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Many people who read the front page of Haaretz one day last week while they were having their breakfast, including yours truly, suddenly felt sick to their stomach. In huge, black letters the main front-page headline read: ‘69% of Israelis Support Apartheid.’ The text of the article, which occupied most of the front page and continued in interior pages, described an opinion poll whose results supposedly pointed to that conclusion.

No matter that a few days later, in an article signed by Moshe Arens, a former Likud minister, that conclusion was refuted as constituting a gross misinterpretation of the statistics of the poll. Following that, the paper ran an article signed by Haaretz journalist Gideon Levy, an Israeli journalist who can be said to belong to the extreme left-wing camp, contained an apology for misleading the paper’s readers, as well as a notice in small print on behalf of the newspaper’s editors attempting to set the record straight.

But the damage has been done. Not a few people out there in Israel doubtless rejoiced at that spurious headline, but the obscene use of the word apartheid in the same sentence as the name of Israel causes many others, and I would venture to say most others, to blush in shame and anger.

An editorial policy that permits such a travesty in what purports to be the paper for thinking people is a serious cause for concern. One might think that the tail has started wagging the dog, providing ammunition for those elements in Israel who criticise the paper, regarding it as the mouthpiece of the PLO. One knows what to expect when an article carries the byline ‘Gideon Levy’ (or Amira Hass, for that matter), and need not read the very predictable text. However, it seems to me foolish, to say the least, to let such individuals take over the front page of the paper and blazon their views in thick, black headlines. Not only is it a distortion of the facts, it projects an image of Israel which is deleterious in the extreme. And it’s not as if our detractors need additional ammunition!

And as if proof were needed (which it isn’t), at 9.30 on the morning of 31st October I happened to be in the shopping mall in the suburb of Jerusalem near my home, and in the vicinity of which there are several Arab villages. The sight which met my eyes impelled me to take out my camera and take the two photographs which head this post. At adjacent tables in the upstairs food court two groups of people were sitting side by side, enjoying a morning cup of coffee. At one set of tables was the local pensioners’ club, and next to them was a group of Arab women doing the same. Granted, they weren’t sitting at the same tables, but there was nothing to stop them doing so if they wanted to.

Anyone who claims that apartheid exists in Israel doesn’t know what they’re talking about. Go into any hospital anywhere in Israel and you’ll find Arab and Jewish patients lying side by side, Arab and Jewish doctors working side by side, and Arab and Jewish nurses, both male and female, tending to the patients side by side. At a recent medical procedure I underwent at a clinic in downtown Jerusalem the X-ray technician was a charming and beautiful young Arab woman wearing a headscarf and a white lab coat. Get onto any bus or train in Jerusalem and you’ll find Arabs and Jews standing and sitting next to one another. Stores and eateries all over Jerusalem serve and are served by Arabs as well as Jews.

Israel is a democratic country. Every Arab citizen in Israel has the vote, and can elect their representatives to the Knesset. At present there are ten such representatives there, in accordance with the proportion of Arabs within Israel’s predominantly Jewish population.

So, please, let’s not have any more nonsense about apartheid in Israel.