Eclipsed by the events in Egypt, news from its little neighbor has not gleaned much notice save for media angst that Egyptian democracy might not be as genial as was the Mubarak dictatorship to the relentless, long-term ethnic cleansing of an indigenous people, the Palestinians. But news there was as Israeli “human rights” lawyers went public with a libel suit against Jimmy Carter for his precise little book, Palestine, Peace Not Apartheid. The stunner to the Israelis lies in a single word in Carter’s title, “apartheid.”
Names, names, names. What constitutes an accurate description of Israel? There are many appellations, none of them appealing. The partisans of Israel like to call it “the Jewish state.” But that name carries a disconcerting note. We do not like “Islamic states,” and “Christian state” calls forth images of fascism, bigotry, and Crusades. Does “Jewish state” sound any more tolerant?
Then there is the very old-fashioned label, “a people without a land and a land without a people.” Not even the European colonialists of the Americas had the chutzpah to deny the very existence of the indigenous peoples as they were exterminated or put into reservations, the Gazas of the New World. Though that racist little phrase continued up to Golda Meir, who denied the very existence of the Palestinians, at least by the time of the terrorist Yitzhak Shamir the Palestinians had transmogrified into “insects” or “cockroaches.” At least Shamir allowed for their pesky, subhuman existence.
Then there is “colonial, settler state,” an accurate name well understood by the developing world as it continues its struggle to throw off the hidden shackles of European domination – but not well understood as yet in the more or less post-colonial West. Of course there is the “Zionist entity,” again well understood by the oppressed of the Middle East, but a mystery to many in the West who have been trained to perceive it as anti-Semitic
Carter has popularized the term “apartheid,” both accurate and easily understood, a term that has a “stench in the nostrils of the world.” And it is precisely what is going on in Israel and the territories it occupies. Do you want to call Israel a democracy? Fine, if we understand that it is a democracy in the same sense that South Africa was under apartheid. The apartheid in the West Bank is so blatant that it can be seen from a satellite where the Jewish colonists have their own roads in the West Bank. And if the West Bank is a haven for terrorists, why, oh, why would Israelis keep colonizing on the far side of the great “security” wall, in fact an apartheid wall? And the allegory of South African apartheid plays itself out in amazing detail here. Gaza, an outdoor prison, is like a Bantustan, a virtual prison where only Arabs reside. Israel proper has Arab “citizens” with diminished rights based on their Arab status, much like the “coloreds” of the old South Africa. And then there are the Arabs of the West Bank, living in poverty adjacent to and separated from the great wealth of Jewish Israelis, much like the townships of the old South Africa. Anti-Arab racism cuts across the society in many different ways. It is a core feature of Israeli society and not just a superficial aspect.
But the great advantage of the term “apartheid” is not simply its accuracy but the fact that everyone in the West and the rest of the planet knows it was wrong in South Africa – and wrong in the U.S., where it bore the synonym of segregation. And so it is also wrong in Israel. By putting this single word into the mainstream of political discourse, Carter has given us a weapon in the struggle against the slow genocide of the Palestinian people. It should always be used – the “apartheid Israeli state” or the “apartheid state of Israel” or even simpler, “apartheid Israel.” It is a gift inserted into the mainstream; use it routinely before it fades away.
And now there are “human rights lawyers” from apartheid Israel attempting to sue Carter and his publisher in New York, claiming that the book’s classification as “non-fiction” violates New York’s consumer protection laws. It is a landmark case of sorts, since it is the first time a president and his publisher have been sued for violating consumer protection laws. This sinks even deeper into absurdity than the suit of the Texas cattlemen of Cactus Feeders Inc. against Oprah Winfrey for libeling beef.
One of the lead lawyers from the apartheid state is Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, who rose to prominence just out of law school in the 1990s when she helped litigate a case on behalf of victims of the Achille Lauro hijacking of 1985 in which, tragically, one Jewish American was killed by terrorists who took over the ship. But she is silent these days on the killing of one Turkish American and six Turks aboard the Mavi Marmara, which attempted to break the blockade of Gaza. There is a crucial difference between the two incidents: the first was the act of individual terrorists; the second was the act of a state, which must therefore be labeled a terrorist state, the apartheid state of Israel. Recently the Turkish government released its report on the incident on the Mavi Marmara which points to nothing less than cold-blooded murder by the agents of the apartheid state. Precisely what kind of human rights lawyer is Darshan-Leitner and her like? Judge for yourself.
Carter is certainly being harassed for his contribution to the discussion of Israel in the U.S., but it amounts really to a desperate and flimsy attack on him. Nevertheless, it shows just how much the champions of the apartheid state of Israel fear this stark statement of the truth. There is much in a name. Carter has given us the gift of “apartheid.” Let us use the term ceaselessly so that the truth about the apartheid nature of Israel becomes crystal clear.