Neither Democrats nor Republicans are prepared to say a word in opposition to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s decision to add far-right Knesset member Avigdor Lieberman and his Yisrael Beiteinu party to Israel’s governing coalition.
Instead, Democrats are shoring up their pro-Israel bona fides. They are strikingly anxious because of a courageous new book by President Jimmy Carter that hit American bookstores in mid-November, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid. It is an extraordinarily bold–and apt–title.
Incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, among others, forcefully criticized the book. “It is wrong,” she declared, “to suggest that the Jewish people would support a government in Israel or anywhere else that institutionalizes ethnically based oppression, and Democrats reject that allegation vigorously.”
Lieberman, however, embodies the pursuit of “ethnically based oppression.” He has called for the execution of Arab Knesset members for meeting with Hamas leaders, and he regularly talks of removing from Israel many Arab Israelis in what can euphemistically be termed a land swap or “transfer,” but in more plain-spoken English is a form of ethnic cleansing.
There is a dual system of law at work in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem–one for Jews and one for Palestinians. Additionally, Palestinians are confined to South Africa-like bantustans, while Palestinian refugees are refused permission to return to homes and land from which they were expelled by Israel. Meanwhile, Jews from around the world are welcomed under Israel’s Law of Return.
Some members of the American Jewish community have tried to make the case for ending Israeli domination of the Palestinians, but most members of Congress still prefer to listen to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).
The ADL criticized Lieberman in May, but National Director Abraham Foxman now says, “He has served Israel well in the past, and I have no doubt he will do so again.” This abdication of moral authority is from the head of an organization that claims to provide “programs and services that counteract hatred, prejudice and bigotry.”
Pelosi is very close to AIPAC, and when it comes to Israeli discrimination against Palestinians she appears to have a willed ignorance. It’s as if she looked at the Jim Crow South and failed to recognize the discriminatory treatment meted out to African-Americans. How would Americans react had Pelosi claimed that there was no racism at work in the Jim Crow South or in apartheid South Africa?
The same claim of hers regarding the occupied territories is deeply troubling. Yet here we are in the twenty-first century with a generally well-informed leader saying there is no ethnic oppression by Israel at the very moment that a notorious racist is joining the government coalition. On that she is silent.
Indeed, it is hard to see how any serious American politician can fail to see the racism that courses through the thirty-nine-year Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories. A partial explanation can be found in Pelosi’s willed ignorance–a disbelief or bewilderment that Israel’s military and political leadership could be capable of such systematic human rights violations–but some of the cause must also be attributed to lobbying efforts and the fear held by many Americans of being unfairly labeled as unfriendly to Israel or, worse, as anti-Semitic. Verbal intimidation has worked on far too many, politicians and activists alike.