American Jews who bought ‘Jewish democracy’ label for apartheid need to wake up

Robert Herbst

Mondoweiss  /  March 1, 2023

We are all trying to wrap our heads around the political events happening in Israel now, and the speed with which they are happening.  The latest is the transfer of governing authority over the West Bank from the Israeli military to Israeli civilian authorities, most notably headed by Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, the right-winger who runs the office governing settlement activity newly-installed in the Israeli Ministry of Defense. Cutting the Israeli Supreme Court down to size may change the so-called “democratic” character of the Jewish State, but asserting civilian governmental authority over the West Bank is no less than a breathtaking act of de jure, or legal, annexation (as human rights attorney Michael Sfard explains).

Let’s try and make sense of these developments.

In the last two years, the death of the two state solution has become more widely recognized, as Israeli, Palestinian, American and international human rights organizations have published at least six detailed analytical reports making clear that Israeli Jews are perpetrating the international crime against humanity of apartheid, not just in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, but also in a one-state reality between the River and the Sea.

The Israelis realize that they have no real defense against this apartheid framing, and that therefore the jig is up.  They know that few are still going to believe that Israel has any interest in a real two-state solution, and that most everyone either understands or will soon understand that annexation and a “Jewish democratic state” that extends Jewish supremacy and its subjugation over the Palestinians are the goals, have always been the goals, and will always be the goals of the Israeli government and the increasingly right-wing Jewish populace that supports it.

So there is no reason to wait, no reason to prevaricate any longer. They need to get it done, to “just do it.” 

And so they are doing it, no matter what anyone says or thinks about it – the hundred thousand remnant of the old, largely Ashkenazi Jewish left marching in the streets, the liberal Zionists in the Diaspora who finally see that Israeli “democracy” is starting to look like a bit problematic and “foreign,” like democracy in Hungary, just to take one example; or anyone else inside or outside Israel who may be starting to have doubts, or second thoughts. 

To those Israeli Jews now running the show, this is their time. You can almost hear the refrain, sung thru their actions: “Our time is now.”

Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken have known it for a long time, and while they also may not like it, they are not disposed to do anything about it.  There is Ukraine, Russia and China to think about.  There is the Jewish pro-Israel political money and power to think about as the 2024 race shapes up.  There are the 50 million Christian Zionists to think about.

And when you think about all that, who in their right (political) mind is going to make a “tzimmes” about it?  (For those who did not grow up in households where Yiddish was spoken, tzimmes means “a big fuss.”).

So they are going to play along and hope that it doesn’t explode loudly and awfully and awkwardly into a 3d Intifada.  If it does, the Biden administration will click their tongues in regret at the Palestinian “terrorism” and shed crocodile tears for the loss of life that will result– overwhelmingly Palestinian, of course.

In the Hitchcock film “North By Northwest”, there is a memorable scene in which the head of the US intelligence agency mourns the fact that an advertising executive played by Cary Grant has become a dead man (they all think), through no fault of his own, having been mistaken for the phantom “agent” the agency has created to protect their real agent, Eva Marie Saint.  They realize the injustice of consigning him to his death without doing anything to rescue him, but they are constrained by other, more important, realities. 

That’s what is going on.  Israel has become too important to the West’s geopolitical battles, and to the maintenance of security and hegemony in the Middle East and beyond.

So sorry, Palestinians, it is too bad we can’t help, we wish we could, but we have to let you and your individual and national aspirations for freedom, equality, and dignity die in the service of other, more important, interests.

That is where we are.  And Israeli Jews have the Palestinians so locked up, so beaten down — and the Palestinian Authority so bought and paid for — that there is a good chance that those whose time is now are going to be able to accomplish their aims and run an apartheid one-state reality for decades more.

I hope I’m wrong. Here is what I don’t understand about American Jews who still support a “Jewish and democratic state” – you know, the Zionist idyll where Jews can live authentically Jewish lives, largely among themselves, tout their democratic values, primarily for themselves, and pass laws and regulations assuring that “self-determination” is accorded only to Jews:

For my entire 75 years, we have lived in a secular state populated by lots of religious people, but with constitutional protections against the establishment of a state religion.  During that time, Jews have triumphed over the antisemitic prejudice which kept us out of the professions and the executive suites to the point where we have achieved prominence, wealth and power clearly disproportionate to our numbers. 

There is now a movement by Christian right-wing fundamentalists to make the United States a “Christian and democratic” state.  You can see it when some politicians invoke Jesus and proclaim their faith and even seek to pray at public events.

There is not one American Jew who would want to live in an America in which sovereignty was limited to Christians, in which self-determination was limited to Christians, in which state resources were reserved disproportionately to Christians, in which non-Christians were dispossessed of rights, lands, homes, and exiled for crimes, while Christians reigned with impunity and force of arms to fight Jewish “terrorism” — in short, a Christian and democratic state, a Christian apartheid state.

So why are there still American Jews who think Palestinians should tolerate a Jewish and democratic state?

I’m not sure why this argument is not more often put more directly to American Jews.  It should be. 

Robert Herbst is a civil rights lawyer. He is co-chair of the board of ICAHD-USA and was chapter coordinator for Westchester Jewish Voice for Peace from 2014-2017