Mondoweiss / August 28, 2022
Influential Jewish organizations who denounce as antisemitic the reports accusing Israel of apartheid are a “threat to freedom,” Peter Beinart writes in The New York Times.
It goes without saying that Jewish voices have greater weight on the Israel question in the U.S. discourse, and that Zionist voices even greater weight. Well, on Thursday and Friday this week, two leading Jewish former Zionists granted credibility to the apartheid charges against Israel– in The New York Times and at the UN Security Council — and both statements have gotten wide pickup.
The former Israeli negotiator Daniel Levy gave a speech to the United Nations Security Council urging powerful nations to wake up to the fact that their dream of partition is dead. And “the increasingly weighty body of scholarly, legal and public opinion that has designated Israel to be perpetrating apartheid in the territories under its control” is gaining traction among nations around the world.
And Peter Beinart published an op-ed in The New York Times that all but embraced the apartheid designation by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. The piece was an attack on “influential” Jewish organizations that denounced those reports as supposedly antisemitic, as posing a “threat to freedom”. Beinart said the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League –and Deborah Lipstadt, the antisemitism envoy under Biden — were abandoning a traditional commitment to human rights out of blind support for Israel, and throwing in with Arab dictators to justify Israel’s crimes.
Both statements have had a big impact. “When former Israeli negotiators like Daniel Levy talk publicly about apartheid in Israel, is it not time for Canada which played a leading role internationally against S. African apartheid, to get off the pro-Israeli bench & stand up for human rights in Israel and Palestine?” writes a former Canadian ambassador:
Liberal Zionists are freaked out and pushing for two states. Independent Jewish Voices offers its long list of those making the apartheid accusation. Khaled Elgindy says of Levy’s observation that Israel can never achieve security by dispossessing and oppressing Palestinians — “That something so obvious and sensible needs to be stated so explicitly and repeatedly is both baffling and disturbing.” J Street seems to be ignoring both statements.
Here’s the crucial section of Levy’s “wake-up call” speech. There’s just one state, and it’s apartheid. Israel’s future is at jeopardy. It’s old news, but new news to the Security Council:
We know of certain developments that can at the same time be both politically uncomfortable and politically salient. The increasingly weighty body of scholarly, legal and public opinion that has designated Israel to be perpetrating apartheid in the territories under its control is just such a development.
A designation made by Palestinian scholars and institutes, later examined and endorsed by the Israeli human rights community led by B’Tselem, has now become the legal designation made by Human Rights Watch and this year by Amnesty International. This is what the failure to generate accountability and to achieve two states looks like.
As uncomfortable as it is for some, I urge his chamber not to underestimate the longer-term significance and traction of what is happening. At the Human Rights Council meetings in Geneva this March, states speaking on behalf of the African group, the Arab group and the OIC group, all referenced this apartheid situation.
It will come as little surprise if this echoes and resonates in parts of the world that have experienced apartheid and settler colonialism and have gone through decolonization ….
It must be a wakeup call. 75 years ago, this United Nations offered partition as the political paradigm for the Holy Land. Today that land is de facto united under one dominion. Absent unprecedentedly far-reaching action to make good on partition, your successors in this chamber will come to debate the challenge of achieving equality under a reality of non-partition.
Now here is the beginning of Peter Beinart’s piece in The New York Times on the misuse of the antisemitism charge to defend Israel. Israel is just another “repressive” government seeking to discredit human rights.
Last April, after Human Rights Watch issued a report accusing Israel of “the crimes of apartheid and persecution,” the American Jewish Committee claimed that the report’s arguments “sometimes border on antisemitism.” In January, after Amnesty International issued its own study alleging that Israel practiced apartheid, the Anti-Defamation League predicted that it “likely will lead to intensified antisemitism.” The A.J.C. and A.D.L. also published a statement with four other well-known American Jewish groups that didn’t just accuse the report of being biased and inaccurate, but also claimed that Amnesty’s report “fuels those antisemites around the world who seek to undermine the only Jewish country on Earth.”
Defenders of repressive governments often try to discredit the human rights groups that criticize them
Beinart’s speech is noteworthy for tracing the extent to which Jewish organizations were dedicated to civil rights in the period up to the 1967 war. Since then they have abandoned that commitment– in the era of militant Israel, and as the organized Jewish community has become more conservative.
Here is the incisive section on Jewish organizations acting as a “threat to freedom”.
Now that any challenge to Jewish statehood is met with charges of bigotry against Jews, prominent American Jewish organizations and their allies in the U.S. government have made the fight against antisemitism into a vehicle not for defending human rights but for denying them. Most Palestinians exist as second-class citizens in Israel proper or as stateless noncitizens in the territories Israel occupied in 1967 or live beyond Israel’s borders because they or their descendants were expelled or fled and were not permitted to return. But under the definition of antisemitism promoted by the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee and the State Department, Palestinians become antisemites if they call for replacing a state that favors Jews with one that does not discriminate based on ethnicity or religion.
In a terrible irony, the campaign against “antisemitism,” as waged by influential Jewish groups and the U.S. government, has become a threat to freedom. It is wielded as a weapon against the world’s most respected human rights organizations and a shield for some of the world’s most repressive regimes. We need a different struggle against antisemitism. It should pursue Jewish equality, not Jewish supremacy, and embed the cause of Jewish rights in a movement for the human rights of all. In its effort to defend the indefensible in Israel, the American Jewish establishment has abandoned these principles.
Beinart also discredits Deborah Lipstadt as a stooge for Israel’s normalizing relationships with repressive dictatorships.
In June, Ms. Lipstadt met the Saudi ambassador in Washington and celebrated “our shared objectives of overcoming intolerance and hate.” From there she flew to Saudi Arabia, where she met its minister of Islamic affairs and affirmed, once again, “our shared goals of promoting tolerance and combating hate.” In the United Arab Emirates she sat down with the country’s foreign minister, whom she declared a “sincere partner in our shared goals of” — you guessed it — “promoting tolerance and fighting hate.”
This is nonsense.
The Levy speech is notable for highlighting recent atrocities by Israel, the killings of Palestinian children and the journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, and the fascistic raids on the seven Palestinian human rights organizations on a baseless pretext.
Following the shock expressed by Secretary General Guterres over the number of Palestinian children killed and maimed by Israeli forces last year, we have continued to see the same trend and suffering among the very young in Gaza this month. We have witnessed the killing of those who report on and expose these crimes, Shireen Abu Akleh, being the latest journalist to pay with her life. And now the assault on those who document abuses and defend human rights, as well as community service providers, with Israel’s actions against six prominent Palestinian civil society organizations. Following a terror designation having been made against the six NGOs by the Israeli authorities, a number of countries went on record that compelling evidence had not been forthcoming. Now in the past week, the offices of these organizations have been raided and shuttered and their workers interrogated.
I’m (as usual) hopeful that these two statements are a sign that the U.S. establishment is at last waking up to the death of the two-state solution, and BDS will gain political prestige here.
Or as Donald Johnson commented to me, “Things have changed enough that Israeli crimes cannot be completely suppressed or hysterically denied.”
Philip Weiss is senior editor of Mondoweiss.net and founded the site in 2005-2006