‘THERE is an apartheid state here [in Israel and the Occupied Territories]. In a territory where two people are judged under two legal systems, that is an apartheid state.”

These are the words, not of one of the Palestinian factions, but of Tamir Pardo, a former head of the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad.

The former spy chief’s comments were no doubt prompted by the actions of the far-right coalition government of Benjamin Netanyahu, which is enabling right-wing extremist Israeli settlers to seize increasingly large swathes of Palestinian land in the illegally occupied West Bank.

Israel’s apartheid system lies in the very origins of the state, which was founded on the violent ethnic cleansing of 700,000 Palestinian Arabs by Zionist militias, such as the Haganah and the Irgun, during the Nakba (the “Catastrophe”) of 1947-8. Subsequent to that came the illegal expansion of Israel into the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem during the Six-Day War of 1967.

READ MORE: Israel’s far-right is on the edge of undoing the country

Under the separate legal system to which Pardo refers, Israel subjects Palestinians to military law, while Israelis, including settlers, are judged under the civil code.

For example, Israel is the only nation-state in the world to prosecute children in military courts (a fate that befalls between 500 and 700 Palestinian children each year).

It’s little wonder that two of the great statesmen of the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa – namely, Nelson Mandela and Bishop Desmond Tutu – attested to the fact that the conditions of occupation, dispossession and oppression under which Israel holds the Palestinians constitute a system of apartheid. Both men would have been horrified had they lived to see the current Israeli government.

The administration is an appalling coalition that includes the hardline racists of Netanyahu’s Likud party and the far-right theocrats of the Religious Zionist Party.

The National: Palestine "Question Time"

It also includes, in the post of National Security Minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, a disciple of the late Israeli fascist leader Meir Kahane.

Ben-Gvir infamously idolises the fascist mass murderer Baruch Goldstein (a member of Kahane’s Kach party), who carried out the horrendous 1994 Hebron Massacre of Palestinian Muslims at prayer. As Israeli dissident theatre-maker, and former conscript in the Israeli army, Itai Erdal told me recently: “They wouldn’t let Ben-Gvir be a soldier because he was too much of an extremist. Now he is the Minister of National Security in charge of the police.”

With such people in government, it should come as no surprise that armed, far-right Israeli settlers feel emboldened to carry out murderous attacks on Palestinian villages and towns. These attacks are so horrifying that journalists on the liberal Israeli newspaper Haaretz compare them to the pogroms (hideous, antisemitic assaults on Jewish shtetls) in the days of the Czarist Russian Empire.

Writing on July 3, Haaretz columnist Yair Assulin blamed the attacks on the entire Israeli body politic. “[W]e [Israelis] are all a party to the pogroms …”, he wrote. “It’s not just the ‘hilltop youth’, it’s not just the settlers, it’s not just religious people, it’s not just the [political] right …”

It is against this backdrop that we need to understand Pardo’s comments. As a former head of Mossad, Pardo has operated at the very highest level of the Israeli state.

For him to conclude publicly that Israel is operating a system of apartheid against the Palestinians is a massive step for him to take.

READ MORE: David Pratt: Emmanuel Macron now faces a pivotal moment amid unrest

It speaks volumes about the sheer extent of the current assaults by both the Israeli state and settlers (who have received a nod and a wink from the Netanyahu administration that they can act with impunity) that such a prominent member of the Israeli establishment can no longer contain his outrage.

Netanyahu – who is currently engaged in a massive assault on the Israeli judicial system in a desperate effort to ensure that he does not end up in prison on corruption charges – has been predictably brazen in his response to Pardo’s comments. The former Mossad boss is, Netanyahu says, “slandering Israel”.

As with almost everything that comes out of the mouth of Israel’s right-wing prime minister, this statement is a reversal of the truth. There is a slander, employed often and widely, when it comes to debate over Israeli apartheid, and it is levelled, not against the State of Israel, but its critics.

Here in the nations of the UK, the slander that those who criticise Israel and describe it as an apartheid state are “antisemites” has been used as a weapon against the pro-Palestine left, not only by the Tories, but also by the right-wing of the Labour Party.

Indeed, it was the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader that led to the massive increase in accusations of antisemitism against pro-Palestine activists both inside and outside of the Labour Party.

The right’s argument has rested to a considerable extent on the increasingly discredited IHRA (International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance) “non-legally binding working definition of antisemitism.” The most famous of the IHRA’s examples of what it says could constitute antisemitism is: “Claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour.”

READ MORE: US goes for damage control in wake of Pentagon documents leak

In describing Israel as operating a system of apartheid, Pardo would seem to be guilty of antisemitism under the IHRA definition. That would be a ludicrous conclusion to reach, of course.

The IHRA definition is fatally flawed, as reflected in a new report by the European Legal Support Centre (ELSC) and the British Society for Middle Eastern Studies (Brismes).

The researchers found that of 40 cases brought against students, academics, unions and societies in UK universities under the IHRA definition, 38 investigations led to the accused being cleared of antisemitism.

The other two cases have not yet concluded. This means that the number of individuals or bodies found guilty of Judeophobic racism in UK universities under the IHRA definition is currently zero.

If Pardo’s comments prove anything, it is that the relentless attacks on Israel’s critics as “antisemites” have to stop. Unless, of course, Israel’s supporters expect us to believe that a former chief of Israel’s intelligence agency is now himself a “self-hating Jew”.