While Israel’s supporters keep claiming that it is a democracy, the reality is that it is an ethno-religious state that privileges the rights of the Jewish community over even its non-Jewish citizens and treats the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories in a manner that can only be described as an apartheid system. Gaza is rightly described as the world’s largest open-air prison. In addition, Israel practices collective punishment, legalized discrimination, forcible ethnic cleansing, and destroys the offices of Palestinian media outlets, all of which automatically disqualifies it from claiming the right to be called a democracy.
For the longest time, the Israel lobby in the US has managed to keep this ugly reality under wraps by lobbing the explosive charge of anti-Semitism at anyone who pointed out the truth. They were aided in this by a political and media establishment that would faithfully parrot the official line that Israel was seeking peace with the Palestinians, that a two-state solution was the way forward, that the US government was a neutral party seeking to broker peace, and that it was only the intransigence of the Palestinians that was holding back a solution, all of which have been manifestly false for a long time.
But times are changing and the protective wall that the Israel lobby built in the US to shield criticisms has been steadily getting chipped away. Archbishop Desmond Tutu in 2002 and former president Jimmy Carter in 2007 described the situation in Israel as apartheid, both attracting a huge amount of criticism. But most significantly, two scholars with solid establishment academic credentials, John Mearsheimer at the University of Chicago and Stephen M. Walt at Harvard University, published a book in 2007 The Israel Lobby and U. S. Foreign Policy (that I discussed in a series of posts) that showed how US foreign policy interests were subverted to serve Israel’s interests. They showed how far from being a neutral broker, the major players in forming US policy towards Israel and Palestine were themselves part of the Israel lobby and would consult closely just with Israel in developing US policy before presenting their ‘peace plans’ to the Palestinians, invariably to the detriment of Palestinian interests. The two were immediately labeled as anti-Semites but they were undeterred and they opened the door to more critical analyses of Israel that are edging closer to reality.
Just recently, on April 27, 2021, even the US-based group Human Rights Watch issued a report said that it was impossible to ignore the fact that Israel was committing the crimes of apartheid and persecution.
About 6.8 million Jewish Israelis and 6.8 million Palestinians live today between the Mediterranean Sea and Jordan River, an area encompassing Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT), the latter made up of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip. Throughout most of this area, Israel is the sole governing power; in the remainder, it exercises primary authority alongside limited Palestinian self-rule. Across these areas and in most aspects of life, Israeli authorities methodically privilege Jewish Israelis and discriminate against Palestinians. Laws, policies, and statements by leading Israeli officials make plain that the objective of maintaining Jewish Israeli control over demographics, political power, and land has long guided government policy. In pursuit of this goal, authorities have dispossessed, confined, forcibly separated, and subjugated Palestinians by virtue of their identity to varying degrees of intensity. In certain areas, as described in this report, these deprivations are so severe that they amount to the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution.
For the past 54 years, Israeli authorities have facilitated the transfer of Jewish Israelis to the OPT and granted them a superior status under the law as compared to Palestinians living in the same territory when it comes to civil rights, access to land, and freedom to move, build, and confer residency rights to close relatives. While Palestinians have a limited degree of self-rule in parts of the OPT, Israel retains primary control over borders, airspace, the movement of people and goods, security, and the registry of the entire population, which in turn dictates such matters as legal status and eligibility to receive identity cards.
A number of Israeli officials have stated clearly their intent to maintain this control in perpetuity and backed it up through their actions, including continued settlement expansion over the course of the decades-long “peace process.” Unilateral annexation of additional parts of the West Bank, which the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to carry out, would formalize the reality of systematic Israeli domination and oppression that has long prevailed without changing the reality that the entire West Bank is occupied territory under the international law of occupation, including East Jerusalem, which Israel unilaterally annexed in 1967.
International criminal law has developed two crimes against humanity for situations of systematic discrimination and repression: apartheid and persecution. Crimes against humanity stand among the most odious crimes in international law.
