Peace demands challenging Israel’s exceptionalism 12May11 May 13, 2011

by Omar Barghouti  -  The Huffington Post -  12 May 2011

Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League repeats the mantra that by advocating comprehensive Palestinian rights, including full equality for Palestinian citizens of Israel and the UN-sanctioned right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes from which they were forcibly displaced, the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement is “de-legitimizing” Israel and threatening its very “existence.” This claim is frequently made by Israel lobby groups in an obvious attempt to muddy the waters and to push beyond the pale of legitimate debate the mere statement of facts about and analysis of Israel’s occupation, denial of refugee rights, and institutionalized system of racial discrimination, which basically fits the UN definition of apartheid.

Specifically, what is often objected to is the demand for full equality for Palestinian citizens of Israel. One can only wonder, if equality ends Israel’s “existence,” what does that say about Israel? Did equality destroy South Africa? Did it “delegitimize” whites in the Southern states of the U.S. after segregation was outlawed? The only thing that equality, human rights and justice really destroy is a system of injustice, inequality and racial discrimination.

The “delegitimization” scare tactic, widely promoted by Israel’s well-oiled pressure groups, has not impressed many in the West, in fact, particularly since its most far-reaching claim against BDS is that the movement aims to “supersede the Zionist model with a state that is based on the ‘one person, one vote’ principle” — hardly the most evil or disquieting accusation for anyone even vaguely interested in democracy, a just peace, and equal rights.

In this vein, right after Israel’s occupation of Gaza and the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) in 1967, the great Jewish-American writer I.F. Stone presciently wrote:

“Israel is creating a kind of moral schizophrenia in world Jewry. In the outside world, the welfare of Jewry depends on the maintenance of secular, non-racial, pluralistic societies. In Israel, Jewry finds itself defending a society in which mixed marriages cannot be legalized, in which non-Jews have a lesser status than Jews, and in which the ideal is racist and exclusivist.”
Had he lived long enough, Stone would have seen far more damning evidence of this “schizophrenia” in the everyday discourse of Israel’s apologists in the U.S. With every racist law that passes in the Israeli Knesset, they go into high gear to stifle awareness and any possible denunciation of it in the public arena, leading to an absurd situation where, compared to most U.S. media sources, major Israeli papers have become much more tolerant of opinions that sharply criticize Israeli policies.

The job of defending Israel and guaranteeing the ongoing flow of billions of U.S. taxpayers’ money into its coffers despite its multi-tiered system of oppression has only become more precarious in view of the Arab democratic spring and Israel’s subsequent loss of its most loyal “ally” in the region, the former Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak. With Arab publics asserting their rights and insisting on democratic governance, the near future may well witness the rise of freely elected Arab governments, especially in Egypt, that are far more in sync with popular demands for supporting the Palestinian struggle for self-determination. Israel is terrified at this prospect, as it would further undermine its status as a state above the law of nations.

Though it still commands indisputable influence in Congress and a menacing sway that helps it to muzzle debate over Israel’s increasingly indefensible flouting of international law and basic Palestinian rights, the lobby was rocked by recent scandals and allegations of espionage for Israel which have shattered its once invincible image in the American mainstream. An important consequence of this near-fall from grace has been that the myth, long cultivated by the lobby, that U.S. and Israeli interests fully converge is starting to crack.

John Mearsheimer, expert on the Israel lobby, explains, “The combination of Israel’s strategic incompetence and its gradual transformation into an apartheid state creates significant problems for the United States. There is growing recognition in both countries that their interests are diverging ….” The head of the U.S. Central Command, Gen. David Petraeus, and Vice President Biden have both admitted that Israel’s policies towards the Palestinian people are undermining U.S. security. Even the head of Mossad statedbefore Israel’s parliament last year that “Israel is gradually turning from an asset to the United States to a burden.”

Irrespective of the debate on Israel’s true value to the U.S. establishment, grassroots campaigns for Palestinian rights have been gaining considerable ground in the U.S. since Israel’s war of aggression against the besieged Gaza Strip in 2008-09. Advocating freedom, justice, and equality for all humans, irrespective of identity, the non-violent, Palestinian-led, global BDS movement has grown at an impressive rate, shedding a bright light on the exceptionalism with which Israel is treated in the U.S. The fact that BDS categorically and consistently opposes all forms of racism, including anti-Semitism, has further extended its reach into the Western mainstream.

Despite substantial investments of money and projection of intimidating power, the Israel lobby has largely failed, to date, to quell the spread BDS activism on US campuses and in liberal circles. Realizing this, several lobby groups have resorted to McCarthyesque measures to bully academics and cultural figures into toeing the line set by the lobby regarding Israel, a tactic that has backfired and led to alienating a burgeoning group of Americans, especially younger Jewish Americans.

Having largely lost the battle for hearts and minds at the grassroots level in several key European and other states, and due to a significant rise in negative ratings of Israel in the U.S. public, Israel’s lobby groups in the United States are desperately trying to safeguard Israel’s impunity. Cognizant of the circumstances and dynamics that marked the final stages in the struggle against South African apartheid, Israel is only too well aware of the dire consequences of its militarist, unjust, and patently discriminatory policies being exposed to the U.S. public, its last bastion of popular support around the world. Without challenging Israel’s exceptionalism, however, the prospects for comprehensive and sustainable peace based on justice will remain dim.

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