartheid regime throughout the area under its control.”
- Swedish NGO Diakonia’s IHL Centre in Jerusalem commissioned an “expert opinion” (published March 23, 2021) by a British law professor, on “whether the prohibition of apartheid applies in situations of occupation and how it interacts with the law of occupation.” According to HRW, this was “provided” to them for their own report (see below).
- On April 2, 2021, Al-Haq employee Susan Power published a paper, “The Legal Architecture of Apartheid.”
- On April 20, 2021, NGO activists Noura Erekat and John Reynolds published “We Charge Apartheid? Palestine and the International Criminal Court” in Third World Approaches to International Law Review.
- On April 21, 2021, a coalition of American NGOs (including Adalah Justice Project (AJP), Friends of Sabeel North America (FOSNA), Jewish Voice for Peace Action, and US Campaign for Palestinian Rights) launched “End Medical Apartheid from the US to Palestine: a call to action.”
- On April 27, 2021, Human Rights Watch (HRW) will publish “A Threshold Crossed: Israeli Authorities and the Crimes of Apartheid and Persecution,” a 217-page report.
Funding for NGOs in the Apartheid Campaign
- Al-Haq– Al-Haq’s funders include the European Union, Ireland, Italy, Norway, and Germany.
- BADIL – BADIL’s funders include Sweden, NGO Development Center, and Spain.
- Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) – PCHR’s funders include European Union, Ireland, Switzerland, Norwegian Refugee Council, and the United Nations.
- Al-Mezan – Al-Mezan’s funders include the European Union, Netherlands, Sweden, NGO Development Center, Norwegian Refugee Council, and the United Nations.
- Addameer – Addameer’s funders include Ireland, Switzerland, and Spain.
- Breaking the Silence – Breaking the Silence’s funders include the European Union, Denmark, Switzerland, Spain, NGO Development Center, Broederlijk Delen (Belgium), Trocaire (Ireland), DanChurchAid (Denmark), Misereor (Germany), Medico International (Germany), and the UNDP.
- Yesh Din – Yesh Din’s funders include the European Union, France, Ireland, Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Norwegian Refugee Council, Misereor (Germany), Oxfam Novib (Netherlands), and the United Nations.
- B’Tselem – B’Tselem’s donors include Denmark, European Union, Norway, Switzerland, Spain, NGO Development Center, Bread for the World (Germany), Christian Aid (UK), DanChurchAid (Denmark), Trocaire (Ireland), and the United Nations.
- Physicians for Human Rights – Israel (PHR-I) – PHR-I’s funders include Switzerland, United Kingdom, Diakonia (Sweden), and the United Nations.
- European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) – ECFR’s donors include Denmark, France, Norway, Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Germany, United Kingdom, Open Society Foundation, and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund.
- Kerem Navot – Kerem Navot’s funders include Broederlijk Delen (Belgium), Diakonia (Sweden), Rosa Luxemburg Foundation (Germany), and Medico International (Germany).
- Diakonia – Diakonia’s funders include the European Union, Switzerland, Netherlands, and Sweden.
- War on Want – War on Want’s funders include Open Society Foundation, Christian Aid, and Rosa Luxemburg Foundation (Germany).
- Adalah Justice Project – AJP’s funders include the Tides Center.
- US Campaign for Palestinian Rights – USCPR’s funders include the Rockefeller Brothers Fund.
- Jewish Voice for Peace – JVP’s donors include the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Tides Foundation, Violet Jabara Charitable Trust, and the Firedoll Foundation.