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Kerry and the spectre of Israeli apartheid

When US Secretary of State John Kerry said that Israel could possibly be turning into an apartheid state, it was pointed out that many senior Israeli politicians and officials have shared this view. However, this did not prevent him from being attacked in Israel and in Washington, causing him to retreat and defend himself. Department of State spokesperson Jane Psaki said later that Secretary Kerry merely expressed a simple view that, "in his opinion, the two-state solution is the only option for Israel, if it wants to be a democratic Jewish State".

The reality of the situation is that Kerry's warnings have little to do with apartheid itself but of the consequences it will have on Israel. Kerry fears, or claims that he fears, that boycotting Israel will lead to an apartheid state; he fears that it will have the same fate as white apartheid South Africa and that it will be isolated and boycotted by the international community. He also fears that Israel will experience the same outcome as South Africa as and when its version of apartheid is dismantled. Kerry considers himself to be Israel's friend and, as such, he sees it as his responsibility to warn Israel of the consequences of its actions and to protect it from greater harm. He has a duty, he believes, to save Israel from its own actions and potentially suicidal path.

Kerry is aware that what he said is nothing new. Former US President Jimmy Carter not only warned Israel of the same fate but also criticised the policies of the neo-conservatives who came to power with the George W. Bush administration. Carter expressed his regret eloquently that the United States supported Israel's acts of aggression against Palestinian "terrorism" during the second Intifada. In his book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, which was dedicated to the Palestinian cause, President Carter warned of the consequences that would ensue with America's continued support for Israeli aggression.

The Secretary of State is also aware of the fact that many Israeli politicians and security officials share his view and have warned the Israeli and government numerous times that Israel is on the road to apartheid. In his defence, Kerry reiterated that his comments were also said by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Minister of Justice Tzipi Livni as well as former prime ministers Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert. "All of these politicians have summoned the spectre of apartheid and the dangers that it poses to Israel's future to have one state."

Although Kerry's statements were not public and were said during a closed meeting in Washington, his comments triggered a lot of confusion after an online newspaper published them. In reality the apartheid spectre does not necessarily mean establishing an apartheid state on all of the territory that constitutes historic Palestine; that's the very thing that Ben Gurion warned the Jews against when he said that he chose to create a "Jewish state" on part of Palestinian territory and not all, because to do otherwise would mean that the Jewish people would be a minority in an Arab state. He said that the Israelis must avoid such an outcome.

What makes Israel and its supporters truly uncomfortable is the use of the word apartheid itself and not the actual policies that it implies. It is impossible that Israelis are unaware of what they are doing. They are certainly aware that what is happening on the ground is exactly the same pattern as that which took place in South Africa. The Israelis do not want to be equated with the word apartheid and do not want to face the reality of what they are; it is anathema for them to be viewed as an apartheid state, although they really do know that that is exactly what they are doing.

How does one explain the reality of the Israeli situation, which distinguishes between two groups and classes of people? And how does one explain the blind-spot about this reality and Israelis' decision to focus on the use of specific words rather than their government's policies and practices? World leaders would not warn about the dangers of apartheid unless they were real, which is why the pro-Israel lobby wants to make it taboo to use that word to describe their precious state. They want to ban this word because they believe that it gives outsiders the wrong impression and fuels Israel's insecurities. "We know that the power of words can often give the wrong impression," said Psaki, "and we are working to nip the wrong impression that Israel is an apartheid state in the bud." Many politicians have argued that the word apartheid has become a popular term and that people need to stop using it especially within the contexts of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign that is booming in American universities.

The lobby is concerned with the power of words and hiding their meaning but what would happen if they could hide the reality of their actions? The main lobby group in the US, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) recently released the following statement regarding Kerry's comments: "Any indication that Israel is or could become an apartheid state is an unforgivable insult. The Jewish state is a beacon of light and freedom and a token of good luck in a region plagued by terrorism, hatred and oppression." Where do we even begin to deconstruct such an obviously misleading and untrue statement?

Translated from Al Araby Al Jadid 7 May, 2014

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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