John Kerry and Israeli Apartheid

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Electronic Intifada

John Kerry and Israeli Apartheid

US and Israel see eye to eye on Israel’s demand to recognized as a “Jewish state.” (Credit: Matty Sher / US Embassy Tel Aviv)

Anti-Palestinian advocates are up in arms over US Secretary of State John Kerry’s warning that Israel could become an “apartheid state” in the absence of a “two-state solution.”

The Anti-Defamation League declared itself “startled and disappointed” that Kerry would use the “offensive term ‘apartheid’ to warn what might become of Israel should an agreement not be reached with the Palestinians.” The neoconservative Emergency Committee for Israel has meanwhile demanded that Kerry be sacked.

Caught on tape

Kerry made his “apartheid state” comment in a closed meeting of “influential world leaders” on Friday and lashed out at Israeli and Palestinian leaders, blaming both for the failure of negotiations. Kerry’s comments, caught on tape and reported by The Daily Beast, included:

A two-state solution will be clearly underscored as the only real alternative. Because a unitary state winds up either being an apartheid state with second-class citizens – or it ends up being a state that destroys the capacity of Israel to be a Jewish state … . Once you put that frame in your mind, that reality, which is the bottom line, you understand how imperative it is to get to the two-state solution, which both [Israeli and Palestinian] leaders, even yesterday, said they remain deeply committed to.

Philip Weiss at Mondoweiss has already made the obvious point that the “apartheid” description has long applied, although Kerry posits it as a hypothetical future scenario.

Weiss wonders: “How long are you allowed to issue dire predictions of future apartheid when there have been two sets of laws for different ethnicities under Israeli sovereignty for 47 years of the occupation (and different sets of laws inside Israel from the jump)?”

Can’t be Jewish and democratic

And Kerry has previously warned about the grave danger and indeed the supposed impossibility of a one-state solution – which he refers to in his latest comment as a “unitary state.”

But Kerry’s concerns are revealing in what they leave out: he makes no mention whatsoever of Palestinian rights. His only concern is preserving Israel as a “Jewish state.” That is the only solid commitment he and the administration he represents have.

And this is why Kerry’s reported positions in the US-brokered negotiations have hewed so closely to those of Israel on the most substantive issues.

Kerry is implicitly stating that a state based on equal rights and democracy would be “a state that destroys the capacity of Israel to be a Jewish state.”

Is he admitting then that Israel’s “right to be a Jewish state” is indeed incompatible with democratic principles, a case I make in The Battle for Justice in Palestine (read an excerpt from the chapter “Does Israel have a right to exist as a Jewish state”).

Ignoring Palestinian rights

By contrast, the Palestinian call for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) puts the rights of all Palestinians front and center. These include ending the occupation and colonization of all land Israel conquered in 1967; ending all the forms of discrimination Israel practices against Palestinian citizens of Israel; and respecting, promoting and implementing Palestinian refugee rights, including the right of return.

As I’ve explained previously, a two-state solution is theoretically compatible with the full implementation of all the Palestinian rights set out in the BDS call. And the BDS call does not take a position on one or two states.

But the kind of two-state solution envisaged by Kerry and his boss President Obama, and by “liberal” Zionists everywhere, is not designed to respect and restore Palestinian rights, but to negate them in order to pursue the overriding goal of protecting a Jewish majority and therefore Jewish political supremacy throughout most of historic Palestine.

Kerry’s goal is to get Palestinians to legitimize this kind of discrimination as quickly as possible in the form of a “state” that would leave the vast majority of Palestinians – refugees and Palestinian citizens of Israel – permanently shorn of their basic rights solely because they are not Jewish.

Opposing Palestinian rights while supporting a state

Indeed Kerry’s comments closely echo the immortal words of The Crisis of Zionism author Peter Beinart, explaining to ex-Israeli prison guard and The Atlantic blogger Jeffrey Goldberg in 2010, how he simultaneously forcefully opposes rights for most Palestinians while strongly supporting a Palestinian “state.” Beinart said:

I’m not asking Israel to be Utopian. I’m not asking it to allow Palestinians who were forced out (or fled) in 1948 to return to their homes. I’m not even asking it to allow full, equal citizenship to Arab Israelis, since that would require Israel no longer being a Jewish state. I’m actually pretty willing to compromise my liberalism for Israel’s security and for its status as a Jewish state. What I am asking is that Israel not do things that foreclose the possibility of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, because if it is does that it will become–and I’m quoting Ehud Olmert and Ehud Barak here–an “apartheid state.”

Kerry, like Beinart, supports the discrimination and racism necessary to maintain Israel’s status as a “Jewish state.” He just wants it to be hidden behind a “two-state solution” with Palestinians blessing their own subjugation.

Ali Abunimah

Ali Abunimah is the author of One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse and a fellow with the Palestine Centre in Washington, DC.  Abunimah is Executive Director of The Electronic Intifada.

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