Israeli Apartheid Is On Display

The Israeli government has gone out of its way in recent weeks to confirm that it is an apartheid state. In one of the latest egregious examples of this oppressive system, Israeli police attacked Palestinians inside the Al-Aqsa Mosque last Friday on one of the most important days of Ramadan using stun grenades, tear gas, and rubber-coated bullets. They did this in support of the effort to expel Palestinian families from the neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah in occupied East Jerusalem. Many hundreds of Palestinians have been wounded during the crackdown on their protests against this forced expulsion, including more than two hundred people injured in the raid on Al-Aqsa. The expulsion of Palestinians from their homes in territory that Israel illegally annexed is nothing less than ethnic cleansing being carried out in plain sight, but because Israeli forces are doing it to Palestinians it does not receive the same official condemnation that would usually be automatic in Washington.

The extraordinary military and diplomatic support that the U.S. provides to Israel makes our government complicit in Israel’s ongoing illegal occupation of Palestinian territory and in the ongoing displacement and dispossession of Palestinians. The free hand that the US gives the Israeli government in its treatment of Palestinians has cleared the way for increasingly extremist Israeli political leaders to stoke conflict. The growing international recognition that Israeli policies amount to a system of apartheid obliges us to cut off as much of that support as we can as quickly as possible.

The attempted expulsion of Palestinians from their homes in occupied territory is Israeli occupation and apartheid in miniature: Palestinians are expected to give up their homes and land to make way for Israeli settlers in order to transform occupied Palestinian territory into a permanent part of Israel, and if there is resistance to this legalized theft the government attacks them and anyone that speaks up for them. The Biden administration’s response to all this so far has been to make an empty appeal for calm from both sides, and there is no sign that the US is prepared to apply any meaningful pressure on the Israeli government to get them to relent. As Khaled Elgindy observed in a recent article, "the White House is effectively giving the evictions a green light by staying on the sidelines."

Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a report last month that extensively documented the reality of apartheid that Palestinians live under:

"Israeli authorities methodically privilege Jewish Israelis and discriminate against Palestinians. Laws, policies, and statements by leading Israeli officials make plain that the objective of maintaining Jewish Israeli control over demographics, political power, and land has long guided government policy. In pursuit of this goal, authorities have dispossessed, confined, forcibly separated, and subjugated Palestinians by virtue of their identity to varying degrees of intensity. In certain areas, as described in this report, these deprivations are so severe that they amount to the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution."

It was significant that a major human rights organization finally applied the accurate label of apartheid to the nature of Israeli rule over the Palestinians. This label reflects the truth that Palestinians are systematically discriminated against and repressed on account of their identity. The laws serve to oppress and harass them without providing them with protection from violence and abuse, whether that comes at the hands of extremists, settlers, or government forces. According to the Apartheid Convention, apartheid is defined as "inhuman acts committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons and systematically oppressing them." Using the definitions of apartheid contained in international law, HRW has shown beyond any doubt that the Israeli government is guilty of this crime.

The question for the US is what our government ought to do next. The US shouldn’t be subsidizing the systematic oppression of millions of people, but for decades this is what we have allowed our government to do. A good place to begin changing that would be for Congress to pass the bill introduced by Rep. Betty McCollum that would condition US military aid to Israel. In the end, the US needs to cut off that aid entirely, but until that happens it needs to place strict conditions on how it is used. More members of Congress need to start calling out the Israeli government for the crimes it is committing, and we need more members to acknowledge publicly the role that uncritical US backing of the Israeli government has had in enabling those crimes. Americans need to change the way that we think and talk about the U.S.-Israel relationship, and to that end we need to force ourselves to see the ugly reality that our policies have helped to create.

The US has an obligation to hold its clients to the same standard that it applies to other states at the very least. Because US political and military support has been instrumental in strengthening the government engaged in this systematic oppression and abuse, we have an added responsibility to help correct the injustices that our policy has helped to entrench. The time has come to tear up the blank check Washington gives Israel and then to hold their government accountable for its crimes.

Daniel Larison is a contributing editor and weekly columnist for and maintains his own site at Eunomia. He is former senior editor at The American Conservative. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.