Israeli Officials Fear UN Will Adopt 'Apartheid' Narrative This Year

Officials fear that the term 'apartheid' will become prevalent enough to become accepted by several UN investigative bodies, and could lead to Israel's exclusion from international events

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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Copies of the Amnesty International report on Israeli apartheid.
Copies of the Amnesty International report on Israeli apartheid.Credit: Maya Alleruzzo/AP
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

Senior Israeli officials have expressed concern in recent weeks that the United Nations may soon accept the narrative that Israel is an “apartheid state,” issuing a serious blow to Israel’s status on the international stage.

The officials fear that the term will leak into reports filed by independent organizations that will eventually be accepted by several UN investigative bodies. The officials say that such a declaration could lead to Israel’s exclusion from various international events, including sports competitions or cultural events.

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“The coming year will be critical for those of us who are working against Israel’s delegitimization,” one official said. One of the central bodies that is likely to adopt this narrative is the permanent Commission of Inquiry on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (COI) of the UN Human Rights Council. The committee is expected to publish a significant report in June.

The efforts to define Israel as an apartheid state are relatively new on the international stage. The Israeli political leadership has described such attempts as an “evolutionary development” of the pro-Palestinian cause in recent years: What began with diplomatic efforts by the Palestinian Authority vis-a-vis UN institutions to condemn Israel and to impose boycotts on the settlements, later developed into the use of legal channels and filing petitions against Israel to the International Criminal Court. Now, Israeli officials claim, Palestinian leaders are making use of the “apartheid version” as a new and effective tool in the struggle.

The Commission of Inquiry on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, for example, was established after Operation Guardian of the Walls in May 2021 by the UN Human Rights Council. It has an exceptional status: As opposed to previous COIs, the commission is open-ended and enjoys a mandate of unusual scope. Israel believes that its members hold preexisting biases.

An international effort in which the United States and Israel were partners led to a reduction of $1.2 million in the commission’s budget, and its manpower was reduced accordingly from 24 to 18 people.

Last week, 42 members of Congress approached U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and called on him to take steps to halt the committee’s activities. In the request sent to Blinken by the lawmakers – both Democrats and Republicans – they urged him to “lead an effort to end the outrageous and unjust permanent Commission of Inquiry (COI) on the Israeli- Palestinian conflict.”

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