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.
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.