A former South African journalist who covered the apartheid regime has warned that Israel is heading towards a similar system of racial discrimination and oppression.
Benjamin Pogrund wrote an opinion piece for the Guardian in which he said he had long rejected claims that Israel is an apartheid state, but now believes that is where it is heading under the leadership of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Pogrund said he was alarmed by the parallels between Israel in 2023 and South Africa in 1948, when the Afrikaner Nationalist party came to power and implemented apartheid laws that segregated and subjugated the non-white majority.
He said that Israel’s proportional election system, which gives disproportionate power to small rightwing parties, has enabled Netanyahu to form a coalition that threatens to deepen the discrimination against the Arab minority, who make up about 21% of the population.
He also said that Netanyahu’s plan to annex parts of the occupied West Bank, which are home to millions of Palestinians, would create a situation of permanent inequality and injustice.
Pogrund, who was part of the Israeli government delegation to the 2001 world conference against racism in Durban, said he had vigorously refuted the parallels with South Africa at the time, but now admits that he was wrong.
Benjamin Pogrund witnessed the horrors of apartheid in South Africa where he worked as a journalist for 26 years and befriended anti-apartheid leaders such as Nelson Mandela. In 2014, he published a book that challenges the accusations of apartheid in Israel, titled Drawing Fire: Investigating the accusations of apartheid in Israel.
Pogrund’s article comes amid growing criticism of Israeli policies and practices towards Palestinians from human rights organizations and international bodies.
In February 2022, Amnesty International issued a report accusing Israel of imposing a system of oppression and domination against Palestinians across all areas under its control: in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and against Palestinian refugees. The report said that this amounts to apartheid as prohibited in international law.
In April 2021, Human Rights Watch published a similar report, calling on the international community to reevaluate its relations with Israel and impose sanctions until it ends its apartheid practices.
In May 2022, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) expressed its grave concern over Israel’s discriminatory laws and policies that affect Palestinians in Israel and the OPT, and urged Israel to revoke or amend them.
According to international law, apartheid is a crime against humanity that entails systematic and specific intent to impose a racially coded system of domination on a subjugated ethnicity. The term “apartheid” was originally used to refer to a political system in South Africa which explicitly enforced racial segregation, and the domination and oppression of one racial group by another. It has since been adopted by the international community to condemn and criminalize such systems and practices wherever they occur in the world.