Fascism grips Israel yet US clings to two-state fantasy

Michael F. Brown

The Electronic Intifada  /  March 17, 2023

Members of the US Congress weighed in recently with letters regarding Israel’s potential changes to its judicial system.

The language was typical.

Representatives Rosa DeLauro, Jan Schakowsky and Jim McGovern led a letter of 8 March signed by more than 90 House Democrats to President Joe Biden. They began with standard pro-Israel rhetoric and a refusal to acknowledge that Israeli and US policy advancing or tolerating settlements has killed the two-state solution, at least where Palestinians get a viable state rather than a rump Bantustan outcome.

“We write as supporters of a strong US-Israel relationship who seek to protect the viability of a negotiated two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

How many similar letters have been written over the last quarter century as a two-state outcome dies and dies again?

They added, “The proposals to grant members of the Knesset [Israel’s parliament] control over judicial appointments, eliminate judicial review of legislation, and permit the legislature to overturn Supreme Court decisions would jeopardize Israeli democracy, which in turn would undermine the very foundation of the US-Israel relationship.”

Unsurprisingly, they continue to accept as fact claims about “Israeli democracy,” even in the face of clear evidence of apartheid documented by numerous human rights organizations. They cling to the two-state fantasy because to do otherwise is to accept the permanence of apartheid or to conclude that the one-state reality requires equal rights for Palestinians.

A second letter, with some overlapping signers, came the next day. Sixteen House members wrote to Israeli President Isaac Herzog, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and “opposition” leader Yair Lapid.

The members noted that “we write to you as Jewish members of the US Congress to express our profound concern about proposed changes to Israel’s governing institutions and legal system that we fear could undermine Israeli democracy and the civil rights and religious freedoms it protects.”

They couldn’t bring themselves to say the word Palestinians a single time.

The best they could do was to say modern democracies provide “protections for those citizens with minority status, whether political, ethnic or religious.”

This, of course, excludes Palestinians living under Israeli military occupation for over 55 years because they’re not citizens. And it fails to specifically name Palestinian citizens of Israel who are subject to dozens of discriminatory laws.

Instead, the letter writers stated, “We are deeply concerned about the impact these changes would have on people and groups not in the majority, including Reform, Conservative, Modern Orthodox and Reconstructionist Jewish populations in Israel.”

There is good reason for such concern. But to exclude specific reference to Palestinians who have been discriminated against and dispossessed for decades is to downplay the group facing the greatest danger.

The 16 signers were led by Congressmen Jerrold Nadler and Brad Schneider. Their wording clearly indicates they are more concerned about the rights of specific Jewish groups and individuals in Israel than the rights of Palestinians.

That progressive Congressman Jamie Raskin joined them in such weak language addressed to Israeli leaders is profoundly disappointing. It’s like writing the leaders of apartheid South Africa and emphasizing concern for a handful of white churches or synagogues whose members may or may not be involved in anti-apartheid activities with a solitary and generalized line mentioning protections in democracies for ethnic minorities – or in this case the Black majority.

There are now thought to be as many Palestinians as Jews – and quite possibly more Palestinians – between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, though as early as 2005 the US State Department inadvertently indicated the Palestinian population was larger. The State Department provided the figures, but failed to connect the dots by doing the math and adding up Palestinians from the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Israel.

Whatever the population figures, such a letter in the 1980s on South Africa would have been an embarrassment in Democratic circles. This letter is business as usual for many Democrats as Palestinians just aren’t a significant consideration despite the views of grassroots Democrats continuing to change in favor of Palestinians.

Meanwhile, Congressmen Josh Gottheimer and Jared Moskowitz, both conservative anti-Palestinian Democrats, took a different approach, arguing in a statement on 8 March that “Congress should not publicly intervene in ongoing negotiations of a key democratic ally.”

