Writers in Israel’s leading paper decry ‘apartheid’ – as liberal Zionist leader calls it a distracting ‘label’

A section of the Wall, near Abu Dis (Mahfouz Abu Turk - APA Images)

Philip Weiss 

Mondoweiss  /  June 14, 2022

Liberal Zionists in the U.S. have helped enforce a red line in the mainstream discourse against using the term “apartheid” to describe Israel.

Every day brings another story about the racism in Israeli government. Today it is the deputy minister saying, “If there was a button I could press that would take all the Arabs and put them on a train to Switzerland, I would.” Last week Israel’s parliament moved forward on a bill to ban display of the Palestinian flag at universities, and even leftwing Zionist parties are seeking to extend the unequal order in the occupied West Bank under which Jewish settlers are subject to civil law, while Palestinians are subject to military law.

Apartheid reports have rained down on Israel from human rights organizations in the last year, citing inequality under law, but they don’t show up often in our press. The New York Times is all but incapable of mentioning apartheid. The Israel lobby has set a redline about even mentioning the apartheid reports in Congress– if you do, you are “besmirching” Israel.

Liberal Zionists have helped to enforce that red line, calling the apartheid “label” a distraction that won’t convince Israelis to remove injustice, as Jeremy Ben-Ami of J Street said last week.

“In terms of actually changing policy, the odds of getting Israelis to really change what their laws are, are higher if you are not using words that are going to distract them from the substance of the argument… The goal is not to win the case to have it labeled a certain thing, the goal is to change the law. The goal is to set the path right, to put us on a path toward justice and away from injustice. I just think that it is more likely that we will be on the right path if we talk about what is actually happening rather than the labels we want to put on it.”

Israel’s leading newspaper, Haaretz, does not see that label as distracting. It published several articles denouncing “apartheid” in the country just in the last few days.

The writers in Haaretz are far more desperate than American Zionists. They see where their society is going: a survey shows that 60 percent of Israeli Jews say that Palestinians and Jews should be segregated, and that number is even higher among young Jews. These writers are crying out for international pressure against apartheid.

“Nobody Can Stop Israel’s Descent Into Animalism,” Carolina Landsmann wrote last week in an article that used the label:

In the so-called “Jewish Democracy,” a big majority of Zionist Jews favor Apartheid.

Landsmann described an extremist society in which hatred of Arabs is the glue holding the place together– and liberals are afraid to speak out against it.

Who in this country can restrain the energy of the Flag March participants? Who in this country, in or out of the government, in the judicial sphere, in academia, in the media, in the business, spiritual or religious world, can stop this decline, the disintegration of society?

Who in Israel has the stature to cool down the mob shrieking, .. “Death to the Arabs,” and “May your village burn down”?

… Who can stand up to the legions of settlers, against the religious Zionist meltdown of reality, against the present-day goal “to build a small synagogue on the Temple Mount,” or even against those speaking the language of “Jewish and democratic”?

Human rights attorney Michael Sfard also used the apartheid label in an opinion article saying that Israel is now a “full apartheid state that all of us, we Israelis, created.”

Sfard says that secular Israeli Jews like to think of the settlements as the work of religious crazies. But it was the Labor establishment– epitomized by Israeli President Isaac Herzog– that actually poisoned the tree of Israel.

So don’t say [rightwing racists] Ben-Gvir and Smotrich, say Herzog. From Chaim Herzog to Isaac Herzog [father to son], it is the Israeli establishment, not its fringes, that expropriates land, builds settlements, re-engineers the demographics of the occupied territory, brutally throttles all opposition to its rule, including nonviolent resistance, and inflicts disaster on Abd and his people.

 The Herzogs may not be deluded messianists, but even through the Cambridge-inflected Irish accent, they exude Jewish supremacy in their deeds. They (we) may not hang the picture of the Hebron murderer in our living rooms, but we are the effective occupiers and dispossessors, not they…. Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich are our legitimate children, fruit of the tree that we all poisoned.

Gideon Levy is even more emphatic about Jewish supremacy and apartheid in a column saying that just like South Africa before it, Israel has “explicit, declared, perfectly worded apartheid laws to which, worst of all, everyone agrees.”

He points out that all the Jewish Zionist parties in the government voted for the law extending separate legal systems in the West Bank, and almost every Palestinian legislator opposed it.

From Meretz to Yesh Atid, from the Labor Party to Yamina and to Sa’ar’s New Hope, they voted as one in favor of apartheid…There is no Jewish left in Israel. Only an extreme right and a moderate right.

Levy notes that none of these Zionist parties would curtail LGBTQ rights or animal rights — but Palestinians can be subjugated and no Jewish party cares.

There is nothing that the center-left cares about less than the occupation. Would Meretz ever have voted for apartheid laws against LGBTQ people in the West Bank? Two justice systems in the same territory, one for straight people and another for gay people? Is there any circumstance in which this would happen? A single political constellation that could bring it about?

Or would the Labor Party, which is headed by Merav Michaeli, ever raise its hand for apartheid laws against women in the West Bank? Two separate legal systems, one for men and another for women? Never. Absolutely not.

It follows from this that it’s all a matter of priorities. The Israeli left, for instance, doesn’t care about the rights of the Palestinian people. But it cares deeply about animal rights. The experiment was worth it, if only to disclose this fact.

Hatred and fear of Palestinians is now deeply engrained in Israeli society. “Some 60 percent of Israeli Jews believe it is best for Jews and Arabs to live apart, according to a survey conducted by the Israeli Democracy Institute in March of this year,” Haaretz reported a week ago.

Young people are supposed to be progressive; but the segregation sentiment only increases among young Jews:

Young people and women support separation more than do older people and men.

The same survey finds that only 45 percent of Jews think it’s OK for Palestinians and Jews to live in the same building.

Today Haaretz says that 62 percent of Israeli Jews don’t want an Arab party in any future government.

The miracle of Israel is that politicians and pundits and influencers walk around talking about Israel as a robust democracy when it is anything but. That’s a Myth but a Myth that is never challenged. In fact, the Democratic Party depends on the lie, and so do our billions of aid to the apartheid state. Which Joe Biden will visit next month without a peep from the establishment.

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

h/t Jamil Dakwar, Bob Herbst, James North, Scott Roth.