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2 Feb, 2022 08:00

Apartheid claims reflect how public opinion is changing on Israel

Apartheid claims reflect how public opinion is changing on Israel

Last May, I wrote a column for RT discussing how the Israel-Palestine debate has changed forever. A major flare-up of tensions had, for the first time, seen members of the United States Congress criticize Israel – and Washington’s backing of it – on the record.

Moreover, the public discourse changed in almost every way, with more and more people prepared to call out Israel’s continued abuse of the Palestinians, including major media figures such as John Oliver.

This week, that discourse has taken an even more dramatic turn as Amnesty International, a “human rights” watchdog that routinely provides cover for the US and its client states, speaking out against Israel.

Amnesty published a 278-page report accusing Israel of “apartheid” both in its occupation of the Palestinian territories and its treatment of minorities within its borders, joining other organizations such as Human Rights Watch, who have made the same accusation.

The Amnesty report said, “Since its establishment in 1948, Israel has pursued a policy of establishing and maintaining a Jewish demographic hegemony and maximizing its control over land to benefit Jewish Israelis while restricting the rights of Palestinians and preventing Palestinian refugees from returning to their homes. Israel extended this policy to the West Bank and Gaza Strip, which it has occupied ever since.”

Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs responded to the report even before it had been published, accusing Amnesty of antisemitism and of delegitimizing Israel’s right to exist. It called on the organization to pull the report before publication, but this was obviously ignored.

Specific accounts of abuse within the report are truly heartbreaking, and are so egregious that not even an organization some accuse of being a US lapdog can ignore them. While these charges are very serious, the likelihood of the International Criminal Court (ICC), which is now investigating alleged Israeli war crimes, pursuing charges is low since it would require such a high threshold of evidence. However, Israel’s status in the court of public opinion is undoubtedly diminished greatly, which may have some consequences.

In my piece last year, I wrote about how the fabled two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict is a non-starter. But another element that deserves addressing is how the perception of “nationalism” is changing on the issue, and why there is increasing sympathy among Western countries for the Palestinian struggle.

Until now, the field of political science has described the issue as “competing nationalism.” If you do a search of the phrase, you will find this conflict, and many other disputes, framed in this way. But this doesn’t tell the full picture because the “competition” – such as it is – is stacked against the Palestinians because of the sheer difference in power between the Israelis and them.

This means that Israeli nationalism (Zionism) can actually be considered a form of national chauvinism, while Palestinian nationalism is in reality a form of national liberation. To be fair, it could be reasonably argued at the time leading up to Israel’s establishment that Zionism was a national liberation struggle for the Jewish people. But that is no longer the case. Israel is an extraordinarily powerful military force.

It is precisely for this reason that the Palestinian struggle is now gaining so much support in Western countries, particularly among those that are more socially progressive. The difference in power between the Israelis and Palestinians, and the very clear injustices committed by Israel, strike a chord with the experience of minorities in Western countries.

I have not lived in the US for several years, but every time I visit or watch American TV, I’m surprised at how quickly things are changing. Mainstream culture is getting ever more socially conscientious, and people are becoming more aware of race and other issues.

I’m not talking about academic/bookclub level discussion of these issues, but highlighting there is now an acknowledgment that there are forms of oppression which are very real. In the US, this hit critical mass after the killing of George Floyd in 2020 before going global – including in the Palestinian territories. From this, some people have started to see the connection between these internal forms of oppression and American foreign policy.

It is no coincidence that it is an increasingly diverse Congress and progressive minority members who are leading the discussion against Israel. Among the general public, it seems to be younger people who are directing the debate. In terms of what this means in future? I think it’s entirely possible that within a generation, US military support for Israel will come under serious scrutiny.

In the short term, the fact that major human-rights organizations are accusing Israel of apartheid could lead to major diplomatic boycotts against Israel, or Israel being barred from certain international events. Efforts to do this will probably intensify from this year onward, and could maybe prompt a new round of political discussion between Israel and the Palestinians. 

What they would produce, though, is, as ever, anyone’s guess.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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