SUPPRESSING U.N. REPORT ON ISRAEL’S MOVE TOWARD APARTHEID IS DANGEROUS FOR U.S. POLICY—-AND FOR
ALLAN C. BROWNFELD
In mid-March, a U.N. commission said in a report that Israel practices apartheid against Palestinians. The report was published by the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCUA). One of the authors of the report was Richard Falk, an American professor at Princeton University. Dr. Falk, who is Jewish, is the former U.N. Human rights investigator.
The term apartheid, the institutionalized oppression once practiced against the black majority in South Africa, has been used increasingly by critics of the Israeli government, both within Israel and abroad, to describe its policies toward the Palestijians in territories occupied or controlled by Israel for 50 years.
An executive summary of the report was placed on the U.N. commission’s website. It called it a study to examine, “based on key instruments of international law, whether Israel has established an apartheid regime that oppresses and dominates the Palestinian people as a whole.” It concludes that it did, based on what it called the fragmentation of the Palestinian population, Israel’s restrictions on Palestinians’ movements and other limits placed on Palestinians, but not Israelis.
The report was denounced by the Israeli ambassador to the U.N. Danny Danin who called it “despicable” and “a blatant lie.” He was joined by the U.S. Ambassador, Nikki Haley, who called upon the U.N. to immediately withdraw the report. Two days after the report appeared, it was no longer on the U.N. commission’s website.
Richard Falk, one of the report’s authors, notes that, “Almost within hours of its release on March 15 our report was greeted by what can only be described as hysteria. The U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley denounced it and demanded that the U.N. repudiate it. the newly elected Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, quickly and publicly called for ESCUA to withdraw the report from its website, and when Rima Khalef, the head of the commission, resisted, Guterres insisted. Rather than comply, Khalef resigned. Soon thereafter the report was withdrawn from the commission’s website, despite its having been published with a disclaimer, noting that it represents the views of its authors and not necessarily that of ESCWA or the U.N.”
In Falk’s view, “What is striking about the response…is the degree to which Israel’s supporters, in response to criticism, have sought to discredit the messenger rather than address the message. During my tenure as the U.N.’s Special Rapporteur on human rights in the occupied Palestinian Territories (2008-2014), I saw the defenders of Israel attempt to discredit critics…I never received substantive pushback regarding my allegations….Among my harshest critics were not only the usual ultra-Zionist NGOs but also Barack Obama’s diplomats at the U.N., including Susan Rice and Samantha Power…It falls into a longstanding pattern of rebuttal that prefers to smear rather than engage in reasoned debate about important issues of law and justice….It remains our central hope…that the widespread availability of the report will lead to a clearer understanding of the Palestinian plight and encourage more effective responses by the U.N., by governments and by civil society. Beyond this, it is our continuing hope that people of good will throughout the world, especially within Israel, will work toward a political solution that will finally allow Jews and Palestinians to live together in peace with justice.”
The U.N.report argues that Israel has veiled apartheid as “democracy.” In the chapter titled “Demographic Engineering,” it states that, “The first general policy of Israel has been one of demographic engineering , in order to establish and maintain an overwhelming Jewish majority in Israel. As in any racial democracy, such a majority allows the trappings of democracy—democratic elections, a strong legislature—without threatening any loss of hegemony by the dominant racial group. In Israeli discourse. This mission is expressed in terms of the so-called ‘demographic threat,’ an openly racist reference to Palestinian population growth or the return of Palestinian refugees.”
The report’s section on “Israel Jewish-National Institutions,” declares that, “Israel has designed its domestic governance in such a way as to ensure that the state upholds and promotes Jewish nationalism. The term ‘Jewish people’ in political Zionist thought is used to claim the right of self-determination . The quest of an ethnic or racial group for its own state amounts to a national project, and so Israel’s institutions designed to preserve Israel as a Jewish state are referred to in this report as ‘Jewish-national’ institutions….An interplay of laws consolidates Jewish-national supremacy. For example, regarding the central question of land use. Basic Laws: Israel Lands provides that real property held by the State of Israel, the Development Authority or the Keren Kayemet Le-Israel (Jewish National Fund ) must serve ‘national’ (that is Jewish-national) interests and cannot be transferred to other hands.”
The U.N. report’s goal was to investigate “whether Israel has established an apartheid regime that oppresses and dominates the Palestinian people as a whole.” It declares: ”The analysis in this report rests on the same body of international human rights law and principles that reject anti-Semitism and other racially discriminatory ideologies, including the Charter of the United Nations (1945), the Universal Declaratiin of Human Rights (1948), and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (1965). The report relies for its definition of apartheid primarily on Article II of the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment Of the Crime of Apartheid (1973).”
Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian ambassador to the U.N., said that, “Rather than attacking the report, it would be better to reflect on the realities that the report addresses and how they can be remedied.” This is hardly the first time that Israeli practices have been compared to apartheid. In 2007, John Dugard, a South African law professor who was a U.N. Human rights investigator, said Israeli laws and practices in the occupied territories “certainly resemble aspects of apartheid.” Saeb Erekat, a lead negotiator for the Palestinians in negotiations with Israel, has used the term apartheid in referring to the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. When Israel approved new funding for settlements in June, Mr. Erekat said: “It is time for the international community to assume its responsibility toward the extremist government that openly supports apartheid and stands against the two-state solution.”
When he visited Israel on March 8, British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson told The Jerusalem Post: “What we are saying is that you have to have a two-state solution or else you have a kind of apartheid system.” In Israel itself, critics of the occupation regularly use the term apartheid. Ehud Barak, the most decorated soldier in Israel’s history, warns: ”As long as in this territory west of the Jordan River there is only one political entity called Israel, it is going to be either non-Jewish or non-democratic. If the bloc of millions of Palestinians cannot vote, this will be an apartheid state.” Some Israelis have even used the term”fascism” to describe current policy. Prof. Zeev Sternhell, former head of the political science department at Hebrew University, and a specialist on the history of fascism was recently asked if Israel is now on the verge of fascism. He replied: ”It’s a gradual process. we have yet to cross the red line, but we are dangerously close. We are at the height of an erosion process of the liberal values on which our society is based. Those who regard liberal values as a danger to the nation…are the ones currently in power. They are striving to delegitimize the left and anyone who does not hold the view that conquering the land and settling it through the use of force are the fundamental foundations of Zionism. That’s why universal values and universal rights are enemies of the state, in their view.”
Around the world, Jewish voices are being heard decrying what they see as Israel’s retreat from Judaism’s humane moral and ethical tradition. Speaking at J Street’s annual conference in Washington in February, Tony Klug, a special adviser on the Middle East at the Oxford Research Group, said that support for Israel’s “never-ending” occupation is changing the nature of what it means to be Jewish. “We used to be people devoted to justice,” he declared. “Now we have become enablers of Israel’s injustices.”
Klug told his audience: ”…Time honored Jewish ideals —Justice, freedom, equality, peace, mutual respect—have made an extraordinary contribution to human civilization. They lie at the very core of Jewish identity…We now face the major reality of a state that describes itself loudly and often to be Jewish as…withholding fundamental human rights from millions of people indefinitely…A standpoint that is in total defiance of quintessential Jewish principles…When all is said and done, the bottom line is that the conflict with the Palestinians has dominated and distorted the Jewish world for too long. It is time to bring it to an end and stop the infamy of a half century of military occupation of another people and allow us to get back to the business of being ourselves.”
Rabbi Henry Siegman, a former director of the American Jewish Congress, says that Israel’s settlements have created an “irreversible colonial project” and involved having Israel “cross the threshold from ‘the only democracy in the Middle Esst’ to the only apartheid regime in the Western world. Denial of self-determination and Israeli citizenship to Palestinians amounts to ‘double disenfranchisement,’ which, when based on ethnicity, amounts to racism.” Reserving democracy for privileged citizens and keeping others “behind checkpoints and barbed wire fences,” he states, is the opposite of democracy.
By helping to suppress the U.N. report about Israel’s inhumane policy toward the Palestinians and the manner in which this policy is approaching—-or has reached—the level of apartheid, we are doing Israel no favor and are harming our own interests in the Middle East as well. Such action only fuels the very kind of antagonism toward America which leads to the growth of terrorist groups such as ISIS. It encourages extremists in Israel to pursue their goal of annexing the occupied territories. Some even call for the expulsion of the indigenous Palestinian population. This is a recipe for continuing conflict. Killing the messenger, as we have done by suppressing this report, is not being a good friend to Israel’s long-term best interests. Friends, after all, don’t let friends drive drunk which, it seems, Israel is now doing.
Alan Brownfeld served as a member of the staff of the U.S. Senate Internal Security Subcommittee, as Assistant to the research director of the House Republican Conference and as a consultant to members of the U.S. Congress and to the Vice President. He is now the chair of the American Council on Judaism.
