Root of the Problem

Tuesday, August 25, 2009 12:41 PM

Now comes an amazing op-ed piece from Los Angeles, of all places. Neve Gordon, a Jewish academic from occupied Palestine, has recently proposed in the L.A. Times a "global boycott" of modern-day Israel, the country of which he is a citizen. Nothing could be more richly deserved or longer overdue. What is the reason Gordon gives? Israel has become an apartheid state, and Gordon finds this disturbing. Hmm. "The most accurate way to describe Israel today is as an apartheid state." True, obvious but unsurprising. One wonders what Gordon and other "peaceniks" in Israel were expecting, given the origins and history of Zionism?

First off, in the interest of full disclosure, let me say that I have nothing against apartheid per se, assuming it is not mandated and enforced by state power. It is normal that people of like persuasions and racial backgrounds are going to congregate together. God may have been the first segregationist, when he put the Chinese in China, the Aryans in Europe, the blacks in Africa, and the Japanese in Japan. (A religious mentor and a pro-Zionist Christian has warned me, "In reality, your beef is with God. He has a plan, but you don't understand it.")

Among the Jews, this proclivity for apartness has been pronounced, because they have designated themselves as "the chosen people". The orthodox and ultra-orthodox Jews create their own ghettos, and have little interest in non-Jews, save to denounce them as "anti-semitic" when it appears to be a useful tactic. When they go to temple, the genders segregate. 

No matter what the ultimate outcome in Palestine is, the Jews who remain and the Palestinians who return are going to end up with their own towns and neighborhoods, if for no other reason than the built-up resentment which the Zionists have engendered for themselves due to war crimes and their general treatment of the Palestinians over many decades. It will take at least as many decades going forward to repair the trauma.

But we all know what Gordon is upset about when he addresses apartheid in Israel. It relates to the defunct apartheid regime in South Africa, which was arguably Tel Aviv's closest ally next to Washington. Gordon writes: "The Palestinians are stateless and lack many of the most basic human rights." The Afrikaner-dominated regime in South Africa shared a common problem with the Zionists in Palestine: what to do with the indigenous inhabitants over whom they ruled. This is not a unique dilemma in the history of the world. It certainly predates colonialism in South Africa and neocolonialism in Palestine. 

Let's take America, north and south. The record of the Spanish in the Caribbean, Mexico and points south is not a pretty picture, starting with Columbus. It can be summed up as slaughter, enslavement and forced conversion to Catholicism, all mixed up in a fanatical quest for gold. The Spanish borrowed the chosen people concept from the Jews, or something close to it. Everybody was a heathen who was not a Catholic, and was treated accordingly.

When the Conquistadores walked though the streets of the Mexica/Aztec capitol in November 1519--built on a lake, much like the lagoon of Venice--they were agog and felt they must be dreaming. The magnificent volcanic rock and limestone city of 250,000 inhabitants was "in fact, one of the largest and most beautiful cities in the world," according to Maurice Collis in his wonderful book Cortes & Montezuma. In a few years, Hernando Cortes would destroy the city totally and without qualms. 

To the north, many of the original English-speaking arrivals on the Atlantic coastline were imbued with a similar outlook. There were no magnificent cities in north America as in Mexico and central America, but the record of English interaction with the native Americans was on a par with the Spanish. By the late nineteenth century, the Indians in north America had been vanquished and confined to reservations, separate and apart from the European settlers who had displaced them.

A similar scenario is unfolding in Palestine today. You will find last-ditch defenders of Zionism using the historical record in the U.S. to justify what the Jews are doing, and have done, to the Palestinians. The attitude is: "Look what you did to the Indians; how can you criticize us for our treatment of the Palestinians?" Like Communist propagandists before them, the Zionists will grasp any tactic to advance their cause, and sometimes they have a point. 