Double standards

It has been striking in recent days to see talk of Israeli companies pulling out of Israel, credit-ratings firms Moody’s Investors Service, Fitch Ratings and S&P warning that judicial reform could threaten Israel’s credit rating, and anti-Zionist American Jews urging divestment from Israel Bonds in connection to the organization hosting Israeli finance minister Bezalel Smotrich. The minister is a promoter of ethnic cleansing of Palestinians and a self-described “fascist homophobe” who has previously yelled at Palestinian lawmakers that “you’re here by mistake.”

Smotrich added, “It’s a mistake that [David] Ben-Gurion didn’t finish the job and didn’t throw you out in 1948.”

The Electronic Intifada contacted the office of the New York state comptroller about these discriminatory double standards that appear to allow for funds to be divested over judicial reform, but not to promote equal rights and freedom for Palestinians. Press Secretary Mark Johnson in the office of the comptroller responded, but avoided most substantive questions by trying to redirect inquiries to the governor’s office.

Johnson did eventually note that “as of the fall, our holdings in Development Corp. for Israel Bonds and one public State of Israel Bond were valued at $227.1 million.”

The governor’s office did not respond at all while Johnson in the comptroller’s office specifically declined to comment on whether the state was considering pulling out of Israel Bonds due to Smotrich being a self-described “fascist homophobe” who recently called for the Palestinian village of Huwwara to be “wiped out.”

Johnson also told The Electronic Intifada by email that he was declining to answer whether the comptroller, Tom DiNapoli, had held any discussions this year with Smotrich or met with the finance minister when he was in New York a few days ago.

The governor and comptroller are cowards content to do their bit to undercut equal rights for Palestinians.

They oversee a two-tier investment system that allows for discrimination against advocates for Palestinian rights while looking the other way as protesters correctly raise concerns about judicial reform even as too many of these protesters disregard Palestinian rights and how Israel’s judicial system has long enabled anti-Palestinian discrimination and rights abuses. If that judicial system is changed, it will simply be even worse than was previously the case.

US complicity

US complicity in the Israeli occupation has consequences for both Palestinians and American visitors.

American citizen Cassandra Auren was attacked several days ago in the occupied West Bank by a settler wielding a bat. She was hospitalized with a fractured skull and internal bleeding in her head according to Yuval Abraham from +972 Magazine.

The incident has received scant media attention and the offices of Senator Tammy Baldwin and Congresswoman Gwen Moore of Wisconsin did not respond to emailed questions from The Electronic Intifada. They had both called for an investigation last year into the killing of Wisconsinite Omar Assad.

A State Department spokesperson confirmed to The Electronic Intifada that the victim attacked in Tuba – a village in the Masafer Yatta region of the South Hebron Hills targeted for demolition – is a US citizen. According to this spokesperson, “The Embassy has been in contact with her and is providing all appropriate consular assistance.”

The overall response is better than the dreadful treatment I used to receive when calling the State Department about Americans injured or detained during the second Palestinian intifada. The congressional response and local mainstream media coverage is worse.

The spokesperson asserted that the State Department has “no greater priority than the welfare and safety of US citizens abroad.”

Commenting on Thursday, the spokesperson did not confirm the spelling of Auren’s name or her age, but added that “extremist violence by settlers is unacceptable, and we are deeply disturbed by this reported attack against a US citizen. We urge a full investigation into the incident, and accountability under the law for the perpetrator.”

Israel moves very quickly with deadly force against subjugated Palestinians it suspects of violence, frequently killing bystanders in the process. The apartheid state’s actions are completely different where settler violence is carried out to intimidate and further dispossess Palestinians.

There, prison time is the exception rather than the rule. Deadly violence is certainly not intentionally employed by the Israeli military against settlers. In fact, settlers colonizing the West Bank are often guarded by the Israeli military as they carry out anti-Palestinian violence.

The US may issue statements of concern about settler violence as was done in this case, but the driving US policy – from the president to the US Congress – still very much enables both Israeli settler and Israeli military violence in meting out apartheid practices against Palestinians.

Michael F. Brown is an independent journalist