Trigger warning: Israel, Palestine, Zionism, imperialism, racism, classism, terrorism, apartheid, South Africa, state violence.
This post is directly and unequivocally critical of the State of Israel. If that is offensive or triggering to you, you may not wish to read further.
This post was also written after a week of training for my summer internship, so may lose coherency at some point toward the end. I'm sorry in advance if this happens.
What do Israeli imperialism, Palestinian liberation, apartheid, and appropriation have in common?
Earlier today, I happened to see an image on Facebook displaying a message about "Israeli apartheid" in the context of discussing Israeli imperialism and Palestinian liberation.
The word "apartheid" refers to a specific state-sponsored, enacted, and enforced social policy of classism, racism, and imperialism in postcolonial South Africa wherein the privilege that white Afrikaners experienced was formally institutionalized and structured at the expense of indigenous Africans of a variety of particular ethnic groups.
The State of Israel has been responsible for many human rights atrocities through its state policies of racism and imperialism that privilege Israeli Jews (and even Israeli Arabs to some extent) at the expense of Palestinian Arabs. Israel's system of checkpoints, arbitrary mass incarceration, and state-sponsored terrorism that govern the lives of those who live in the Occupied Territories, all in the name of security for those whom the state has elected to privilege, are evidence of such interwoven oppressive systems.
Yet this is not a system of apartheid, and the use of this word to describe the brutal realities of Israeli oppression serves only to appropriate the struggle against the white Afrikaner state in South Africa as if it were the same struggle as that of the Palestinians striving for liberation from the Israeli imperialist occupation.
The conventional claims of intersectionality are often oversimplified to state that all struggles against oppression are really the same struggle. This is simply not true. Though a frequent response to accusations of ranking oppressions (otherwise known as oppression Olympics), this statement is equally flawed. While I would be hesitant to claim that the oppression any one group experiences is worse or not as bad as the oppression that any other group experiences, I would not hesitate for a moment to make the factual observation that the oppressions that different marginalized groups face are different. Queer white people do not face the same specific manifestations of oppression as Black straight people. Gay cisgender people do not face the same specific manifestations of oppression as trans* people. Disabled Christians (in a Western context) do not face the same specific manifestations of oppression as Muslim abled people. Jews pretty much everywhere in the world have experienced severe marginalization and oppression, with the exception of within the borders of the contemporary State of Israel.
If we are truly committed to translational social justice and liberation from oppressive systems, then it is imperative for us to be cognizant of the dangers of appropriation in our search for intersectional mutuality. Justice for the poor is deeply intertwined with justice for the disabled, with justice for people of color, with justice for the undocumented, with justice for those who have been queered and classed and gendered and racialized. You cannot fight for disability justice without also understanding that disabled people are disproportionately poor, that disabled people of color and disabled queers are even further subject to discrimination and disparities in healthcare and the criminal injustice system, and so on.
Similarly, I support the cause of Palestinian liberation because imperialism perpetuates oppression and destroys lives as well as the ideals of liberty, equality, and justice that so many supposedly democratic states claim (laughably) to uphold. Yet the use of the word apartheid to describe the present political status of the Palestinian people under Israeli occupation does strike me as potentially quite problematic. Firstly, it is an outright inaccurate statement. Israel is not South Africa. Palestinians are not Black or African South Africans. While the state-controlled systems enforcing racism and classism in contemporary Israel and apartheid-era South Africa undoubtedly operate in frighteningly similar ways, they are simply and factually not the same. Secondly, the use of the word apartheid to describe the Israeli state repression suggests that it is acceptable for anti-oppression and anti-imperialism activism to conflate different oppressions as if they were to same -- in other words, this usage legitimizes appropriation and weakens the impact of otherwise potentially quite powerful and liberating work.
It would be far more accurate and precise (as well as non-appropriative) simply to refer to the current state of affairs as Israeli imperialism, or Israeli occupation of Palestine, or Palestine's occupation.