Wooing Democrats, Yair Lapid embraces racism

Claiming he wants a better relationship for Israel with the Democratic Party, Yair Lapid, Israel's new foreign minister, voices anti-Palestinian racism (Reuters)

Michael F. Brown

The Electronic Intifada  /  July 14, 2021

Yair Lapid, Israel’s new foreign minister, is the man who claims he will rectify Israel’s relationship with the Democratic Party in the US. This seems difficult to believe following his racist comments last week supporting Israel’s anti-Palestinian citizenship law.

Lapid tweeted about the citizenship law, which was later voted down: “This is one of the tools designed to guarantee a Jewish majority in the state.”

He added, “Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people.”

The leadership of the Democratic Party appears unfazed by their interlocutor’s bigotry. They, unlike some top conservatives, would be rightly thrown out of their positions if they ever pursued an immigration law by saying this is a “guarantee for a white majority in the state” or “the US is the nation-state of the white European.”

But Palestinians and their apartheid conditions matter little to the current Democratic Party leadership. Lapid’s comments are less likely to be favorably received by the Democratic grassroots, however, which appears to be moving toward support for one state with equal rights for all, especially should the two-state solution fail.

The Republicans’ hero, Benjamin Netanyahu, voiced equally racist comments even as he sought to undermine Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett by leading his Likud colleagues – now in opposition – to vote against the law they have championed since 2003.

Netanyahu tweeted his discriminatory views for all the world to consider.

“Only the Basic Law on Immigration will curb Palestinian infiltration into Israel,” Netanyahu asserted. “Infiltration” is similar to the word “infiltrators,” which is frequently used by Israeli politicians in racist screeds against African immigrants.

Netanyahu also commented: “Bennett and Lapid are unable to preserve the Jewish character of the State of Israel.” Donald “shithole countries” Trump couldn’t have said it plainer.

Prominent Democrats have long clung to the belief that Israel’s faults reside in the far right leadership of Netanyahu. Now it’s clearer than ever that the language of Netanyahu and Lapid is often the same when it comes to limiting the rights of Palestinians.

Meeks silent

Gregory Meeks, who chairs the Foreign Affairs Committee in the US House of Representatives, was in the region for the turmoil surrounding the citizenship law. Yet he stayed silent and, in fact, asserted last week in Jerusalem that US support for Israel isn’t “political” but based on sharing the same “values.”

His declaration came within hours of the vote on the citizenship law which seeks to keep Palestinian spouses out of Israel and limit demographic change that would marginally increase the number of Palestinians with Israeli citizenship.

Meeks rightfully addressed the oppression endured both by Jews and people of color, but couldn’t muster the courage to speak of the joint effort of Israel and the US to oppress Palestinians.

Instead, he quickly pivoted to paraphrasing Joe Biden from decades ago. Meeks stated that Biden was correct to have once said that “if Israel did not exist, we would have to invent it.”

Lapid conveyed a similar message of shared values when he met Meeks’ bipartisan delegation the next day on 7 July.

Meeks delivered his remarks during an event at the new US embassy in Jerusalem, which straddles the 1949 armistice line. His presence lends Democratic support to Trump’s embassy move that prior US presidential administrations thought should take place only after successful Palestinian-Israeli negotiations.

Thousands of Palestinians were forced out of West Jerusalem in 1948 by Zionist militia forces and have not been allowed to return, even as Israel permits – and pushes – land claims of its Jewish population in occupied East Jerusalem. By systematically discriminating in favor of Jews and against Palestinians, as Israeli laws have been written to do, Israel has confirmed that the term ethnic cleansing rightly applies to its actions in occupied East Jerusalem.

Meeks, in his embassy comments, contradictorily praised the diversity of the new Israeli government while signaling his strong support for Israel as a “Jewish state,” a construct which – by definition – discriminates against Palestinians.

As I noted last month, Mansour Abbas and his Ra’am party – part of Israel’s new government – “will have to recognize that American politicians and organizations like DMFI [Democratic Majority for Israel] and AIPAC are using them as a fig leaf covering up Israel’s discriminatory policies.” Meeks certainly used them in that way.

It is, of course, unsettling to see a Palestinian party so compromised by coalition politics that two members choose to vote to advance a law contributing to anti-Palestinian apartheid while the other two abstain.

Leading his first congressional delegation as chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Meeks also ignored the 2014 promotion of anti-Palestinian genocide by Ayelet Shaked, now interior minister in the new Israeli government. On top of that, Meeks ignored the fact that Bennett, who sat behind him at the embassy event, once compared Palestinians to monkeys.

Steadfastly disregarding the difference between the occupier and occupied, Meeks sought to make “friends” with everyone. This is akin to viewing as moral equals British imperialists and the subjugated people of South Asia, apartheid-administering Afrikaners and Black South Africans, and white Jim Crow advocates and Black Americans.

