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Fri, Jun

American Leaders Must Stop Being Apologists for Racist Israelis

VOICES

ACCORDING TO LIZ - Pramila Jayapal, Democratic representative from Washington state and Co-Chair of the House Progressive Caucus, referred to Israel as a racist state at Netroots Nation last week.

Responding to Palestinian protesters, she agreed that Israel is a “racist state” and that the “Palestinian people deserve self-determination and autonomy.” She went on to correctly point out that “the dream of a two-state solution is slipping away from us.”

Her comments went viral, and Jayapal was then blasted by her Democratic colleagues – showing that no matter how far Israel veers from democratic norms, when it comes to American politics, Israel still has protected status and, for the American politicians who fund it directly and indirectly, it remains more equal by far than any other terrorist state.

Jayapal should have stood by what she said instead instead of bowing to the hypocrisy of those who are blind to the fact that a state is embodied by its leadership. How many of those peers would call Putin’s Russia democratic?

Then the tone-deaf House Democratic leadership went so far as to issue a statement declaring Israel not a racist state, avowing the United States’ continued commitment to “a safe and secure Israel as an invaluable partner, ally and beacon of democracy in the Middle East is ironclad.”

Even in qualifying her statement, Jayapal held her ground: “I do not believe the idea of Israel as a nation is racist... I do, however, believe that Netanyahu's extreme right-wing government has engaged in discriminatory and outright racist policies and that there are extreme racists driving that policy within the leadership of the current government."

In his well-staged presentation to Congress on Wednesday Israel's President, Isaac Herzog, claimed his country's democracy remains strong even though he was "well aware of the imperfections of Israeli democracy."

in protest against Israel’s increasingly atrocious record on human rights, several prominent Democrats refused to attend, among them Bernie Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Jamaal Bowman, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, Nydia Velazquez, and Cori Bush.

They called out the two-faced behavior of their fellow politicians: "It is hypocritical to claim to be deeply concerned about attacks on Palestinian families, and then smile for a photo op with the president of the government enabling these human rights abuses and maintaining the status quo."

"It is shameful to deliberately ignore—and even normalize—this racist and oppressive system of apartheid by welcoming President Herzog or any member of the Israeli government to address Congress.”

An excellent orator, Herzog played to his audience throughout, garnering resounding cheers and persistent applause and standing ovations.

In his speech he targeted the criticism: “Questioning the Jewish people’s right to self-determination is not legitimate diplomacy, it is antisemitism. Vilifying and attacking Jews, whether in Israel, in the United States or anywhere in the world is antisemitism.”

Although Jayapal’s clarification may have been politically wise with her comments spinning wildly out of context on social media and skewed as anti-Semitic, why should she have to apologize for speaking her truth?

Given the ongoing and often horrific abuse of between 20% and 50% of its residents (depending upon whether the occupied Palestinian territories are included) by Israel, which view is true? Which reflects the understanding of most Americans?

Earlier this year, a Gallup poll found that by 49% to 38%, Democratic voters sympathize more with Palestinians than with the Israeli government. Up from only 12% a decade ago, more than 31% now say they are sympathetic toward Palestinians' right to self-determination.

An April Brookings poll found that 44 percent of Democrats identified Israel’s recent behavior as apartheid, something that has been widely acknowledged within the state for generations.

Over the past 20 years, the downward drop in America from unquestionable support for Israel has been dramatic, tracking the mounting abuse of the Palestinian minority by an increasingly oppressive Israeli leadership.

Like most Americans, Jayapal would like to see a Israel co-existing in peace alongside a Palestinian state and oppose U.S. funds being used by the Israeli government for oppressing broad segments of its own population and by its military to indiscriminately kill and imprison Palestinians.

Every people deserve a home of one’s own; for the Jewish diaspora, that coalesced in the establishment of the state of Israel in the wake of the Holocaust, in the wake of the wholesale slaughter of Jews that overshadowed the Second World War.

However, even though Herzog invoked Israel’s Declaration of Independence which pledges that Israel will “uphold the full social and political equality of all its citizens without distinction of race, creed or sex,” the actions of the current government do not appear to even pay lip service to these ideals.

