Hebron settlers attack a Palestinian passerby
Jimmy Carter has been branded as everything from an agent of Saudi Arabia to a cyrpto anti-Semite in a campaign of unprecedented hysteria by a Zionist establishment desperate to squelch any discussion in America of the moral implications of Israel’s apartheid policies in the West Bank and Gaza. So what, one imagines, would the same apparatus of Orwellian obfuscation, denial and diversion make of Tommy Lapid. Never mind apartheid, Lapid last week compared the actions of the Hebron settlers who regularly and viciously abuse the town’s Palestinian majority to the behavior of European anti-Semites in the early Nazi era. It’s entirely appropriate that someone draw attention to the vicious racism of the Hebron settlers, but you’d imagine the Alan Dershowitz-Marty Peretz crowd would turn its talk show artillery on anyone comparing Israelis to Nazis and their ilk. Except that Tommy Lapid was a member of Ariel Sharon’s cabinet, and is currently the chairman of the council of Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial museum.
Like I always said, the U.S. public debate over Israel is so heavily policed by berserk denialists (not of the Holocaust, but of the idea that Israel is capable of oppression) like Dershowitz that it would brand the views of much of the Israeli political spectrum as unacceptable, even “anti-Semitic.” To be sure, if Haaretz was an American paper, the Carter-bashing crowd would have probably tried to shut it down.
Indeed, while most of the mainstream media in the U.S. typically steered clear of any serious discussion of the issues raised by Carter’s title — preferring to cover the events engineered by the Carter bashers such as the resignation of 14 of the 200 members of Carter’s advisory board — there were plenty of Israelis willing to step up to the plate in their own media and confirm, as Yitzhak Rabin’s education minister Shulamit Aloni bluntly stated, that Israel maintains an apartheid regime over the Palestinian territories. And, I think, Aloni nails the reason why the Peretz-Dershowitz crowd, as well as liberal commentators like Michael Kinsley who really ought to know better, went into paroxysms of denial when Carter stated the obvious. She writes:
Jewish self-righteousness is taken for granted among ourselves to such an extent that we fail to see what’s right in front of our eyes. It’s simply inconceivable that the ultimate victims, the Jews, can carry out evil deeds. Nevertheless, the state of Israel practises its own, quite violent, form of Apartheid with the native Palestinian population.
The US Jewish Establishment’s onslaught on former President Jimmy Carter is based on him daring to tell the truth which is known to all: through its army, the government of Israel practises a brutal form of Apartheid in the territory it occupies. Its army has turned every Palestinian village and town into a fenced-in, or blocked-in, detention camp. All this is done in order to keep an eye on the population’s movements and to make its life difficult. Israel even imposes a total curfew whenever
the settlers, who have illegally usurped the Palestinians’ land, celebrate their holidays or conduct their parades.
If that were not enough, the generals commanding the region frequently issue further orders, regulations, instructions and rules (let us not forget: they are the lords of the land). By now they have requisitioned further lands for the purpose of constructing “Jewish only” roads. Wonderful roads, wide roads, well-paved roads, brightly lit at night – all that on stolen land. When a Palestinian drives on such a road, his vehicle is confiscated and he is sent on his way.
On one occasion I witnessed such an encounter between a driver and a soldier who was taking down the details before confiscating the vehicle and sending its owner away. “Why?” I asked the soldier. “It’s an order – this is a Jews-only road”, he replied. I inquired as to where was the sign indicating this fact and instructing [other] drivers not to use it. His answer was nothing short of amazing. “It is his responsibility to know it, and besides, what do you want us to do, put up a sign here and
let some antisemitic reporter or journalist take a photo so he that can show the world that Apartheid exists here?”
Israeli affirmation of Carter’s use of the apartheid analogy, as well as affirmation of the same over the years by such icons of the anti-apartheid struggle as Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu are simply inconvenient truths for those looking to trash Carter for his use of the analogy. But, I think the point here is two-fold — first, as Shulamit Aloni emphasizes above, and which I also argued earlier, a lot of liberal Jewish Americans seem to find it emotionally impossible to accept that Israel can do terrible things. Or, at least, if they see Israel doing terrible things, then those things are immediately blamed on the victim. The idea of universal, timeless Jewish victimhood seems to give Israel a moral free pass in some people’s minds — although the irony is that many of the Israeli liberal counterparts of those in the U.S. that hold these emotionally adolescent views are horrified by them, because many Israeli liberals pay more heed to the ethical injunction at the heart of Judaism to avoid doing unto others that which is hateful unto ourselves.