There is a major problem confronting Zionism. We live in a postwar era that is light-years away from the universe of Hernando Cortes and the Anglo colonists of north America. We are suppose to be living in a more ethical world, one for which titanic wars were fought in the twentieth century. I am referring to the fratricidal European conflicts known as World War I and II. The Great War (WWI) was fought "to make the world safe for democracy". The encore (WWII) was instigated (in my view) to make the world safe for the Soviet and American Empires. It is hard to determine which war was the bigger fraud perpetrated upon an unsuspecting humanity, but we are stuck with the consequences.

Thanks to Washington--namely Wilson and FDR--working in tandem with myopic English politicians, Old Europe was destroyed. Along with it, the British Empire and European colonialism were relegated to the dustbin of history. In post-war Palestine, however, there was the immediate emergence of naked neocolonialism, legalized by the White House, the Kremlin and Whitehall, and sanctioned by the new world order, as represented by the UN Security council, controlled by Washington and Moscow.

A handful of conscious-stricken Zionists have recently come to the conclusion that this experiment in neocolonialism has been at least partly a mistake. They conclude that a course correction must be undertaken "to save Israel from itself", as it were. It is not clear what specifically Neve Gordon has in mind or what he expects to achieve by a global economic boycott of Israel. He talks confusingly about the one-state v. two-state solution, but that amounts to an endless kabuki dance.

Two things are certain: American economic sanctions imposed on Israel will never happen; it is a fantasy. Second, Neve Gordon represents a very, very tiny minority of Jews who live in Palestine, and their influence upon Tel Aviv officialdom is next to zero. He says as much in his article: "The Israeli peace camp has gradually dwindled so that today it is almost nonexistent, and Israeli politics are moving more and more to the extreme right." In short, Zionism has subsumed and consumed Jewry. Gordon apparently expects decent, thoughtful people in America and Europe to come to the rescue. He is expecting too much.

Can you imagine a boycott Israel being proposed on the floor of the U.S. Senate and Congress? Whoever might suggest such an idea would be denounced as a crackpot, a terrorist and a Holocaust-denier. I am afraid that my progressive friends, Jew and Gentile, entertain exaggerated expectations, to put it mildly. Who do they think is in charge in Washington? The politicians on Capitol Hill and at the White House do not have a motive to do the right thing, even assuming they would know what the right thing was. 

Washington office holders are in a box. To oppose Tel Aviv in a serious way would mean ending their political careers. They would become radioactive overnight. Simply put, modern-day Israel is immune from outside pressure because its agents control the leadership and the agenda in America and Europe. President Obama has not been applying pressure. At best, Obama is trying to slow down the Likud juggernaught, and for this he should be given credit.

But Obama, President of the lone surviving Superpower on the verge of insolvency, has no power to enforce a change. He and Hillary Clinton and German chancellor Angela Merkel are happy to waste time beating the drums for sanctions upon Iran, which policy will end in war, as was the case with Iraq. It is perfectly obvious why they are doing it, and it has nothing to do with nuclear weapons. On the other hand, sanctioning Tel Aviv for its many transparent transgressions of human rights and international law is not on the agenda for this or any U.S. President.


Boycott Israel 

[The Los Angeles Times, August 20th, 2009]

An Israeli comes to the painful conclusion that it's the only way to save his country.

By Neve Gordon

Israeli newspapers this summer are filled with angry articles about the push for an international boycott of Israel. Films have been withdrawn from Israeli film festivals, Leonard Cohen is under fire around the world for his decision to perform in Tel Aviv, and Oxfam has severed ties with a celebrity spokesperson, a British actress who also endorses cosmetics produced in the occupied territories. Clearly, the campaign to use the kind of tactics that helped put an end to the practice of apartheid in South Africa is gaining many followers around the world.

Not surprisingly, many Israelis -- even peaceniks -- aren't signing on. A global boycott can't help but contain echoes of anti-Semitism. It also brings up questions of a double standard (why not boycott China for its egregious violations of human rights?) and the seemingly contradictory position of approving a boycott of one's own nation.

