Dems Rebut Carter on Israeli 'Apartheid'
by Michael F. Brown
www.thenation.com, November 20,
Neither Democrats nor Republicans are
prepared to say a word in opposition to Israeli Prime Minister
Ehud Olmert's decision to add far-right Knesset member Avigdor
Lieberman and his Yisrael Beiteinu party to Israel's governing
Instead, Democrats are shoring up their
pro-Israel bona fides. They are strikingly anxious because of
a courageous new book by President Jimmy Carter that hit American
bookstores in mid-November, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid. It
is an extraordinarily bold--and apt--title.
Incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, among
others, forcefully criticized the book. "It is wrong,"
she declared, "to suggest that the Jewish people would support
a government in Israel or anywhere else that institutionalizes
ethnically based oppression, and Democrats reject that allegation
Lieberman, however, embodies the pursuit
of "ethnically based oppression." He has called for
the execution of Arab Knesset members for meeting with Hamas leaders,
and he regularly talks of removing from Israel many Arab Israelis
in what can euphemistically be termed a land swap or "transfer,"
but in more plain-spoken English is a form of ethnic cleansing.
There is a dual system of law at work
in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem--one for Jews and
one for Palestinians. Additionally, Palestinians are confined
to South Africa-like bantustans, while Palestinian refugees are
refused permission to return to homes and land from which they
were expelled by Israel. Meanwhile, Jews from around the world
are welcomed under Israel's Law of Return.
Some members of the American Jewish community
have tried to make the case for ending Israeli domination of the
Palestinians, but most members of Congress still prefer to listen
to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and the
Anti-Defamation League (ADL).
The ADL criticized Lieberman in May, but
National Director Abraham Foxman now says, "He has served
Israel well in the past, and I have no doubt he will do so again."
This abdication of moral authority is from the head of an organization
that claims to provide "programs and services that counteract
hatred, prejudice and bigotry."
Pelosi is very close to AIPAC, and when
it comes to Israeli discrimination against Palestinians she appears
to have a willed ignorance. It's as if she looked at the Jim Crow
South and failed to recognize the discriminatory treatment meted
out to African-Americans. How would Americans react had Pelosi
claimed that there was no racism at work in the Jim Crow South
or in apartheid South Africa?
The same claim of hers regarding the occupied
territories is deeply troubling. Yet here we are in the twenty-first
century with a generally well-informed leader saying there is
no ethnic oppression by Israel at the very moment that a notorious
racist is joining the government coalition. On that she is silent.
Indeed, it is hard to see how any serious
American politician can fail to see the racism that courses through
the thirty-nine-year Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories.
A partial explanation can be found in Pelosi's willed ignorance--a
disbelief or bewilderment that Israel's military and political
leadership could be capable of such systematic human rights violations--but
some of the cause must also be attributed to lobbying efforts
and the fear held by many Americans of being unfairly labeled
as unfriendly to Israel or, worse, as anti-Semitic. Verbal intimidation
has worked on far too many, politicians and activists alike.
Then, too, there is the peculiar belief
that Palestinians were largely freed with the entry of the Palestinian
Authority in 1994 and that certainly Gazans were with the unilateral
Israeli withdrawal in September 2005 from the coastal strip. This
ignores the fact that Palestinians do not fully control their
borders, are confronted with myriad checkpoints, are still losing
land to expanding settlements, do not control imports and exports,
and do not even have a functioning airport or seaport in Gaza.
Palestinians are cast as terrorists, while in Washington even
the politicians who should know better give Israel a free ride,
and billions in foreign aid, despite oppressive policies that
in other locales would have American politicians incensed.
Carter's use of the term "apartheid"
has even received flak from Congressman John Conyers, the next
Democratic chair of the House Judiciary Committee. Conyers stated
recently that the use of the term "apartheid" in the
book's title "does not serve the cause of peace, and the
use of it against the Jewish people in particular, who have been
victims of the worst kind of discrimination, discrimination resulting
in death, is offensive and wrong."
Conyers is absolutely right about the
horrific treatment dealt Jews over the years. He would be entirely
right to criticize Carter if he had compared Israel's actions
to those of the Nazis. But Carter simply made the case that Israel
is capable of discriminating against and subjugating another people.
Nobel Peace Prize recipient Bishop Desmond
Tutu has made the same connection as Carter. "I've been very
deeply distressed in my visit to the Holy Land; it reminded me
so much of what happened to us black people in South Africa."
In my own experience, I was deeply struck
several years ago, during intermittent stays with the Christian
Peacemaker Team in Hebron, by the need to save dishwater in order
to "flush" the toilet. In contrast, nearby Israeli settlers
enjoyed swimming pools and watered their lawns in the heat of
The unfair distribution of water resources
between Palestinians and Israeli settlers--as well as the previously
noted relegation of Palestinians to what are essentially bantustans--made
it clear that Israel is capable of discriminating on a par with
apartheid South Africa. Obviously it's not precisely the same,
but many aspects are strikingly similar.
Late last month I called a number of offices
on Capitol Hill (Biden, McCain, Obama and Pelosi) for comment
on the fact that Lieberman was then poised to be named Minister
of Strategic Threats (principally giving him responsibility for
the Iran portfolio) and for a response regarding his hateful statements
on Palestinians--both in Israel and the Palestinian territories.
They either had no relevant comment or did not respond to messages.
It is clear that a prominent racist employing
violent rhetoric who is part of the Israeli governing coalition
is simply not on Washington's radar screen. In an alert capital,
Lieberman's entry into the explosive Iranian situation would have
the full attention of American leaders. This is no time for provocateurs,
and Olmert should be told as much.
American leaders and journalists had this
opportunity November 13, when Olmert visited Washington. Congressional
leaders, the President and journalists missed a real opening to
press Olmert vigorously to eject the demagogic Lieberman from
his coalition and to comply with international law by ending Israel's
occupation of the Palestinian territories.
This would be in the American national
interest--and certainly in Israel's national interest, though
its leaders may not see the advantages of a just two-state solution
until the day Palestinians in the territories begin calling not
for national rights but for civil rights in a single, unified
state. This is a future possibility, as there already are more
Palestinians than Jews between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean
Sea. At the most basic level, however, rejecting Lieberman's racism
and attaining Palestinian freedom are simply the right things
Perhaps President Carter should send copies
of his book to members of Congress who do not grasp the injustice
of Israel's long-running oppression of the Palestinians. They
might learn a thing or two about the long-festering conflict at
the heart of so many of our current troubles in the region.