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How Netanyahu Has Made "Apartheid" Label Acceptable Inside Israel

Former Mossad chief Tamir Pardo joins a handful of former military and political leaders who have decided to break the taboo on using this infamous word, as a result of the political radicalization of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s governing coalition.

Photo of clashes near the Israel-Palestine border wall on Sept. 1

Palestinian protesters gather near the border wall during clashes with Israeli troops on the eastern border of the Gaza Strip on Sept. 1

Pierre Haski


It wasn’t long ago that anyone who used the word “apartheid” to describe the situation in the Palestinian territories risked being accused of antisemitism. This week, the former chief of Mossad, the Israeli secret service, used it — joining a short list of state officials who have taken the leap to make the public accusation.

The taboo has gradually eroded in Israel as a result of the excesses of the extreme right, a key part of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's current parliamentary coalition. This is a reflection of the intense political battle unfolding in a polarized Israel. Previously, the situation in the Palestinian territories had been largely absent from the debate. This is no longer the case.

Tamir Pardo, who headed Mossad from 2011 to 2016, described the treatment of Palestinians as comparable to apartheid, the system of institutionalized racism that ruled in South Africa until 1994. “A territory in which two people are governed by two separate judicial systems — that is a state of apartheid,” he said.

Final straw

The final straw was undoubtedly a shocking scene that played out on Israeli television. The country’s Minister of National Security, Itamar Ben Gvir, an extreme-right leader who lives in the Kiryat Arba settlement near Hebron in the Palestinian Territories, told an Arab-Israeli journalist: “I’m sorry, Mohammed — my right, and the rights of my wife and children, to travel in Judea and Samaria [the biblical name for the West Bank] is more important than freedom of movement for the Arabs.”

If we needed a definition for “apartheid,” the minister found it.

Israel is taking the same path as South Africa did 75 years ago.

Benjamin Pogrund, an Israeli who grew up in South African and fought against apartheid in his youth, has written about how his opinion has changed. In 2014, he wrote a book in which he argued the situation couldn’t be described as “apartheid” — but today, he argues that, in the Palestinian Territories, Israel is taking the same path as South Africa did 75 years ago.

Photo of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Washington on March 3, 2023

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

Yin Bogu/Xinhua/ZUMA

Radical agenda

The consequences of this turning point could be significant. International sanctions were used to fight South African apartheid; today, supporters of sanctions against Israel are in the minority, but they could use the fact that the word “apartheid” is now being used within Israel to make themselves heard.

It’s been a very long time since someone of his stature was so direct.

Above all, the breaking of this taboo returns the Palestinian issue to the debate. For a long time, Israeli society has closed its eyes to what is happening in the Palestinian territories – but with the government’s radical agenda, this is no longer possible.

Moreover, another statement by the former Mossad chief caused surprise: his assessment that the Palestinian issue is more urgent for Israel than a nuclear threat from Iran. It’s been a very long time since someone of his stature was so direct – a sign of the extreme rupture set off in just a few months by Netanyahu and the allies he chose for his government.

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Look At This Crap! The "Enshittification" Theory Of Why The Internet Is Broken

The term was coined by journalist Cory Doctorow to explain the fatal drift of major Internet platforms: if they were ever useful and user-friendly, they will inevitably end up being odious.

A photo of hands holding onto a smartphone

A person holding their smartphone

Gilles Lambert/ZUMA
Manuel Ligero


The universe tends toward chaos. Ultimately, everything degenerates. These immutable laws are even more true of the Internet.

In the case of media platforms, everything you once thought was a good service will, sooner or later, disgust you. This trend has been given a name: enshittification. The term was coined by Canadian blogger and journalist Cory Doctorow to explain the inevitable drift of technological giants toward... well.

The explanation is in line with the most basic tenets of Marxism. All digital companies have investors (essentially the bourgeoisie, people who don't perform any work and take the lion's share of the profits), and these investors want to see the percentage of their gains grow year after year. This pushes companies to make decisions that affect the service they provide to their customers. Although they don't do it unwillingly, quite the opposite.

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Annoying customers is just another part of the business plan. Look at Netflix, for example. The streaming giant has long been riddling how to monetize shared Netflix accounts. Option 1: adding a premium option to its regular price. Next, it asked for verification through text messages. After that, it considered raising the total subscription price. It also mulled adding advertising to the mix, and so on. These endless maneuvers irritated its audience, even as the company has been unable to decide which way it wants to go. So, slowly but surely, we see it drifting toward enshittification.

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