But there’s also a movement ready to swarm on anything deemed threatening to a Zionist narrative that entirely negates any other and the moral claims of the Palestinians. I can always tell what the talking points that have been issued are by the emails that begin arriving in my mailbox from various Israel advocacy groups, whose lines of argument are then echoed in dozens more from their enthusiasts. They tend to hone in what they claim are “factual” errors in his text to discredit the basic point that Carter is trying to make.
This, from the letter of resignation from the Carter Center board by 14 resignees (none of them, as far as I can see, known for their engagement with Middle East issues):
You wrote that UN Security Council Resolution 242 says that “Israel must withdraw from territories” (p. 38), but you know the word “must” in fact is not in the resolution. You said that since Mahmoud Abbas has been in office there have been no peace discussions. That is wrong. You wrote that Yassir Arafat told you in 1990 that, “The PLO has never advocated the annihilation of Israel” (p. 62). Given that their Charter, which explicitly calls for Israel’s destruction, was not revised until the late 1990s, how could you even write such a claim as if it were credible?
Well, actually, Carter is entirely correct on the first two claims, while on the second (and I haven’t read his text) he’d be correct if he argued that the PLO began moving towards a two-state solution, i.e. recognizing that Israel could not be militarily defeated, some time in the late 1970s or early 1980s. Sure, they only changed their Charter in 1998, but by then they had already formally recognized Israel through the Oslo Accords. To simply cite the Charter of the PLO as the last word on their position, you would have to deduce that Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert can’t possibly have been serious about a two-state solution, either, since the Likud Party platform expressly rejects the creation of a Palestinian state anywhere west of the Jordan River. (And remember, Sharon and Olmert were Likud for most of the period of the “roadmap” etc.)
Carter is absolutely correct that the last serious peace discussions between Israel and the Palestinians were held at Taba in January of 2001, in the last efforts brokered by the outgoing Clinton Administration to bridge the gap after Camp David. The process ended with the election of Ariel Sharon, and the only talks held since were symbolic meet-and-greets held at the behest of the Bush Administration (entirely for purposes of “showing” its Arab and European allies that it was, in fact, still engaged with Middle East peace). Carter is correct to treat these as farcical, as, indeed, does all of the Israeli media, no matter its ideological stripe. Only, it seems, in the fantasy world of the Carter-bashers (and, perhaps, also of Condi Rice and some of her fans) is Israel is engaged in a peace process with Mahmoud Abbas.
Most amusing, though, is the charge that Carter gets 242 wrong by saying it says Israel must withdraw from territories — because it doesn’t say “must”. What’s funny about this is that these people seem to have misunderstood the talking points. Having been a target of the pro-Israel media machine myself on this question, I know that their argument is not over the word “must” but over the word “the”. The Zionists claim the absence of a proper noun in resolution’s call for Israeli withdrawal from territories captured in 1967 means that it does not call for them to withdraw from all of those territories — that it somehow leaves the door open for them to annex parts of the West Bank, or East Jerusalem or whatever. This, too, is specious semantics, because the resolution is premised on its clause upholding “the inadmissability of the acquisition of territory by war,” which would by definition require that Israel accept it has no legitimate claim to keep any of the territories captured in 1967. The Zionists claim that it was a deliberate fudge, but frankly, this is just another red herring: the international consensus on 242 has always been that Israel’s “recognized” borders are those of June 4, 1967, and that was the premise of the Oslo final status talks, too — that’s why the principle of quid-pro-quo land exchanges by negotiation and common agreement was accepted by the Israeli side for any land outside of the 1967 borders that Israel would seek to keep. The semantics are simply designed to confuse the issue. But unfortunately the 14 Carter center “refuseniks” seem to have gotten the wrong end of the stick, saying it didn’t say “must.” The relevant wording in 242, BTW, is that the Security Council “Affirms that the fulfillment of (UN) Charter principles requires the establishment of a just and lasting peace in the Middle East which should include … withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict.” Does it say “must”? No, it simply says that a lasting peace requires such withdrawal.
