Deserted street with watchtower in the Jewish quarter near the center of Hebron. Via Shutterstock
Is Apartheid the Inevitable Outcome of Zionism?

Israel must address the question of whether the original idea of the Zionist movement of a state that is both Jewish and democratic is not deeply oxymoronic.

The threat of a new war with Iran that might have replicated what has been the worst disaster in the history of America’s international misadventures — George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq based on fabricated lies — sucked the air out of all other international diplomatic activity, not least of what used to be called the Middle East peace process.

Yet the failure of the peace process has not been the consequence of recent mindless and destructive actions by Donald Trump and of the clownish shenanigans of his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who was charged with helping Israeli hardliners in nailing down permanently the Palestinian occupation. For all the damage they caused (mainly to Palestinians), prospects for a two-state solution actually ended during President Barack Obama’s administration, despite Secretary of State John Kerry’s energetic efforts to renew the stalled negotiations. They were not resumed because Obama, like his predecessors, failed to take the tough measures that were necessary to overcome Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s determination to prevent the emergence of a Palestinian state, notwithstanding his pledge in his Bar-Ilan speech of 2009 to implement the agreements of the Oslo accords.

Yes, Obama and Kerry did warn that Israel’s continued occupation might lead to an Israeli apartheid regime. But knowing how deeply the accusation of an incipient Israeli apartheid could anger right-wingers in Israel and in the U.S., they repeatedly followed that warning with the assurance that “America will always have Israel’s back.” It was the sequence of this two-part statement that convinced Netanyahu that AIPAC had succeeded in getting American presidents to protect Israel’s impunity. Had Obama and Kerry reversed that sequence, first noting that the U.S. had always had Israel’s back, and then warning that Israel is now on the verge of trading its democracy for apartheid, the warning might have had quite different implications for Israel’s government.

The peace process and the two-state solution failed because America — the only country on which Israel could count on for generous diplomatic, military and economic support, and therefore the only country that has the necessary leverage to influence Israel’s policies — allowed it to fail. Consequently, most Israelis, including many belonging to the Blue/White party, headed by General Benny Gantz, oppose granting any future Palestinian entity the most basic features of sovereignty, including control of its own borders. Gantz refused to form a unity government with the Likud because of Netanyahu’s indictment for multiple crimes, not because of differences over peace policy.  What doubts anyone might have had on this subject were removed when Gantz just announced that he embraces Netanyahu’s intention to annex the Jordan Valley to Israel.

For the Palestinians, territory is the most critical of the final status issues. The current internationally recognized borders that separate Israel and the Occupied Territories reduced the territory originally assigned to Palestinians in the U.N. Partition Plan of 1947 from roughly half of Palestine to 22 percent. Israel, which was assigned originally roughly the other half of Palestine, now has 78 percent, not including Palestinian territory Israel has confiscated for its illegal settlements.

No present or prospective Palestinian leadership will accept any further reduction of territory from their promised state. Given the territory they already lost in 1947, and again in 1949, and given Israel’s refusal to accept the return of Palestinian refugees to Israel, is it really reasonable to expect Palestinians to give up any further territory?  Where else other than the West Bank could Palestine refugees return to? 

The one-state solution that is preferred by many Israelis is essentially a continuation of the present de facto apartheid. It is not the one-state alternative any Palestinian would accept. Repeated polling has shown that a majority of Jewish Israelis are unprepared to grant equal rights to Palestinians in a one-state arrangement. This opposition is unsurprising, for the inclusion in Israel’s body politic of West Bank and Gaza Palestinians would mean the end of Israel as a Jewish state, for Israel’s non-Jewish citizens would then outnumber its Jewish ones, and may already do so. Of course, Israel could contrive a non-voting status for the West Bank’s Palestinians, something many Jewish Israelis and political parties actually advocate, but that would not deceive anyone. It would mean the formal end of Israel’s democracy.

The foregoing notwithstanding, I have long maintained that if Israel were compelled to choose between one state that grants full equality to Palestinians now under occupation and two states that conform substantially to existing agreements and international law, and no other options were available to it, the majority of Israelis would opt for two states. Why? Because as noted above, the overwhelming majority of Israelis oppose any arrangement that might produce a Palestinian majority with the same rights Israeli Jewish citizens enjoy. Of course, Israel has never been compelled to make such a choice, nor will they be compelled to do so by the international community.

However, they could be compelled to do so by the Palestinians, but only if Palestinians were finally to expel their current leadership and choose a more honest and courageous one. That new leadership would have to shut down the Palestinian Authority, which its present leaders allowed Israel to portray as an arrangement that places Palestinians on the path to statehood, of course in some undefined future. Israel has deliberately perpetuated that myth to conceal its real intention to keep the current occupation unchanged. The new Palestinian leadership would have to declare that since Israel has denied them their own state and established a one-state reality, Palestinians will no longer deny that reality. Consequently, the national struggle will now be for full citizenship in the one state that Israel has forced them into. I have argued for the past two decades that the one-state option is far more likely to open a path to a two-state solution, however counter intuitive that may seem to be. Palestinians rejected it categorically from the outset, but younger Palestinians have come around to accepting it—even preferring it to the two-state model.

