After US Secretary of State John Kerry’s recent comment about “apartheid” one day potentially appearing in Israeli controlled Palestine, the reality today is that apartheid already exists.
Two pieces from the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.
At a G-20 conference in Cannes in November 2011, then-French President Nicolas Sarkozy termed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a “liar” and said he “can’t stand” the Israeli leader. U.S. President Barack Obama responded, “You’re tired of him; what about me? I have to deal with him every day.” These rare quotes, revealing truths that are usually kept from the public due to the rules of diplomacy and political correctness, came to light only because the two presidents didn’t realize that the microphones were still on.
Now, it is John Kerry’s turn. In contrast to Sarkozy and Obama, the U.S. secretary of state was caught revealing truths not about people, but about fundamental issues. During a meeting of the Trilateral Commission last week, Kerry was recorded as saying, “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.” He also warned that a stalemate in the peace process could lead to renewed violence in the territories, while hinting that progress might be possible under a different government: If “there is a change of government or a change of heart, something will happen,” he said.
Kerry’s frank statements weren’t the sort that diplomatic ears are accustomed to hearing, and he was therefore subjected to a wave of political and personal attacks for having made them. He was even forced to publicly express regret for having used the word “apartheid,” saying, “If I could rewind the tape, I would have chosen a different word.”
It’s no accident that Kerry was forced to retract the term “apartheid” in particular. There’s good reason for the sensitivity over comparisons of Israel with apartheid-era South Africa: Aspects of apartheid already exist in Israel, and they are liable to expand if the two-state solution collapses. But instead of working to alter the country’s destructive direction, groups and individuals that call themselves “pro-Israel” are trying to obscure the grim reality by denying the “apartheid” label.
Kerry’s “off-the-record” remarks essentially described reality: Israel cannot remain a Jewish and democratic state without a two-state solution, a unitary state would be an apartheid state, a stalemate in the peace process is liable to lead to another intifada and a change in the composition of Israel’s government, and/or the person heading it, is liable to change the picture. The troubling snapshot of reality that Kerry presented must be altered by implementing a two-state solution. For unlike an audio recording, the tragedy that is gradually taking shape here won’t be possible to rewind or erase.
Is Israel at risk of becoming an apartheid state, as John Kerry said on Friday, or not, as he said on Tuesday? Who knows? Given his feeble performance as U.S. secretary of state and his disgraceful apology, maybe it no longer matters what Kerry thinks or says. Given the aggressiveness of the Jewish lobby and the weakness of the Obama administration, which capitulates to every “pro-Israel” whim, Israel doesn’t need enemies with friends like these. Look what happened to its genuine friend, who was only trying to warn it from itself.
What a miserable secretary of state, up to his neck in denial. And how unfriendly to Israel he is to retract his frank, genuine and friendly warning merely for fear of the lobby. Now millions of ignorant Americans, viewers of Fox News and its ilk, know that Israel is in no risk of becoming an apartheid state. They believe the power of Hamas and the sophistication of Qassam rocket pose an existential danger to Israel .
But Kerry’s vacillations do not change the reality that shrieks from every wall. From every West Bank Palestinian village, from every reservoir and power grid that is for Jews only; apartheid screams from every demolished tent encampment and every verdict of the military court; from every nighttime arrest, every checkpoint, every eviction order and every settlement home. No, Israel is not an apartheid state, but for nearly 50 years an apartheid regime has ruled its occupied territories. Those who want to continue to live a lie, to repress and to deny are invited to visit Hebron. No honest, decent person could return without admitting the existence of apartheid. Those who fear that politically incorrect word have only to walk for a few minutes down Shuhada Street, with its segregated road and sidewalks, and their fear of using the forbidden word will vanish without a trace.
The history of the conflict is filled with forbidden words. Once upon a time, it was forbidden to say “Palestinians” was forbidden, after that came the prohibitions against saying “occupation,” “war crime,” “colonialism” or “binational state.” Now “apartheid” is prohibited.
The forbidden words paralyze debate. Did you let the word “apartheid” slip out? The truth is no longer important. But no political correctness or bowdlerization, however sanctimonious, can conceal reality forever. And the reality is an occupation regime of apartheid.
The naysayers can find countless differences between the apartheid of Pretoria and that of Jerusalem. Pretoria’s was openly racist and anchored in law; Jerusalem’s is denied and repressed, hidden beneath a heavy cloak of propaganda and messianic religious faith. But the result is the same. Some South Africans who lived under the system of segregation say that their apartheid was worse. I know South Africans who say that the version in the territories is worse. But neither group can find a significant difference at the root: When two nations share the same piece of land and one has full rights while the other has no rights, that is apartheid. If it looks like apartheid, walks like apartheid and quacks like apartheid, it’s apartheid.
Israel is an incipient apartheid state, just as Kerry I said on Friday. Kerry II, on Tuesday, merely tried to blur and hide the truth for fear of the lobby. But apartheid is in our future. If there won’t be two states, there will be only one. If there won’t be a democratic, egalitarian state, a state of all its citizens, then there will be an apartheid state. There is no other option. With its actions, Israel is saying a firm “no” to the two-state solution. With its fear of a non-Jewish state, Israel is saying no to a democratic, binational state. Where does that leave us? With an apartheid state. As Naomi Shemer said in her optimistic song “Mahar” (“Tomorrow”): If not today, then tomorrow, and if not tomorrow, then the day after.