[Rabbi Michel Lerner responds:
While I agree with Brownfeld's critique of the suppression of the UN Report, I disagree that Israel can be described as an apartheid state (he doesn't claim that either, only those about whom he is reporting say it). What is true is that Palestinians in the West Bank are being subjected to apartheid-like conditions as they existed in South Africa before the apartheid regime was replaced, or perhaps something even worse. Yet I believe it questionable whether the term apartheid should be used, because of its implications of racial discrimination, which is not what Israel is doing. Palestinians living inside pre-67 Israel vote in the Knesset and their party is the 3rd biggest political party, there are no laws prohibiting them from using the same beaches, rest rooms, living in the same neighborhoods or going to the same colleges and universities (which they do). These are some of the many features of life in apartheid South Africa that Palestinians do not face. There is defacto discrimination just as there is against various minority groups in the US but we don't call those conditions apartheid. There is a national struggle going on between two nations, and using the word apartheid becomes hyperbole to inflame rather than explain the terrible situation facing West Bank Palestinians. It is not a racial issue but a religious and national issue. Muslim and Christian Palestinians who convert to Judaism are NOT prevented from having all the same rights as Jews, even if they "look" like Palestinians (though so do many born Jewish Israelis who have emigrated from Arab lands). Blacks cannot covert to being white, and Jews in Europe who converted to Christianity were still treated by the Nazis as Jews because they had "Jewish blood" even if their great grandparents had converted to Christianity. THAT is racism. But in the Israel/Palestine struggle, it is not a racial issue but a conflict between two nations and between those who want Israel to be a Jewish state and those who wish to transform it into a binational state. Palestinians face defacto discrimination in Israel, and it is terrible and ought to be challenged. Palestinians living in the West Bank face all kinds of outrageous treatment, and in many respects the restrictions on their lives resemble, though in some cases are worse, than the restrictions faced by Africans under South African apartheid. We have been protesting strongly against the policies of the State of Israel that lead to that oppression. But it does little to help the situation to call it 'apartheid' because that only invites the Israeli Right wing and its many supporters in the U.S. to engage in the conversation about why it's not apartheid, when what they should be brought into is the conversation about why what is happening to Palestinians is outrageous, a violation of Jewish values, and a violation of international standards of human rights. The apartheid claim, like that of those who claim (mistakenly) that Israel is engaged in genocide, diverts the question from the real suffering caused by the Occupation of the West Bank. ]
UN Secretary General on AntiSemitism
On International Holocaust Remembrance Day, António Guterres, the new UN Secretary-General, spoke about the continuing reality of anti-Semitism
Today is a day to remember, reflect and look forward.
We are here to honour the victims of the Holocaust, an unparalleled crime against humanity.
We are together to mourn the loss of so many and of so much.
The world has a duty to remember that the Holocaust was a systematic attempt to eliminate the Jewish people and so many others.
I am humbled by the presence here today of Holocaust survivors. Thank you for bearing witness across seven decades so that others may live in dignity. There is no better education for the future than the guarantee that we will always be able to remember the past and to honour the victims of the tragedies of that past.
I would like to pay tribute to one survivor in particular, Elie Wiesel, who passed away last year. He became one of the world’s most passionate voices for mutual respect and acceptance, and the United Nations was proud to have him as one of our Messengers of Peace.
It would be a dangerous error to think of the Holocaust as simply the result of the insanity of a group of criminal Nazis. On the contrary, the Holocaust was the culmination of millennia of hatred and discrimination targeting the Jews – what we now call anti-Semitism.
Imperial Rome not only destroyed the temple in Jerusalem, but also made Jews pariahs in many ways. The attacks and abuse grew worse through the triumph of Christianity and the propagation of the idea that the Jewish community should be punished for the death of Jesus – an absurdity that helped to trigger massacres and other tremendous crimes against Jews around the world for centuries to come.
The same happened in my own country, Portugal, reaching its height with the order by King Manuel in the 16th century expelling all Jews who refused to convert. This was a hideous crime and an act of enormous stupidity. It caused tremendous suffering to the Jewish community – and deprived Portugal of much of the country’s dynamism. Before long, the country entered a prolonged cycle of impoverishment.
Many Portuguese Jews eventually settled in the Netherlands. Lisbon’s loss was Amsterdam’s gain, as the Portuguese Jewish community played a key role in transforming the Netherlands into the global economic powerhouse of the 17th century.
The Portuguese example also demonstrates that anti-Semitism, more than a question of religion, is essentially an expression of racism. The proof is that the converted Jews, the so-called “new Christians”, faced discrimination by the old Christians, and suffered continued persecution by the Portuguese Inquisition.
