We don’t use the word apartheid – say the liberal Zionists

(Manar Shahin - APA Images)

Philip Weiss

Mondoweiss  /  February 6, 2022

Liberal Zionists are not accepting the reports of the leading human rights organizations, lately including Amnesty International, saying Israel practices apartheid. J Street and Ameinu and Partners for Progressive Israel reject the term, while Americans for Peace Now says it has no comment for now.

The Amnesty International report condemning Israeli “apartheid” as a cruel and enduring system of dominion over Palestinians is turning into a big moment in the discourse of the conflict. The Israel lobby is going haywire over the report, and politicians from both parties are duly standing up and trashing the report.

The Israel lobby needs to build a firewall to keep apartheid from entering the establishment discourse. We’ve all seen “apartheid” move from the Palestinian solidarity community into the human rights/progressive community over 15 years. What Jimmy Carter and Desmond Tutu (and I) got pilloried for saying years ago is now everywhere. Betty McCollum and Aida Touma-Sliman said it four years ago. Human Rights Watch and the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem said it in lengthy reports last year.

There is even progressive Jewish consensus that it’s apartheid. A recent survey in the wake of Israel’s last onslaught on Gaza says fully a quarter of Jews believe Israel practices apartheid, and the number rises to 38 percent of those under 40. Three Jewish groups say it’s apartheid: Jews Say NoJewish Voice for Peace, and IfNotNow. Amnesty “reiterates what Palestinians have been making painstakingly clear for more than two decades,” say Jews Say No. Sylvain Cypel’s new book, “The State of Israel Vs. The Jews” says it’s apartheid; and it’s a danger to Jews everywhere because Israel is asking them to sign off on blatant injustice to preserve its diplomatic immunity.

But what about liberal Zionists? They have criticized the Israeli occupation for years, often vehemently. What do they have to say about the apartheid report?

The liberal Zionists are not accepting the reports of the leading human rights organizations.

J Street writes:

J Street does not endorse the findings or the recommendations of the report, nor do we use the word “apartheid” to describe the situation on the ground.

Ameinu (Labor Zionists and members of the powerful Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations) rejects the allegation of apartheid:

Ameinu President Kenneth Bob said, “I reject the conclusions of the Amnesty report but I think that Israel’s supporters in America and around the world need to take a close and unflinching look at Israel’s policies in the occupied territories that are causing this uproar in the international community. 

Partners for Progressive Israel (the Meretz party in the U.S.) disdains the word:

As we stated last year, our organization is not an arbiter of international law and avoids using such terminology, which is both legally rarefied and politically inflammatory. Moreover, use of the ultra-charged term “apartheid” also has the potential to actually undermine anti-occupation work by offering the right wing a path to redirect the public conversation away from genuine human rights abuses and into more convenient territory. That is precisely what has happened in this case…

While we therefore refrain from using the word “apartheid,” we appreciate the work of Amnesty International insofar as it directs American and international attention to the reality of ongoing injustices.

New Israel Fund speaks of “entrenched systemic discrimination,” and endorses action “Against violence & Jewish Terror for Palestinian Farmers!” But it has not mentioned the Amnesty International report in its twitter feed.

Americans for Peace Now says it has no comment for now, and it is not going to condemn the report without reading it. “Does delegitimizing those who dare to say ‘apartheid’ change the horrific circumstances that led Israeli soldiers to leave an elderly Palestinian-American man, handcuffed and gagged, to die on a cold West Bank night?”

J Street is also talking a lot about the killing of Omar Assad, 78, and calling for an investigation of the Israeli forces that killed him.

The liberal Zionists are getting more and more outspoken against atrocities in the West Bank even as they reject the apartheid label. They know that 38 percent of young American Jews said it was apartheid last summer and that number is only going up as every leading human rights organization says it’s apartheid.

The liberal Zionists fear that the progressive community will turn against them– their own children– if they don’t at least speak up against “Jewish terror.” But still they can’t bring themselves to say, Apartheid.

I think the liberal Zionist failure on the apartheid moment is political. They all know that it’s apartheid. Leaders of New Israel Fund and Americans for Peace Now have said as much at times. They’ve all stood at the Qalandiya crossing, that complex of modern structures housing cattle chutes and metal detectors and soldiers that lets a few Palestinians into the eternal capital of the Jewish state, Jerusalem, and seen apartheid before their eyes.

But to call it what it is politically marginalizing in the U.S., due to the power of the center-right Israel lobby. Everyone in the Jewish establishment hates the report. Official Israel hates the report. Liberal Zionists want to be taken seriously in that establishment community. They want access to U.S. politicians and they want to stay inside the Jewish tent and meet with the Israeli prime minister. Jonathan Greenblatt makes crazed arguments against the report — that anti-Zionists are as dangerous as ISIS, that the Amnesty International report is antisemitic and a danger to Jewish lives– and Jonathan Greenblatt gets walk-in access to the FBI director and major media, and Congress, too, to the point that he calls Democratic congressmen by their first names and feels he can riff on Bruce Springsteen song-titles when he’s talking about Palestinian rights.

J Street doesn’t have that kind of power and it wants it. It’s not going to alienate the ADL. To call apartheid what it is, is to be excommunicated. So even when the entire human rights community is saying something, they have to distance themselves.

And yes, I think this is ultimately about money. The rightwing pro-Israel donors are still a crucial bloc in Democratic Party fundraising and Joe Biden is going to do nothing to upset those people. So he adopts a loopy definition of antisemitism that says it’s antisemitic to criticize Israel. And his State Department goes out of its way to denounce this Amnesty International report even as the AP reporter points out that it relies on Amnesty International all the time when criticizing other countries. And nine Jewish congressmen say apartheid is an antisemitic accusation. And J Street falls into line by calling BDS– the tool that Palestinian civil society overwhelmingly endorses to honor their rights — antisemitic.

The real question is how long liberal Zionists can hold out against the progressive Jewish street by doing lip service against the occupation. How long before their own children embarrass them by disrupting their conferences and demanding more…

Philip Weiss is senior editor of Mondoweiss.net and founded the site in 2005-2006