Israel's 60th anniversary is an opportune occasion to question why the U.S. government offers unlimited support to a country that persistently and routinely violates principles that Americans hold sacred.
The U.S. government finances an illegal military occupation in the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and the Gaza Strip. Since October 1973, total direct U.S. aid to Israel amounts to well over $140 billion in 2003 dollars. What does this aid buy? Illegal Jewish-only settlements built on confiscated Palestinian land. Palestinian towns and villages encircled by walls more monstrous in most places than the Berlin wall. Israeli checkpoints and roadblocks between Palestinian towns that bring the normal movement of people and goods to a standstill and constitute daily humiliations. Gaza sealed and under siege, with food and fuel withheld. Since the second intifada started in September 2000, at least 4,719 Palestinians have been killed and 32,213 wounded.
Israel's strategy seems to be to make life so unlivable for Palestinians that those with options will leave, and those without options are controlled by the Jewish state. Is this a strategy that Americans can support?
Israel's supporters excuse Israel's appalling violations of international law and human rights by insisting that it is a democracy and thus shares a lot with the United States. But that is not true.
Israel distinguishes between citizenship rights, such as the right to vote, which is available to non-Jewish citizens of the state, and nationality rights, which are reserved for Jews. This is not a feature of democracy as we know it.
Several laws have been enacted in Israel whose intention is clearly to maintain Jewish numerical superiority and to reinforce the Jewish character of the state, all of which belie the claim that Israel is a democracy. Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, has identified more than 20 laws in Israel that discriminate against Palestinian citizens of Israel by working the Jewish character of the state into the text of the law. Israel defines "public good" in ethno-religious terms; lands expropriated from Palestinians for the "public good" benefit Jewish citizens only. The 20 percent of the population that is Muslim and Christian are regarded as a demographic threat. Obsession over the ethnic and religious composition of a country is also not a typical characteristic of democratic societies.
Support for Israel is garnered under false pretenses and enforced through coercive tactics. Americans should consider the effect of these strong-arm tactics on our public life.
A small but powerful lobby has had an inordinate influence on the executive and legislative branches of the government, on the media, and on our public culture. Neither a former president and Nobel Peace Prize winner like Jimmy Carter, or establishment professors from prestigious universities like John Mearsheimer (University of Chicago) and Stephen Walt (Harvard University), are immune from charges of anti-semitism if they question Israel's policies.
These assaults on the personal integrity of people who express non-mainstream political views has had a profoundly corrosive effect on free speech and public debate.
Members of Congress of both parties accept pro-Israel political action committee money and in return, they support and initiate legislation in support of Israel.
Both the public and the media have been trained to accept without question the unseemly spectacle of presidential candidates and elected officials who swear allegiance to a foreign country, as though this should inspire the trust of U.S. voters.
Israel's illegal policies toward Palestinians and its neighbors have been the subject of more than 65 U.N. resolutions. Israel routinely ignores General Assembly and Security Council resolutions, and its intransigence is defended by the United States. Supporting Israel puts the United States at odds with most of the people of the world, and it also means that the U.S. government grows accustomed to defending violations of international law. Yet neither Israel nor the United States is above the law.
Pro-Israel organizations and individuals have led the campaign promoting anti-Arab and anti-Muslim bigotry in this country. Generalizations and smears that would be easily identified as bigotry if African Americans or Latinos were the subject trigger no objections when they are made about Arabs and Muslims.
Palestinians in growing numbers are demanding equal rights for all residents of Mandate Palestine.
Americans can hardly oppose this demand while at the same time claiming to be a beacon of freedom and democracy for all peoples.
Ida Audeh is a Palestinian who grew up in the West Bank and now works as an editor in Boulder.
© 2008 The E.W. Scripps Co.