We’re trying to end American structural racism. Why are we supporting Israeli apartheid?
On April 20, a Minnesota jury convicted former white Minneapolis policeman Derek Chauvin of killing African-American George Floyd. While far from dismantling systemic racism in the U.S., the verdict is a mini milestone for justice and incentive to press on.
Paradoxically, as movement for American racial justice is fortified, the U.S. government continues to support the structural racism of another country, Israel, with billions of our tax dollars, thereby corrupting American values and violating international law.
Recognition of Israel as an apartheid state is growing.
In January, “apartheid awareness” was boosted by Israel’s highly-respected human rights group, B’Tselem, in a damning report, “A regime of Jewish supremacy from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea: This is apartheid.” According to B’Tselem, the total population of 14 million living in this area– half Palestinian, half Jews, are “organized under a single principle: advancing and cementing the supremacy of one group – Jews – over another – Palestinians. . . .”
In fact, Palestinians-Israeli citizens as well as Palestinians in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) are second-class by law because they are not Jews.
Similarly, Israeli journalist Nathan Thrall, in the London Review of Books, concluded “South Africa’s apartheid lasted 46 years. Israel’s is at 72, and counting”; a 2017 UN-commissioned study confirmed Israel as “an apartheid regime that oppresses and dominates the Palestinian people as a whole”. And on April 27, Human Rights Watch concurred in their report: A Threshold Crossed, documenting Israeli discriminatory laws, which allow seizure of Palestinian land and homes or their demolishment, as well as detention of children, among others. Particularly egregious is Israel’s 2018 Nation State Law—its “law of laws”–enshrining Jewish supremacy over Palestinians.
Meanwhile, mindful of the Jim Crow South, recognition of similarities between American and Israeli racism has grown. The Movement for Black Lives has underscored the common racist structures against U.S. blacks and Palestinians, especially the crucial role of police in enforcing segregation, and regulating movement of Blacks and Palestinians in both societies.
Yet, our government—my Congresswoman Jahana Hayes, Sens. Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal– continues the oxymoron that Israel is the “only democracy in the Middle East. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi congratulates Israel “as an anchor of democracy in the seven decades since its founding; and President Biden Trumps on, violating international law by keeping the American embassy in Jerusalem.
Moreover, as violence escalates in East Jerusalem over Palestinian evictions from their homes and resounds across Israeli cities, even progressive members of Congress avoid using words like “apartheid,” or “ethnic cleansing” to describe the situation. Indeed, as one Palestinian-American journalist posited, this hesitancy is “also rooted in the inability of American politics to sincerely acknowledge the white supremacy . . . . it reinforces and protects on American soil.”
Why does this hypocrisy continue to dominate our government? Why do we give apartheid-Israel $3.8 billion annually while 31 million Americans have no health insurance and blacks have been twice as likely to die in this pandemic as whites?
A significant influence is the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). As former U.S. ep. Brian Baird recently noted: annually, the whole Congress can only be expected to show up twice –once for the AIPAC dinner and once for the State of the Union address. AIPAC’s pressure on Congress to endorse Israeli polices ranges from subtle (trips to Israeli cities like Hayes took in August, 2019 funded by the American Israel Education Foundation, an AIPAC affiliate), to endorsing —or withholding– support for candidates of either party.
What can citizens do to dismantle this unholy alliance between the U.S. and Israeli apartheid?
While international civil society is pushing back with anti-apartheid South Africa-like tactics (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS), a recent bill H.R. 2590 by U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum (DFL-Minn.) offers an ethical start. This legislation would prohibit the use of U.S. taxpayer funds in the Occupied Palestinian Territory to violate Palestinian human rights, especially those of hundreds of Palestinian children including children under 12, who are annually interrogated and detained —often in solitary confinement. While endorsed by scores of organizations of all faiths, and 18 co-sponsors, not one member of the Connecticut Congressional delegation has signed on.
Finally, watch the 2021 Academy award-nominated live action short film, The Present, to see how Israeli soldiers cruelly impede Palestinians’ daily movement as Jewish-Israelis pass unhindered. It’s not difficult to imagine Israeli soldiers morphing into American police, arbitrarily stopping/arresting blacks while non-blacks get a pass.
This portrayal of Israeli racism demonstrates that ultimately, structural bigotry is about power and supremacy of one group over another: whites over blacks; Israeli Jews over non-Jews.
Both need to end.
Justine McCabe, PhD, lives in New Milford
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