August 11, 2023


In Israel and the U.S., 'apartheid' is the elephant in the room (Ishaan Tharoor, August 11, 2023, Washington Post)

For months, tens of thousands of Israelis have taken to the streets in defense of their democracy, which they fear may be greatly imperiled by the far-right ruling coalition's desire to curtail the independent powers of the country's judiciary. But the protests have seldom dovetailed with a recognition of the other profound mark against Israeli democracy -- the ongoing occupation of the West Bank and the denial to millions of Palestinians the same rights as their Israeli neighbors, including half a million Jewish settlers.

In a letter with more than a thousand signatories, a group of prominent academics in the United States and Israel pointed to this exact "elephant in the room." The statement, which was first published online this past weekend and has been accruing hundreds of signatories daily, called out the "regime of apartheid" that prevails for Palestinians living under Israeli control. And it offers yet more evidence of a shifting discourse on Israel among even some of the Jewish state's staunchest supporters in the United States.

"There cannot be democracy for Jews in Israel as long as Palestinians live under a regime of apartheid, as Israeli legal experts have described it," the letter reads. In the authors' view, it's impossible to separate Netanyahu's quest to extend legislative controls over the judiciary from his far-right allies' desire to annex Palestinian lands and further erode Palestinian rights.

"The ultimate purpose of the judicial overhaul is to tighten restrictions on Gaza, deprive Palestinians of equal rights both beyond the Green Line and within it, annex more land, and ethnically cleanse all territories under Israeli rule of their Palestinian population," the letter goes on. "The problems did not start with the current radical government: Jewish supremacism has been growing for years and was enshrined in law by the 2018 Nation State Law."

What makes the document striking, beyond its stark language, is the hefty roster of public intellectuals lining up behind it. Those include many figures who are self-described Zionists, like acclaimed historian Benny Morris. In a Wall Street Journal column published last year, Morris questioned the accuracy of using the "apartheid" frame to interpret the conditions on the ground in Israel and the occupied territories. But his position has changed as avowedly extremist members of Netanyahu's Cabinet like National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich openly champion racist, discriminatory policies and push for annexation.

Their rise to power, said Omer Bartov, an Israeli historian at Brown University and one of the lead promulgators of the letter, marks "a very radical shift that brought to the surface" tensions and injustices that have long run beneath Israel's supposedly temporary -- but now more than half-century-old -- occupation of the West Bank. "There's a connection between the occupation and everything it has done over the decades and this attempt by the government to change the nature of the regime of itself," he told me.

Posted by at August 11, 2023 8:43 AM