When I became Prime Minister in 1995, I felt it was absolutely necessary, even if only with a symbolic gesture, to demonstrate my country’s rejection and repentance of Portugal’s
merciless attacks against the Jewish community.
In 1996, Parliament revoked the letter of expulsion. I then had the honour of visiting the Portuguese Synagogue in Amsterdam to formally present a copy of that decree and apologize on behalf of my country. Tragically, that beautiful synagogue was almost empty, because the community Portugal had expelled was almost completely destroyed by the Holocaust. Anti-Semitism always tends to come back.
Portugal recently adopted a law allowing the descendants of those expelled in the 16th century to regain Portuguese nationality. Last year, more than 400 took advantage of this offer.
I am also very proud to note that just a few weeks ago, my wife signed, on behalf of the Lisbon Municipality, an agreement with the Israeli Community of Lisbon to establish the Lisbon Jewish Museum. This will be a way to pay tribute to the memory of those my country mistreated so badly.
History keeps moving forward, but anti-Semitism keeps coming back.
The renowned scholar Simon Schama has noted that in the 19th century, Jews were even blamed for modernity, including for disasters of international finance in which they themselves were among the first victims.
Schama also noted that Jews often faced a lose-lose situation. When they successfully integrated and came to “look like” anyone else, they became subjects of suspicion. Others who looked different were blamed for that, too. Both groups came together in the Nazi crematoria.
After the Holocaust, the world seemed eager to find a more cooperative path. The founding of the United Nations was one expression of that moment. The UN Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Genocide Convention enshrined a commitment to equality and human rights.
Humankind dared to believe that tribal identities would diminish in importance.
We were wrong. Those like me who grew up in the post-war era never imagined we would again face rising attacks on Jews in my own part of the world – in Europe.
Anti-Semitism is alive and kicking. Irrationality and intolerance are back.
But we still see Holocaust denial, despite the facts. There is also a new trend of Holocaust revisionism, with the rewriting of history and even the honouring of disgraced officials from those days.
Hate speech and anti-Semitic imagery are proliferating across the Internet and social media.
Violent extremist groups use anti-Semitic appeals to rouse their forces and recruit new followers.
All this is in complete contrast to tolerance, the primacy of reason and universal values.
Moreover, as the former Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom, Lord Jonathan Sacks, said last year, “The hate that begins with Jews never ends with Jews”.
Today, we see anti-Semitism, along with racism, xenophobia, anti-Muslim hatred and other forms of intolerance, triggered by populism. I am extremely concerned at the discrimination faced by minorities, refugees and migrants across the world.
I find the stereotyping of Muslims deeply troubling. A “new normal” of public discourse is taking hold, in which prejudice is given a free pass and the door is opened to even more extreme hatred.
Steps from this chamber, you will find a powerful exhibition on Nazi propaganda. It is called “State of deception” and is the product of our fruitful partnership with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
As this exhibition details, propaganda helped erode the bonds of humanity. The word “Jewish” was used constantly in association with society’s ills. Hardship and instability created fertile ground for scapegoating. It is true that many citizens disapproved of discrimination. But a majority accepted such sentiments, even if only passively. Ultimately, indifference prevailed, dehumanization took hold, and the descent into barbarity was quick.
These are lessons for our time, too.
We need to be vigilant. We need to invest in education and youth. We need to strengthen social cohesion so that people feel that diversity is a plus, not a threat.
The United Nations itself must do more to strengthen its human rights machinery, and to push for justice for the perpetrators of grave crimes.
Our “Together” campaign is focusing on countries hosting refugees and migrants. Our Holocaust Outreach Programme is active on all continents.
The Holocaust also saw great acts of heroism, from ordinary people who protected others to diplomats who, at grave risk to themselves, defied the Nazis to enable thousands of people to escape certain death. Some of these are well known – Sweden’s Raoul Wallenberg and Japan’s Chiune Sugihara. Some are less so — Iran’s Abdol Hossein Sardari and, I am proud to say, Portugal’s Consul in Bordeaux, Aristides de Sousa Mendes.
Today, we can be inspired by many cooperative efforts to bring diverse groups together. We need to deepen this solidarity.
After the horrors of the 20th century, there should be no room for intolerance in the 21st.
I guarantee you that as Secretary-General of the United Nations, I will be in the frontline of the battle against anti-Semitism and all other forms of hatred.
That is the best way to build a future of dignity and equality for all – and the best way to honour the victims of the Holocaust we will never allow to be forgotten.