The issue is the occupation, not our feelings about the word ‘apartheid’

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By Hadar Susskind

Special to WJW


Does hearing Israel called an “apartheid state” make you angry? Is it painful to think about the country that you love smeared with accusations of racism and discrimination? If, like me, you answered yes, then let’s do something about it.

The question, of course, is what is that “something?” If you read the press releases and calls to action by many American Jewish organizations to the Human Rights Watch report “A Threshold Crossed: Israeli Authorities and the Crimes of Apartheid and Persecution,” they have two main suggestions. First, donate to them to continue their efforts to convince people that criticism of Israeli policy equals antisemitism. Second, write to media outlets trying to convince them that the Human Rights Watch report is nothing but antisemitism, thus winning a point for your team.

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Will that make you feel better? I do know that it will do absolutely nothing to improve the conditions on the ground or to move us toward a better future for Israel and Palestine alike.

Almost no one in the Jewish community is addressing the question of whether current Israeli policy meets the criteria for the crime of apartheid under international law. Instead, they cry “antisemitism,” they attack the report’s author and they seek to delegitimize the world’s leading human rights organization. All this, instead of taking an honest look at the root cause: 53 years of occupation.


I’m not interested in arguing about semantics. Forget for a moment what you think about the use of the term apartheid. Instead, let’s talk about the facts on the ground. Let’s talk about occupation, about military detention, including of youth, and about the theft of Palestinian lands to build settlements and infrastructure to serve settlements. And let’s also talk about security and democracy. This, not manufactured outrage about “baseless accusations” and “inaccurate use of terminology,” is what our community leaders should be addressing.

The unwillingness of so many in our community to move past the zero sum game of trying to prove your righteousness, the inability to acknowledge that Israeli policy is not always in the right, would be comical if it wasn’t so tragic.

These same Jewish organizations that speak with pride about the Jewish value of tikkun olam (fixing the world) and of being “a light unto the nations” fall silent at the mention of occupation and cry “double standard” when Israel is asked to comply with international law.

I remember sitting in my synagogue as a teen and listening to the rabbi give a sermon about how, specifically as Jews, we are obligated to oppose apartheid. We, who had been oppressed, must use our voices and our power to help those who today are oppressed. He might have even said the word boycott.

Today, too many in our community have shifted from opposing the act to opposing the word. There are organizations spending more time and money on getting Twitter likes than on ending the occupation and, finally, bringing peace to Israel and Palestine.

Many of these groups will tell you that they support a two-state solution. That was a bold policy statement back in 1993. Today, the question is not do you support two states. The question is, what are you doing to get there? And getting there requires ending the occupation.

I don’t like the use of the term apartheid to describe the situation in Israel and the occupied territories. It hurts to see the country where I spent so many years, the country whose military I served in, likened to the racist legacy of South Africa. But we need to be honest enough, with ourselves and our community, to say that our hurt feelings are not the main issue. The issue is occupation. The issue is the unequal treatment of Palestinians, generations of whom have now lived only under Israeli military rule. The issue is the erosion of Israeli democracy and of what most of us consider to be Jewish values.

If we could harness even a fraction of the energy and money that our community spends on shielding the occupation and deflecting the discourse about it to instead acting to end it, we would go a long way toward the strongest unifying wish of American Jews, true peace for Israel.

Hadar Susskind is the president and CEO of Americans for Peace Now.

3 COMMENTS

  1. I basically agree with what the author is saying here…..that is the status quo in the West Bank for the Palestinians is disgraceful and may look a lot like “apartheid. But like most of the ‘progressive left’, he seems to focus all blame on Israel. I am not saying that Israel role has been perfect but the ‘left’ seems to be intentionally or maliciously intellectual dishonest to never ask anything of the Palestinian and Arab leadership entities that arguably may have been more duplicit in creating the current status quo than anyone else.

    It is obvious that the status quo is not good at all for the Palestinians but by letting the Palestinian leadership and people off the hook here and think that if only Israel did the ‘right’ thing is the answer will only prolong this misery and is just lazy, malicious and uniformed thinking.

  2. The myth of Arab Muslim victimhood is cheap propaganda stemming from the failed Arab attempts to destroy Israel and throw its Jewish population “into the sea.”

    The anti-Israel left continues to pander to the irrational, bigoted demands of the Arab Muslim countries to suppress the region’s only non-Muslim country.

    That blatant disregard for the rights of anyone who is not an Arab Muslim is precisely the reason the Jews had to fight for their national independence.

    The mere existence of Israel proclaims the national rights of the Jewish INDIGENOUS population of Israel; a country and a people that predate Arab colonialism and will outlive it as well.

  3. Clayton Miller; what makes the Jewish population indigenous? Have you read the Bible? The Israelites obtained Israel through displacing Caananites. They weren’t from there originally. Abraham came to that area from elsewhere. The sad part is that these two sides are both sons of Abraham and there have been times in history where they lived peacefully together, the brothers even coming together to bury their father. There is much in the article that is true that has nothing to do with right or left but only with human decency. Terrorism is usually born out of oppression or injustice as a knee jerk reaction and when not properly addressed grows like cancer. Had Israel taken the higher road on their return to. Israel with arms outstretched as Abraham would have wished, we might have a different scenario. But they did not. And now it is what it is.

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