The new Israeli government has moved quickly to implement its agenda to subvert the independence of the Supreme Court, and expand the illegal settlement program in the West Bank. At the same time, it has raised the level of violent attacks against Palestinian civil society in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
The actions of the government have brought massive protest in Israel, and even condemnation from staunch supporters of Israel here in Connecticut and the U.S. But the condemnation has by and large been limited to upset over the threat to Israeli democracy.
This “democracy” is a hard word to swallow for Palestinians whose lives have been shattered by actions that are orders of magnitude worse than the diminution of Supreme Court power. It also has a hollow ring to those of us American Jews who have spoken loud and clear and acted for years in support of elevating the Palestinian voice. That voice is so often called anti-Semitic for simply asking for a life without daily state violence, with dignity, with respect, and yes, with recognition of the effects of forced displacement of millions from their homes and land over many decades.
Most of the protests in Israel have pointedly refused to make the violent occupation and the illegal settlements an issue. It seems that a return to the faux “democracy” that dramatically privileges Jews over all others, by law and by practice, is all that’s necessary.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Courageous young Jewish Israelis have for years, at great personal sacrifice, resisted and worked against the violence of the state. Many have been imprisoned.
Mesarvot (Hebrew for refuse) is a network of Israeli activists that supports conscientious objectors (shministim, Hebrew for 12 graders), in their refusal to become soldiers and take part in the occupation and oppression of the Palestinian people. Breaking the Silence is an organization that gives army veterans a voice to express the inhumane acts that they have witnessed or been forced to commit as part of their service, forcing Israeli society to come to grips with what is being done in its name.
Our elected representatives here in Connecticut and in Washington have said they are “deeply concerned” and “deeply troubled,” but take little action. With no reason to be concerned about withdrawal of American financial and policy support, successive Israeli governments have felt free to act with impunity to destroy Palestinian homes, imprison Palestinian children, uproot and seize Palestinian land, and support settler violence against Palestinian villages. The devastation of Palestinian life goes on, with generations of lives in the balance.
On May 11, 2022. Palestinian American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was shot and killed while covering an Israeli Defense Force raid in Jenin, West Bank. Many independent reports (see this CNN report) implicated the IDF for her murder. The U.S. State Department initially found “no reason to believe that this was intentional but rather the result of tragic circumstances during an IDF-led military operation.”
But six months after her killing, the U.S. yielded to pressure from the highly respected Al-Jazeera journalist’s family and announced that the FBI would undertake its own investigation. In response, Israel’s then defense minister, Benny Gantz, denounced the inquiry as “interference in Israel’s internal affairs”.
American ambassador to Israel Thomas R. Nides recently suggested meekly that Israel “pump the brakes” on its changes to the Supreme Court. The New York Times reports on the response of Amichai Chikli, an Israeli cabinet minister responsible for relations with the Jewish diaspora: “I tell the American ambassador, you pump the brakes, mind your own business.”
America’s business in Israel is support of the Israeli military to the tune of $3.8 billion per year. America’s business in Israel is also tax exempt status for organizations which provide millions of dollars per year in support of settlement expansion in the West Bank.
Yes, it is time for the United States to mind its own business. It is time for consequences to the actions of the state of Israel.
American policy and American acknowledgement of real conditions must change. American financial support for the Israeli military must be terminated. The tax exempt status for settlement support must be revoked. You get what you pay for.
Shelly Altman is Chairperson of Jewish Voice for Peace New Haven.