Will the U.S. End its Support for the Apartheid Israeli Regime?

The world is exhaling following the end of the vicious incompetence and corruption of Donald Trump’s presidency. Journalists and political commentators applauded the inaugural address delivered by President Joe Biden, and expressed varying levels of hope about what is called a “return to normalcy” in US public policy. Meanwhile, we wonder whether the Biden administration will finally end US complicity in and support to the Israeli apartheid regime.

An article in the January 11, 2021 issue of The Guardian described a position paper issued by B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights advocacy organization, which disputes the popular narrative about Israel being a democracy. Instead, the position paper makes the following assertion: “One organising [sic.] principle lies at the base of a wide array of Israeli policies: advancing and perpetuating the supremacy of one group – Jews – over another – Palestinians.”

The B’Tselem position paper does not stand alone. In June 2020, Yesh Din, yet another Israeli human rights organization, issued a legal opinion that concluded that the Israeli regime is committing the crime of apartheid in the West Bank against Palestinians. Although the Yesh Din legal opinion (which cites international law as its controlling authority) limits its apartheid indictment to the West Bank, the B’Tselem position paper makes the more sweeping indictment that Israel exists as one apartheid regime “from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea,” an area that includes the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip.

We agree that Israel is an apartheid regime. One of us (Raouf Halaby) is a Palestinian-American who was born in Jerusalem; in 1959 his family was forced from their home by Jewish persecution. One of us (Lauri Umansky) is ancestrally Jewish. One of us (Wendell Griffen), who is ancestrally African American, was born during (and vividly recalls what life was like during) the last years of Jim Crow segregation in the United States. One of us (Allan Boesak) is a native of South Africa who was a leading opponent to the apartheid regime of South Africa.

We each, and separately, have first-hand knowledge about the political, social, and legal oppression perpetrated by the Israeli regime against Palestinians. That first-hand knowledge is the foundation for our agreement with the B’tselem position paper. Contrary to the popular narrative mouthed by US politicians and media pundits, Israel is an apartheid regime, not a democracy. The Yesh Din legal opinion provides a clear explanation for this conclusion based on universally accepted principles of international law.

The Israeli apartheid regime is subsidized, politically and economically, by US tax dollars, US corporations, and by US-based charitable organizations. A 2015 article reported that the US government has provided $139 billion in direct assistance to Israel since 1949. The article also mentions how US taxpayers receive favorable tax deductions by making charitable donations to organizations that fund illegal Israeli settler activities in the West Bank.

For generations, people in the United States have turned a blind eye to the ongoing crimes against humanity practiced by the state of Israel against non-Jews generally and against Palestinians, especially. Israel’s racial disdain of Ethiopian Jews and other African nationals has been duly noted. And Israeli and non-Israeli Jews who dare criticize Israel’s racist policies are labeled as self-hating Jews. Now that the Biden-Harris administration has entered office, we should open our eyes to the apartheid that former US President Jimmy Carter documented in his book titled Palestine Peace Not Apartheid (Simon & Schuster, 2006). In that book, President Carter, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to negotiate peace between Israel and Egypt, detailed Israeli violations of key United Nations resolutions, official US policy, and an international “road map” for peace by subsidizing illegal Israeli settlements on Arab lands and by militarized enforcement of political, social, and economic oppression of the Palestinians.

In some respects, Israeli apartheid is even worse than South African apartheid. Yet, oppressed South Africans, after decades of struggle, and especially after first the Sharpeville massacre, and then the slaughter of the children in 1976, found allies in the international community. They joined together in a nonviolent, targeted, and highly effective boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign without which the struggle against that system would never have been successful. How many more massacres of Palestinians must it take for the West, and the US in particular to rediscover that spark of moral indignation and political integrity regarding Palestine that made them choose the side of the oppressed in South Africa?

It is high time people who believe that apartheid and racism are illegal call on the United States to stop subsidizing apartheid and racism under the guise of supporting Israel. It is time for us to quit pretending that Israel is a US partner for democracy. It is time for an all-out challenge to the anti-BDS (boycott, divestment, sanctions) laws and resolutions that have been introduced in thirty-two U.S. states. It is time, once and for all, to call out the ruse, whether enshrined in law or propaganda, that criticism of the apartheid Israeli regime is tantamount to anti-Semitism: as B’Tselem and Yesh Din make clear, anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism cannot and must not be falsely equated. It is high time for the US, if it is to be a creditable force for “democracy,” to recognize Israel for what it is: an apartheid regime that depends on US financial and political support to maintain the oppressions it inflicts on Palestinians.

We call on the Biden-Harris administration to end U.S. support for the Israeli regime’s apartheid policies and practices. And we urge other persons who believe in justice and the rule of law to join the rising chorus of voices in Israel, such as B’Tselem and Yesh Din, and around the world, who are making the same demands.

Allan Boesak is Professor of Theology and Ethics at University of Pretoria, South Africa, is an activist; Wendell Griffen is an Arkansas Trial Judge, pastor of New Millennium Church (LR, Arkansas), Cultural Competency Consultant, and a Trustee of the Samuel De Witt Proctor Conference; Lauri Umansky is Professor of History and Director of Heritage Studies Ph.D. Program at Arkansas State University; Raouf J. Halaby is a Professor Emeritus and peace activist.