There are nearly equal numbers of Jews and Palestinian living in Israel and the occupied territories but, today, there is no pretense of equal rights. Arabs are subject to regular land seizures, incarceration and murder, their homes are demolished and their travel in the occupied territories constrained.

Citizens of Palestinian descent – 20% of Israelis – face legal, language, religious and social discrimination and abuse from the zealots around them.

And now this Netanyahu government is erecting further barriers and invoking a new Holocaust by taking over the judiciary to be, like Hitler, judge, jury and executioner.

Itamar Ben-Gvir, Israel’s security minister is a disciple of the fanatic American rabbi Meir Kahane (which Herzog wisely didn’t invoke) convicted of inciting racism and supporting terrorism.

In his living room, Ben-Gvir hung a photo of Baruch Goldstein the American-Israeli extremist who massacred 29 Muslim worshipers and injured 125 others at the Ibrahimi Mosque in 1994, a heinous act denounced by Rabin.

Kahane was a political hero for Yigal Amir who remorselessly gunned down Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin, a central figure in the Israeli/Palestinian rapprochement brokered by Clinton in the 1990s, at the close of a peace rally attended by thousands in Tel Aviv.

A state’s leaders and policies can be bigoted without the state itself being irredeemable but a how can a country such as ours claiming to support human rights continue to endorse such an oppressive regime? What is the political price of speaking out against despicable Israeli policies, actions and outright murder?

The words Herzog used to vilify Iran when speaking to Congress can be equally applied to Israel which already has nuclear weapons.

Clearly, it’s politically easier to attack Jayapal than defend the racist policies of Netanyahu’s government. So, why are American leaders as cowardly as Israel’s are cruel?

If Herzog said to Congress in English what he said “in Hebrew back home” about Israel’s commitment to “heal the fractures in our world” and “preserve, protect, and defend democracy,” did he make the same commitment in Arabic to his Palestinian constituents?

Herzog complained about the violence of Palestinians subverting peace but the real “moral disgrace” is the specter of a purportedly first world country supported by the bullying tactics and power of the United States.

Over the decades, whether Israel was being attacked or was itself the aggressor, whether it was facing annihilation or was committing its own crimes against humanity, Congress has continued to lavish millions and millions of dollars and advanced weaponry and technology on the smaller nation.

Biden refused to call for a cease-fire during the attack on Jenin this month where 12 Palestinians were murdered including four children and over 140 injured. Biden refused to call for a cease-fire during a similar Israeli attack on Gaza in 2021. Biden ignored an open letter from 500 former campaign staffers calling on the president to do protect Palestinians and to hold Israel accountable for its actions.

Are these the actions of a real leader? One who hopes to be re-elected in 2024?

The disproportionate power of the United States has prevented Israel from accountability before the International Criminal Court or at the United Nations. With its extremist government including self-declared fascists, Israel is truly a rogue state and yet the American Congress has the chutzpah to invite the Israeli president to address it in a joint session.

At least 177 Palestinians have been killed by Israel Defense Forces so far this year and finance minister Bezalel Smotrich has called on them to "wipe out" a West Bank town of more than 5,000 people.

We must take every opportunity to call out Israel for what it is, just another terrorist nation.

The over-reaction, the ferocity of the backlash in the wake of protests about Israel’s president addressing Congress and now Biden inviting the unspeakable criminal Benjamin Netanyahu to the United States for an official visit demonstrates the major political denial that exists in our capital about Israel’s increasingly fascist government and its murdering military.

I stand with Pramila Jayapal. I stand with Bernie Sanders. I stand with Rashida Tlaib, the only Palestinian-American member of Congress.

Today’s Israel is a racist state. Today’s Israel practices apartheid. And I stand against those who kowtow to deep-pocket donors and apologize for Israel’s blatant failure as a democracy worthy of world recognition.

(Liz Amsden is a contributor to CityWatch and an activist from Northeast Los Angeles with opinions on much of what goes on in our lives. She has written extensively on the City's budget and services as well as her many other interests and passions. In her real life she works on budgets for film and television where fiction can rarely be as strange as the truth of living in today's world.)