Middle East Monitor / July 20, 2023
The two major political parties in the US have waded into the debate about whether or not Israel is a racist state by passing a non-binding resolution pledging loyalty and support to it. Democrats and Republicans employed the symbolic power of Congress in a move intended to counter the near unanimous consensus among major human rights groups about Israel’s practice of apartheid. The US, said one critic, is behaving like “thought police” on the issue.
Tuesday’s vote in Congress comes as an international debate over how to define the situation in the territories from the west of River Jordan to the Mediterranean Sea heats up. For many millennia, the territory was part of historic Palestine. Human rights groups, including Israel’s B’Tselem, have concluded that the most accurate description, given Israel’s total control and domination of every inch of the territory, is apartheid.
US lawmakers, though, passed a resolution overwhelmingly proclaiming that Israel is “not a racist or apartheid state.” The message appears to be directed not only at progressive critics in Washington, but also to shield Israel from criticism and hand supporters of the occupation state ammunition with which to push back against growing support for the Palestinian cause in America and elsewhere.
The resolution was rushed through to coincide with the visit of Isaac Herzog. The Israeli president was in Washington to address Congress. His visit, however did not pass without controversy. Members of the progressive camp of lawmakers slammed the decision to honour Herzog in such a manner, given that he is effectively the head of a state which has very clearly passed the threshold of apartheid.
Ten Democrats declined to back the resolution, which passed by a vote of 412 to 9. One lawmaker voted “present”.
Representative Rashida Tlaib, a Michigan Democrat and the first Palestinian American Muslim woman elected to Congress, argued against the resolution in an emotional speech. “Israel is an apartheid state,” insisted Tlaib. “This is not made up.” She cited determinations from UN officials, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem. All have concluded that Israel’s treatment of Palestinians amounts to apartheid, which is akin to a crime against humanity. There are dozens of other groups and experts, including former Israeli officials, who have reached the same conclusion.
“The [Israeli] government is deeply problematic in the way that it is proceeding in the structure of oppression,” Tlaib continued. “This is about speaking up against violence. Congress must stop funding apartheid.”
Tuesday’s resolution was symbolic, but it showed the increasingly firm approach that Israel’s supporters are taking to shield the occupation state. “The United States will always be a staunch partner and supporter of Israel,” the resolution concluded.
Questions were raised over why Congress was wasting time on an issue that has very little impact on US citizens. The shocking denial by the lawmakers of what is clearly a reality in occupied Palestine was also questioned.
“Israel’s regime *is* apartheid,” tweeted the former head of B’Tselem following the Congress vote. “This fact is so flagrantly obvious, that the US House of Representatives had to try and deny it via a pathetic, thought-police style, 412-9-1 vote. Which only proves once again that nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come.”
Nasim Ahmed is a political analyst