In 1982, Connecticut was the first state to pass legislation requiring divestiture from South Africa for its practice of apartheid.
In June of 1994, members of the former Connecticut Anti- Apartheid Committee got together in a reunion to celebrate the new presidency of South Africa’s Nelson Mandela. The committee had worked hard in the late 1970s and early 1980s to successfully get the Connecticut legislature to pass anti-apartheid legislation, but in 1981 Gov. William O’Neill vetoed the bill. They redoubled their effort, and a bill was passed and signed by the governor the following year. Connecticut took the lead among states to be on the right side of history.
As I write, Gov. Ned Lamont and UConn interim President Radenka Maric are leading an 11 member delegation to Israel, seeking to strike deals with Israeli businesses to locate in Connecticut. Lamont says “Israel is a perfect fit because they are the leading innovators in life sciences, biotech and the defense industry — all the groups that we’re bringing over.” The delegation organizer and state Economic Development Commissioner David Lehman says “Connecticut and Israel should be joined at the hip.”
The Israeli defense industry referenced by Lamont has for years used Gaza and the West Bank as testing grounds for weapon and surveillance technology. And just in the past few months, the spyware Pegasus from Israeli firm NSO has been blacklisted by the United States.
On February 1, Amnesty International released a report based on four years of field research, concluding that Israel maintains a “system of oppression and domination over Palestinians” which “amounts to apartheid.” Governor Lamont has ignored this report, and in so doing, is casting Connecticut as a perfect fit for encouraging business with the apartheid state. This is a sad day for the state which lead with principle, courage and grit in saying “no” apartheid in South Africa.
The crime against humanity of apartheid under international law is committed when serious human rights violations are perpetrated in the context of an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over another, with the intention to maintain that system. The Amnesty International report documents in great detail the conditions in Israeli apartheid that meet this sobering definition. It makes no attempt to equate the apartheid exercised by Israel to that exercised by South Africa in 1948 – 1994, nor to other cases of apartheid that Amnesty International has documented in other reports.
Some Israeli and American politicians and organizations have been quick to label the Amnesty International report as “false” and “antisemtitic.” Middle East scholar Jennifer Loewenstein reports on the frequent charge of antisemitism against any criticism of Israel, noting “it is easier to shout at, label, condemn, and discredit the bearers of the message than to rebut the facts.”
Israeli journalist Gideon Levy questions the critics who dismiss the report. Levy asks “What, precisely, is incorrect in the apartheid report? Was Israel not founded on an explicit policy of maintaining Jewish demographic hegemony, while reducing the number of Palestinians within its boundaries? Does this policy not exist to this day? Does Israel not maintain a regime of oppression and control of Palestinians in Israel and in the occupied territories for the benefit of Israeli Jews? Do the rules of engagement with Palestinians not reflect a policy of shoot to kill, or at least maim? Are the evictions of Palestinians from their homes and the denial of construction permits not part of Israeli policy? Is Sheikh Jarrah not apartheid? Is the nation-state law not apartheid? And the denial of family reunification? And the unrecognized villages? And the ‘Judaization?’ Is there a single sphere, in Israel or the territories, in which there is true, absolute equality, except in name?”
Lamont, Maric and their delegation are on the wrong side of history. It’s a disservice to the students of UConn to promote work study opportunities in an apartheid state. It’s a stain on Connecticut’s name to seek out this partnership.
Shelly Altman is Chairperson of Jewish Voice for Peace in New Haven.