It is indeed not a simple matter for me as an Israeli citizen to call on foreign governments, regional authorities, international social movements, faith-based organizations, unions and citizens to suspend cooperation with Israel. But today, as I watch my two boys playing in the yard, I am convinced that it is the only way that Israel can be saved from itself.

I say this because Israel has reached a historic crossroads, and times of crisis call for dramatic measures. I say this as a Jew who has chosen to raise his children in Israel, who has been a member of the Israeli peace camp for almost 30 years and who is deeply anxious about the country's future.

The most accurate way to describe Israel today is as an apartheid state. For more than 42 years, Israel has controlled the land between the Jordan Valley and the Mediterranean Sea. Within this region about 6 million Jews and close to 5 million Palestinians reside. Out of this population, 3.5 million Palestinians and almost half a million Jews live in the areas Israel occupied in 1967, and yet while these two groups live in the same area, they are subjected to totally different legal systems. The Palestinians are stateless and lack many of the most basic human rights. By sharp contrast, all Jews -- whether they live in the occupied territories or in Israel -- are citizens of the state of Israel.

The question that keeps me up at night, both as a parent and as a citizen, is how to ensure that my two children as well as the children of my Palestinian neighbors do not grow up in an apartheid regime.

There are only two moral ways of achieving this goal.

The first is the one-state solution: offering citizenship to all Palestinians and thus establishing a bi-national democracy within the entire area controlled by Israel. Given the demographics, this would amount to the demise of Israel as a Jewish state; for most Israeli Jews, it is anathema.

The second means of ending our apartheid is through the two-state solution, which entails Israel's withdrawal to the pre-1967 borders (with possible one-for-one land swaps), the division of Jerusalem, and a recognition of the Palestinian right of return with the stipulation that only a limited number of the 4.5 million Palestinian refugees would be allowed to return to Israel, while the rest can return to the new Palestinian state.

Geographically, the one-state solution appears much more feasible because Jews and Palestinians are already totally enmeshed; indeed, "on the ground," the one-state solution (in an apartheid manifestation) is a reality.

Ideologically, the two-state solution is more realistic because fewer than 1% of Jews and only a minority of Palestinians support binationalism.

For now, despite the concrete difficulties, it makes more sense to alter the geographic realities than the ideological ones. If at some future date the two peoples decide to share a state, they can do so, but currently this is not something they want.

So if the two-state solution is the way to stop the apartheid state, then how does one achieve this goal?

I am convinced that outside pressure is the only answer. Over the last three decades, Jewish settlers in the occupied territories have dramatically increased their numbers. The myth of the united Jerusalem has led to the creation of an apartheid city where Palestinians aren't citizens and lack basic services. The Israeli peace camp has gradually dwindled so that today it is almost nonexistent, and Israeli politics are moving more and more to the extreme right.

It is therefore clear to me that the only way to counter the apartheid trend in Israel is through massive international pressure. The words and condemnations from the Obama administration and the European Union have yielded no results, not even a settlement freeze, let alone a decision to withdraw from the occupied territories.

I consequently have decided to support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement that was launched by Palestinian activists in July 2005 and has since garnered widespread support around the globe. The objective is to ensure that Israel respects its obligations under international law and that Palestinians are granted the right to self-determination.

In Bilbao, Spain, in 2008, a coalition of organizations from all over the world formulated the 10-point Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign meant to pressure Israel in a "gradual, sustainable manner that is sensitive to context and capacity." For example, the effort begins with sanctions on and divestment from Israeli firms operating in the occupied territories, followed by actions against those that help sustain and reinforce the occupation in a visible manner. Along similar lines, artists who come to Israel in order to draw attention to the occupation are welcome, while those who just want to perform are not.

Nothing else has worked. Putting massive international pressure on Israel is the only way to guarantee that the next generation of Israelis and Palestinians -- my two boys included -- does not grow up in an apartheid regime.

Neve Gordon is the author of "Israel's Occupation" and teaches politics at Ben-Gurion University in Beersheba, Israel.

Copyright © 2009, The Los Angeles Times