The Israeli human rights group B’Tselem has also called it apartheid.
Palestinian subjects are denied not only the right to vote but other political rights, such as freedom of speech or association, and are forbidden from criticizing the regime or organizing and working towards social and political change.
This is apartheid
The territory between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea is governed by a single regime that works to maintain Jewish supremacy.
To that end, Israel has divided the area and the Palestinians into several distinct units. In each one, Palestinians are granted a different set of rights, which is never equal to the rights granted to Jews.
This is apartheid
This policy, which denies Palestinians a slew of rights including the right to self-determination, is achieved by engineering space geographically, demographically and politically. This includes: Granting citizenship to any Jew in the world and their relatives, and generally withholding it from Palestinians; seizing land and allocating it to Jews while confining Palestinians in small, crowded enclaves; restricting Palestinian movement; and excluding millions of Palestinians from effective political participation.
A regime that uses laws, practices and organized violence to establish and maintain the supremacy of one group over another is an apartheid regime. This did not emerge overnight but took shape gradually, over time. The accumulation of measures, which receive public and judicial support and are enshrined in both practice and law, points to the conclusion that the bar for defining Israel as an apartheid regime has been met.
The latest assault on Gaza has widened the circle of people willing to tell it like it is.
In the opening segment last Sunday on his show Last Week Tonight, John Oliver delivers an impassioned statement in which he called out Israel for its treatment of Palestinians and labeled it as apartheid and that what it is doing constitutes war crimes. (HBO did not provide the clip on YouTube so I cannot embed it here but you can see it by following the link, though it may be taken down soon.)
“They’ve been living under a suffocating blockade for 14 years, and in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, Palestinians are essentially being governed by a form of apartheid—an assessment echoed by both international and Israeli human rights groups,” said Oliver. “Life in Gaza is hard even when they’re not being bombed, and the U.S. government has implicitly co-signed on the brutally hard line Israel’s been taking.”
More and more members of the US Congress and the media are no longer succumbing to the pressure to not criticize Israel.
When Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez labeled Israel an apartheid country over the weekend, writing, “Apartheid states are not democracies,” she made international headlines. And Missouri Rep. Cori Bush promptly echoed her colleague from New York. Michigan Rep. Rashida Tlaib made the apartheid charge last week.
It’s obvious that the Human Rights Watch report of April 27 accusing Israel of the crime of apartheid has given others permission to open their mouths. AOC defended herself from an onslaught of critics by retweeting HRW‘s statement that it didn’t arrive at the apartheid charge “lightly” and by citing the B’Tselem apartheid finding of January, along with the HRW finding.
This weekend both John Oliver on HBO and Ali Velshi on MSNBC deployed the apartheid charge to explain what viewers are seeing.
Ali Velshi spoke out on May 15, on MSNBC, this clip thanks to CAIR:
Palestinians are at best third-class citizens in the nation of their birth. The idea that it is even remotely controversial to call what Israel has imposed on Palestinians a form of apartheid is laughable. One look at a map of Israel, Gaza and the occupied territories conjures up only one other example, apartheid era South Africa…
It may be worth going deeper than what you may hear in your bubble in understanding the depth to which the Palestinian people are subject to apartheid in their own land, deprived of basic necessities and subject to relentless civil rights violations. This is not a secret. It’s out there to see. You just have to look for it.
Velshi was soon echoed by Joy-Ann Reid:
What @AliVelshi says in this succinct explanation is just facts: painful, well known and documented facts. Israel has a right to exist in peace but so do Palestinians, who currently suffer under what can only be called apartheid. And no one is doing anything about it.
The young Jewish group IfNotNow has made apartheid a regular allegation in their messaging.
To bomb schools today — or any day — goes against everything it means to be Jewish. #JewsAgainstApartheid
This morning David Rothkopf, scribe of the liberal establishment, tweeted: “Israel is an apartheid state. Apartheid states are not democracies.”