Yet this apartheid cheerleading is the presumed policy in the top echelons of today’s Democratic Party as well as with many of its elected members.

By contrast, many grassroots supporters of the Democratic Party would contest Meeks’ notion of shared values save to acknowledge that Israel and the US have both long discriminated against racial and religious minorities. Aspirationally, at least, many grassroots Democrats seek a break with a discriminatory Jim Crow past – and all-too-present current manifestations of racism – and therefore a break with support for Israel’s anti-Palestinian actions.

The leadership of the Democratic Party and their allies clearly isn’t there yet. These leaders have delighted in the victory of Bennett and basked in the promises of Lapid to rectify the “mistakes” of Netanyahu.

As Senator Chuck Schumer stated following Bennett’s victory: “We are hopeful that we can now begin serious negotiations for a two-state solution.”

Seemingly disconnected from the reality of Bennett and his history, Schumer added, “I am urging the Biden administration to do all it can to bring the parties together and help achieve a two-state solution where each side can live side by side in peace.”

Anti-Omar participants

Nine other members of the House of Representatives joined Meeks on the trip. The delegation included Brad Schneider, Ted Deutch and Kathy Manning – all of whom signed a statement last month condemning Democratic colleague Ilhan Omar.

They wrote that her “equating the United States and Israel to Hamas and the Taliban is as offensive as it is misguided. Ignoring the differences between democracies governed by the rule of law and contemptible organizations that engage in terrorism at best discredits one’s intended argument and at worst reflects deep-seated prejudice.”

The letter writers urged Omar to “clarify her words placing the US and Israel in the same category as Hamas and the Taliban.” Shortly thereafter Omar gave ground when she allowed that she was not making “a moral comparison between Hamas and the Taliban and the US and Israel.”

She further added in her statement that she “was in no way equating terrorist organizations with democratic countries with well-established judicial systems.”

Ali Abunimah challenged her reversal while highlighting that “the right-wing Democratic and Republican attacks on Omar succeeded in shifting the attention away from accountability for Israel’s massacres of Palestinians and towards a narcissistic internal squabble among US political figures and elites in which the rejection and demonization of Palestinian resistance is taken as a given.”

The controversy flared again when Omar spoke with anti-Palestinian CNN anchor Jake Tapper in late June. When asked, Omar said she didn’t regret making the comment leading to the statement from her colleagues.

She added that “it’s really important for these members to realize that they haven’t been partners in justice, they haven’t been, you know, equally engaging in seeking justice around the world.” This led to another round of right-wing and anti-Muslim commentators misrepresenting Omar as having expressed anti-Jewish animus against the House colleagues who signed the 9 June statement.

It is true that the comment could have been clearer. No doubt there are moments where the signers have been on the right side of justice issues around the world and particularly on civil rights issues in the US.

But it is quite possible Omar was thinking they haven’t been “partners in justice” on Palestinian rights even if she muddled the delivery.

That would certainly be true.

After all, hardly anyone in the US Congress is a real advocate for justice for Palestinians. And even the advocates there are unlikely to support the Palestinian right of return to homes and lands from which they were expelled and never allowed to return by Israel.

Strikingly, Schneider, Deutch and Manning all failed last week while in Jerusalem to express their outrage over the Israeli governing coalition’s support for the citizenship law.

The delegation also stood by silently in the face of the collective punishment meted out by Israel against a Palestinian American family. Even the Biden administration said more about the Israeli demolition of the Americans’ home, though it will not take concrete policy steps as a result of this human rights violation against its own citizens.

Nor did the congressional delegates say a word about the decision by Israel’s high court last Thursday to deny petitions challenging Israel’s anti-Palestinian nation-state law.

Adalah, which is a petitioner against the law and is a group representing Palestinian citizens of Israel, asserted that the court had “enshrined Jewish supremacy and racial segregation as founding principles of the Israeli regime.”

Adalah described the decision as proving that the high court “does not protect Palestinians from some of the most racist legislation in the world since World War II and the downfall of the apartheid regime in South Africa.”

The silence of Schneider, Deutch and Manning in the face of this openly racist law strengthens Omar’s assertion that they aren’t “partners in justice,” at least on Palestinian rights. It is the moral equivalent of being in South Africa 35 years ago and standing silent before that country’s apartheid laws.

Omar Barghouti, one of the founders of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, has previously said, “Israel may soon face its South Africa moment.”

This is true as support for Palestinian rights grows in many places around the world. But it is emphatically not yet the case with the US Congress.

That Meeks and his colleagues went to Israel and saw only “shared values” speaks volumes about the direction and distorted moral vision of both countries.

History will not look favorably on Democrats who abandon equal rights and freedom for Palestinians as Meeks’ delegation did.

As always, it will look even less favorably on Republicans who even more actively champion Israel’s anti-Palestinian actions.

Michael F. Brown is an independent journalist