Responding to False Claims About Israel

One of the growing dangers emerging from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is rampant misinformation on social media, in the news, and on college campuses and many classrooms across the country. This guide clarifies the most common falsehoods about Israel making the rounds today.

Israeli flag

False Claim: “Israel is no Longer a Democracy”

The truth is that Israel is, indeed, still a democracy. The recent Reasonableness Standard Bill that the governing coalition voted into law focuses on the Israeli High Court’s ability to overturn some government decisions. It is one of a package of judicial reforms sought by the current Israeli government, which include the Knesset’s ability to override court decisions, and take a stronger role in the selection of judges to the High Court. While the unilateral way in which the new law was passed was unnecessarily divisive, Israel’s democracy is intact. It continues to be on full display as Israelis fill the streets in protest, and hope remains for forging a broader national consensus on future legislation.

While Israel remains a robust parliamentary democracy with a multi-tiered system of government, including an independent and powerful judiciary, opponents of the proposed judicial reforms fear that the governing coalition’s efforts will erode the power of the High Court, weakening its independence, and undercutting Israel’s standing as a liberal democracy. Adoption of the full slate of judicial reform proposals would significantly limit the court’s power to curb legislative and executive branch overreach.

Proponents of judicial reform argue that the High Court has other tools to check the power of the executive and legislative branches. In addition to the Reasonable Clause, there are an additional six clauses which the High Court can use to overrule Knesset legislation. 

Israel's existing democratic values encompass free and fair elections, the rule of law, protection of human rights, pluralism, tolerance, separation of powers, freedom of the press, civil liberties, citizen participation, accountability, transparency, and equality before the law. These principles are fundamental to Israel's political system and are enshrined in the country’s Declaration of Independence, ensuring the rights and liberties of its citizens and fostering a diverse and engaged society. Read more about what the passage of the Reasonableness Bill means for democracy in Israel here.

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False Claim: “Israel is an Apartheid State”

The truth is that this is one of the most commonly employed malicious lies against Israel, which seeks to cast it as uniquely evil and worthy of being dismantled. 

According to the Cornell Legal Information Institute, “apartheid refers to the implementation and maintenance of a system of legalized racial segregation in which one racial group is deprived of political and civil rights.” 

All citizens of Israel enjoy full civil rights, and the Israeli Knesset (parliament) has included significant representation of elected Arab members. The Arabic language has a special status in Israel and Arab Israelis participate in civic life at all levels, including serving in senior posts in education, healthcare, and law. 

According to agreements signed between the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the mid-1990s, known as the Oslo Accords, Israel maintains overall security control of the West Bank, while administrative control was divided between Israel and the PA. Under the agreements, Palestinian residents of the West Bank and Gaza Strip overseen by the PA are supposed to exercise their democratic rights in Palestinian elections. Regrettably, PA President Mahmoud Abbas has not permitted elections since 2006. (Hamas now controls the Gaza Strip, having ousted the PA in a violent coup in 2007.) 

Some point to separate roads and checkpoints in the West Bank as examples of “apartheid,” but these are security measures that are instituted or removed according to the security situation on the ground and have saved countless Israeli and Palestinian lives. A separation barrier—another frequent target of those claiming “apartheid”—was only erected between Israel and parts of the West Bank in the early 2000s, following Palestinian terrorist attacks during the Second Intifada that killed hundreds of Israelis. The barrier has been essential to curbing these attacks, which plummeted after its construction. 

While criticizing these security measures is fair game, the employment of the term “apartheid” is meant to demonize Israel, avoid a meaningful debate, and cast those who defend Israel as uniquely evil.

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False Claim: “Israel is a Settler Colonial Enterprise”

The truth is that the Jewish people are indigenous to the land of Israel and first achieved self-determination there 3,000 years ago. 

The Romans expelled the majority of Jews in 70 C.E., but the Jewish people have always been present in the land of Israel. A portion of the Jewish population remained in Israel throughout the years, and those who lived in the Diaspora yearned to return to the Jewish homeland and the holy Jewish city of Jerusalem, both of which are mentioned multiple times in daily Jewish prayers. This historical and religious link for Jewish people to the land of Israel is indisputable—even the word “Jew” comes from Judea, the ancient name for Israel. 