Unlike the struggle for a two-state solution, a goal that has so easily been manipulated by Israel to mean whatever serves their real goal of preventing such an outcome — and also so easily allowed international actors to pretend they have not given up their efforts to achieve that outcome, an anti-apartheid struggle does not lend itself to such deceptions. South Africa has taught the world too well what apartheid looks like, as well as how the international community could deal with it. Of course, South Africa has also shown how long and bloody a struggle against apartheid can be, and the terrible price paid by the victims of such a regime. But Palestinians already live in such a regime, and have for long been paying a terrible price for their subjugation. 

Yet deeper and more troubling questions are raised by the choices that now face Israel, including whether the original idea of the Zionist movement of a state that is both Jewish and democratic is not deeply oxymoronic, a question that not only Israelis but Jews outside of Israel must address. That question is underscored by the challenges to India’s democracy posed by its prime minister’s decision to turn his country into a Hindu nation. It is a question that did not escape some of the founders of the Zionist movement, who argued that Zionism should define the state as Jewish only in its ethnic and secular cultural dimensions. But that this is not how Jewish identity is treated in Israel is undeniable.

Imagine if Israel’s laws defining national identity and citizenship, as recently reformulated by Israel’s Knesset, were adopted by the U.S. Congress or by other Western democratic countries, and if Christianity in its “cultural dimensions” were declared to be their national identity, with citizenship also granted by conversion to the dominant religion, as is now the case in Israel, where arrangements for Jewish religious conversions are part of the Prime Minister’s office.

Is this not what America’s founders, and the waves of immigrants, including European Jews, sought to escape from? And how would Jews react today to legislation in the U.S. Congress that would explicitly seek to maintain the majority status of Christians in the U.S.? Are Jews to take pride in a Jewish state that adopts citizenship requirements that mirror those advocated by white Christian supremacists? These supremacists have already proclaimed jubilantly that Israel’s policies vindicate the ones they have long been advocating.

It is true, of course, that for some Jews, aware of the history of anti-Semitism that has spanned the ages, and especially the Holocaust, Zionism’s contradictions with democratic principles are an unpleasant but inescapable dilemma they can live with. As a survivor of the Holocaust, I can understand that. But I also understand that the likely consequences of these contradictions are not benign, and can yield their own terrible outcomes, particularly when they lead to the dalliances by the prime minister of a Jewish state with right-wing racist and xenophobic heads of state and of political parties that have fascist and anti-Semitic parentage.

Legislation proposed in the U.S. Congress and by Trump, and recently celebrated by his son-in-law Kushner in a New York Times op-ed, proposing that criticism of Zionism be outlawed as antisemitism, would be laughable, were it not so clearly — and outrageously — intended to deny freedom of speech on this subject. Yet laughable it is, for its first target would have to be Jews — not liberal left-wingers but the most Orthodox Jews, known as Haredim, in Israel and in America.   

At the very inception of the Zionist movement 150 years ago, not only the Haredim but the overwhelming majority of Orthodox Jewry everywhere was opposed to Zionism, which it considered to be a Jewish heresy, not only because the Zionists were mostly secularists, but because of an oath taken by Jewish leaders after the destruction of the Second Temple following their exile from Palestine, that Jews would not reestablish a Jewish kingdom except following the messianic era. Zionism was also bitterly opposed by much of the world’s Jewish Reform movement, many of whose leaders insisted that Jewishness is a religion, not a political identity.

Much of Orthodox Jewry did not end its opposition to Zionism until after the war of 1967, but many if not most Haredis continue to oppose Zionism as heresy. Most of its members refuse to serve in Israel’s military, to celebrate Israel’s Independence Day, sing its national anthem, and do not allow prayers in their synagogues for the wellbeing of Israel’s political leaders. Trump, Kushner, and the U.S. Congress would have to arrest them as anti-Semites.

I have no doubt that Trump’s rage at the Jewish chairmen of the two Congressional committees that led the procedures for his impeachment will sooner or later explode in anti-Semitic expletives. The only reason it has not done so yet is because of Trump’s fear of jeopardizing Evangelical support and Sheldon Adelson’s mega bucks. After all, Trump already told us that the neo-Nazi rioters in Charlottesville declaiming “Jews will not replace us” included “very fine people.” Netanyahu never criticized Trump’s statement, for he too does not want to jeopardize certain relationships, namely the “very fine people” he has embraced — leaders in Hungary, Poland, Austria, Italy, Brazil, Philippines, Saudi Arabia, and elsewhere.

If Trump’s son-in-law is searching for anti-Semites, he should have been told they are far closer at hand than in America’s schools, for they are ensconced in the White House. They are also to be found in Jerusalem where they are being accorded honors by Netanyahu. The anti-Semitic dog whistling contained in Trump’s attacks on the two Jewish congressmen were not misunderstood by his hardcore supporters — who now include the entire leadership of the Republican party — who Trump needs to take him to victory in the coming presidential elections, or to keep him in the White House were he to lose those elections.

If apartheid is coming (or has come) out of Zion, it should not shock that what may come out of Washington is a repeat by Trump’s Republican shock troops of what occurred in Berlin in 1933, when the Bundestag was taken over by the Nazi party and ended Germany’s democracy.

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