It is the US that has taken so long to come to grips with this reality. Much of the rest of the world recognized the extent of Israel’s cruelty a long time ago and demonstrations fo solidarity with the Palestinians have broken out all over the world , as pointed out by Sumaya Awad and Daphna Thier.
Solidarity protests have erupted throughout much of the Middle East, from the Levant to the Gulf to North Africa, signaling the potential for a much broader uprising in the region.
In London, one hundred thousand marched over the weekend. In Paris, protesters rebuffed a government prohibition on Palestine solidarity demonstrations to turn out in the thousands. Carrying homemade signs with the slogans “We Can’t Breathe,” “Save Sheikh Jarrah,” and “Free Gaza,” thousands protested in dozens of cities across the United States last weekend. In Washington, DC, ten thousand people in a sea of Palestinian flags marched to demand an end to US funding for Israel’s war crimes. Twenty thousand marched in downtown Chicago.
Palestinian voices on CNN and the Washington Post and an unprecedented number of statements by celebrities are making it clear the struggle for justice in Palestine is no longer a fringe issue. Mark Ruffalo joined longtime advocate Susan Sarandon in calling for sanctions on Israel. Viola Davis put out an explanation of the ethnic cleansing in Sheikh Jarrah. John Oliver delivered a damning segment on Israel’s war crimes.
Equally significant was the intervention last week by pro-Palestine members of Congress, including members of “the Squad,” who went well beyond hollow statements about the “cycle of violence” and pain felt by “both sides” and spoke out explicitly against the impunity that the US government grants Israel.
Time and again the United States has defended Israel’s war crimes as US-manufactured bombs rain down on Palestinians from US-manufactured warplanes. Just this month, Joe Biden approved a $735 million arms sale to Israel. A movement to put sanctions on Israel could undermine all of that.
The world is finally seeing the truth about Israel, and the tide is turning in our favor. With a push for sanctions in the United States and from movements on the ground in Palestine, Israeli apartheid could finally begin to crumble. And indeed, this is exactly what Palestinians are asking us to do. The strikers called for sanctions on Israel and for a boycott of Israeli products, stating simply, “Don’t support those who occupy.”
This is not to say that US policy will change soon. Speaker Nancy Pelosi and senate majority leader Chuck Schumer, along with pretty much all Republicans, have long been servile to the Israel lobby and have been silent, which can be considered progress of sorts since normally they would have come out with loud statements about ‘Israel’s right to defend itself.’ Joe Biden is absolutely terrible on this issue. In the midst of the carnage, he has pressured Congressman Gregory Meeks, the Democratic chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, to not delay $735 million is munitions sales to Israel.
Biden always been hardline in his anti-Palestinian attitude, telling the extremist right-wing former prime minister of Israel Menachem Begin that he would be more than justified in killing Palestinian women and children in advancing Israeli interests. Begin was no stranger to killing people to advance his political agenda. He had been the leader of the group Irgun that blew up the King David Hotel in 1946 killing 91 and injuring 46. He seemed concerned at Biden saying openly those things that should be left unsaid and tried to distance himself from the remarks.
— Alex Ward (@AlexWardVox) May 18, 2021
That was some years ago but Biden seems to have not budged much in his abject servility to Israel’s interests and the lap dog media laughs at his joking refusal to discuss the current situation, as if it is funny. It is disgusting. It reminded me of George W. Bush asking reporters to watch his golf swing when he was asked about the invasion of Iraq.
"At least 213 people, including 61 children, have been killed in Gaza….More than 1,400 Palestinians have been injured and tens of thousands have been displaced from their homes….12 people, including one child, have been killed in Israel"https://t.co/ec9Mjcy9zs
— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) May 18, 2021
Biden and the Democratic leadership are increasingly out of step with where their party, and indeed the nation and the world, are heading.