As Jews around the world faced increasing persecution at the end of the 19th and early 20th centuries, they began moving to what is now Israel in greater numbers. Since Israel’s establishment shortly after the Holocaust, Jews have moved to Israel from all over the world, seeking a place to call home in which they can live freely and safely as Jews. At the same time, Jewish and Israeli leaders have consistently acknowledged the presence of Palestinian Arabs and have supported efforts to partition the land into Jewish and Arab states, from 1937 to the present day. The best-known attempt to divide the land came in the form of the 1947 UN Partition Plan, which was accepted by the local Jewish population but rejected by their Arab neighbors, who waged war to eliminate the Jewish state. More recently, successive Israeli prime ministers have offered to concede more than 90% of the West Bank and all of Gaza to create a Palestinian state alongside Israel. Palestinian leaders, however, have consistently rejected efforts at bringing about a two-state solution, as they did in 1947, and they continue to do so to this day. 

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“Settler colonialism” refers to an attempt by an imperial power to replace the native population of a land with a new society of settlers. It cannot describe a reality in which a national group, acting on its behalf and not at the behest of an external power, returned to its historic homeland to achieve self-determination while simultaneously supporting the creation of a nation-state for another national group alongside the creation of their own state. 

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False Claim: "Israel is Ethnically Cleansing the Palestinians"

The truth is the definition of ethnic cleansing is the expulsion, imprisonment, or killing of an ethnic minority by a dominant majority in order to achieve ethnic homogeneity. Israel is a vibrant and diverse society, with sizable non-Jewish minority communities that make up nearly a quarter of the country’s total population. 

During Israel’s War of Independence (1948-49), some Palestinians voluntarily left their homes while others were forcibly removed by Jewish forces or at the behest of Arab armies that envisioned quickly defeating and displacing the Jews. While abuses amid the independence struggle have been documented, there was never an Israeli policy or high-level directive to drive out the Palestinian population. Indeed, the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who remained in Israel became citizens of the new state. 

Recently, many point to proposed evictions in East Jerusalem neighborhoods like Sheikh Jarrah as proof that Israel is ethnically cleansing Palestinians. These complex land disputes have worked their way through the Israeli court systems for years, and are not spontaneous government actions. For a brief history on the layered situation in Sheikh Jarrah, read more here. Israel, like all countries, has made its share of mistakes, however, the narrative that Israel is ethnically cleansing the Palestinian population is entirely false. In fact, the Arab populations in both the West Bank and Israel have increased annually since the founding of the state, and are growing at a steady rate of 1% each year. 

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False Claim: "Zionism is Racism"

The truth is that before 1948, Zionism was an aspiration—the national liberation movement of the Jewish people, founded in its modern form by Theodore Herzl in the late 19th century, to re-establish a Jewish nation-state as a solution to the antisemitism Jews faced in Europe. Today, Zionism is a reality; a homeland not only for persecuted European Jews, but for Jews from all over the globe. The vast majority of Jews around the world identify as Zionists, meaning they support the existence of Israel as a Jewish state in the historic Land of Israel. There is nothing inherent to Zionism that contradicts support for Palestinian self-determination; indeed, many individuals who identify as Zionists support Palestinian aspirations to achieve statehood, just as the Jewish people have. 

Opponents of Israel have employed the phrase “Zionism is Racism” to delegitimize the movement for Jewish self-determination and deny the Jewish people a right afforded all peoples under international law. Discrimination against Jews is, by definition, antisemitic. There is nothing wrong with criticizing Israeli government policies, just as one might criticize the policies of any other nation. Rejecting Israel’s right to exist, however, is textbook antisemitism and is regarded as such by the U.S. and other governments—and by 87% of American Jews, according to AJC’s State of Antisemitism in America 2022 report. Read more about this false claim in AJC’s Translate Hate resource.

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False Claim: "Israel is White"

Anti-Israel activists frequently try to frame the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as being a racial conflict, to draw false comparisons to racial inequality in the U.S. In actuality, Israel is home to both Jews and non-Jews, with Arab Israelis making up more than a fifth of the country’s population. While Israel is the Jewish homeland, it is home not only to once-persecuted European Jews, but to Jews from all over the globe, including India, Turkey, and South Africa, and many who fled persecution in the Arab world, including Iran, Ethiopia, and the former Soviet Union, among others. In fact, more than 60 percent of Israel’s Jewish population comes from other Middle Eastern and African countries, with the same origins as Palestinians. Israel is home to close to 160,000 Jews of Ethiopian descent

There is no coherent way to understand the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as one based on race. Instead, it should be viewed as it always has, as a conflict between two national identities—Palestinian nationalism on the one hand, and Jewish nationalism, or Zionism, on the other. Casting Israel as a “white” oppressor distorts the reality of a multicultural country that guarantees civil rights for all its citizens, regardless of background or origin.

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