Tamir Pardo has become the latest former senior Israeli official to claim Israel’s treatment of Palestinians amounts to apartheid, a reference to the system of racial separation in South Africa that ended in 1994.
“There is an apartheid state here,” Pardo said in an interview with the Associated Press news agency, published on Wednesday.
“In a territory where two people are judged under two legal systems, that is an apartheid state,” Pardo stated, joining a small but growing list of retired officials to endorse an idea that remains largely on the fringes of Israeli discourse and international diplomacy but has gained growing acceptance within human rights circles.
Given Pardo’s background, the comments carry special weight in security-obsessed Israel.
Pardo, who served as head of Israel’s spy agency from 2011 to 2016, would not say if he held the same beliefs while heading the Mossad.
The former spy chief added that he believed that the question of the Palestinians is among the country’s most pressing issues – above Iran’s nuclear programme, seen by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as an existential threat.
Pardo said that as Mossad chief, he repeatedly warned Netanyahu that he needed to decide what Israel’s borders were or risk the destruction of a state for the Jews.
“Israel needs to decide what it wants. A country that has no border has no boundaries,” Pardo added.
Responding to Pardo’s comments, Netanyahu’s Likud party said that the ex-Mossad chief “should be ashamed”.
“Instead of defending Israel and the Israeli military, Pardo slanders Israel,” it added.
Pardo has been critical of the Netanyahu government’s attempts to push through a judicial overhaul this year. The government has moved forward with the plans, despite mass protests from the opposition.
Rights groups point to discriminatory policies within Israel and in occupied East Jerusalem, Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip, which has been ruled by the Hamas group since 2007, and its occupation of the West Bank.
Israel exerts overall control of the territory, maintains a two-tier legal system and is building and expanding illegal Jewish settlements.
Last year, rights group Amnesty called for Israel to be held accountable for carrying out “the crime of apartheid against Palestinians”, adding that it was treating them as “an inferior racial group”.
In a damning investigation, the rights group detailed how Israeli authorities enforced a system of oppression and domination against the Palestinians.
“This system is maintained by violations which Amnesty International found to constitute apartheid as a crime against humanity,” the group said in a statement.
Israel rejects any allegation of apartheid and says Palestinian citizens of Israel enjoy equal rights while calling the treatment of Palestinians in the West Bank a necessity for security reasons.
Itamar Ben-Gvir, a far-right minister who lives in an illegal settlement, stated on Israeli television in August that his right to freedom of movement was “more important” than freedom of movement for Palestinians.
In 2017, a United Nations report accused Israel of having established “an apartheid regime that oppresses and dominates the Palestinian people as a whole”.
Last year, South Africa called for Israel to be declared an “apartheid state”.
“As oppressed South Africans, we experienced firsthand the effects of racial inequality, discrimination and denial and we cannot stand by while another generation of Palestinians [is] left behind,” Naledi Pandor, South Africa’s minister of international relations and cooperation, said.