In his survey of responses to Carter, Norman Finkelstein includes a useful discussion of politicking over Resolution 242.
In my previous entry on this issue, I warned against a simplistic collapsing of the valid moral equivalence drawn between the condition of the Palestinians and those of black people under apartheid into an erroneous analytical or strategic equivalence — despite the moral equivalence of the colonial style disenfranchisement of black people under apartheid and Palestinians under occupation since 1967, to two situations are quite different. I wrote, last time, that
Israel manages with very little Palestinian labor, and as a result the daily intimacy between black and white South Africans created by their economic interaction even at the height of the apartheid system is largely absent in relations between Jews and Arabs in Israel. In South Africa, the fact that black people were driven off their land forced them into wage labor in a common economy; in Israel-Palestine Palestinians have been forced off their land in order to drive them out of a common polity and economy. That, I believe, means that the solution to the conflict in Israel-Palestine will be quite different to that in South Africa, at least in the near term.
Veteran Israeli peace campaigner and “premature post-Zionist” Uri Avnery offers a thoughtful critique of the idea that the two can be conflated in the realm of practical political responses. For many, it’s a simple step from the apartheid analogy to the idea that Israel should be internationally isolated and sanctioned in order to end the Occupation. That, he says, is a profound misreading of international public opinion, which will never be persuaded to isolate a state still viewed as representing the survivors of the Holocaust. He writes:
It is a serious error to think that international public opinion will put an end to the occupation. This will come about when the Israeli public itself is convinced of the need to do so.
There is another important difference between the two conflicts, and this may be more dangerous than any other: in South Africa, no White would have dreamt of ethnic cleansing. Even the racists understood that the country could not exist without the Black population. But in Israel, this goal is under serious consideration, both openly and in secret. One of its main advocates, Avigdor Lieberman, is a member of the government and last week Condoleezza Rice met with him officially. Apartheid is not the worst danger hovering over the heads of the Palestinians. They are menaced by something infinitely worse: “Transfer”, which means total expulsion.
Some people in Israel and around the world follow the Apartheid analogy to its logical conclusion: the solution here will be the same as the one in South Africa. There, the Whites surrendered and the Black majority assumed power. The country remained united. Thanks to wise leaders, headed by Nelson Mandela and Frederick Willem de Klerk, this happened without bloodshed.
In Israel, that is a beautiful dream for the end of days. Because of the people involved and their anxieties, it would inevitably turn into a nightmare. In this country there are two peoples with a very strong national consciousness. After 125 years of conflict, there is not the slightest chance that they would live together in one state, share the same government, serve in the same army and pay the same taxes. Economically, technologically and educationally, the gap between the two populations is immense. In such a situation, power relations similar to those in Apartheid South Africa would indeed arise.
In Israel, the demographic demon is lurking. There is an existential angst among the Jews that the demographic balance will change even within the Green Line. Every morning the babies are counted – how many Jewish babies were born during the night, and how many Arab. In a joint state, the discrimination would grow a hundredfold. The drive to dispossess and expel would know no bounds, rampant Jewish settlement activity would flourish, together with the effort to put the Arabs at a disadvantage by all possible means. In short: Hell.
The debate doesn’t end there, of course: Avnery’s dismissal of the realistic prospects for a single-state solution is not shared by Ali Abunimah, whose new book argues persuasively that Israeli policies in the Sharon era have essentially completed the elimination of infrastructural basis for a viable two-state solution, and that the two peoples’ fates are now inextricably intertwined.
Both sides of that ongoing debate share a concern to practically redress the injustices Jimmy Carter has highlighted, and both sides raise valid arguments — over which I’m too old and too jaded, to see any necessity to take a “line.” But Carter’s contribution has been to remind Americans why they ought to be having a discussion on their responsibilities in respect of, as he put it, seeking peace for Israel and peace and justice for the Palestinians.
Perhaps Jimmy had been listening in his i-Pod to the immortal Peter Tosh anthem “Equal Rights,” which actually name-checked the Palestinians, and proclaims the following:
Everyone is crying out for peace
None is crying for justice
But I don’t want no peace
I need equal rights, and justice