Democrats deepen embrace of Israeli apartheid

Members of Congress stand at podium

US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi spoke last month about her junket to Israel. She was joined on the trip and at the podium by Representatives Barbara Lee, Eric Swalwell and Adam Schiff.

Jemal Countess UPI

The Democratic Party has an apartheid problem. And it’s getting worse.

Eight congressional Democrats went to Israel last month yet I could find no public record of any of them speaking out against Israel’s practice of apartheid, meticulously documented in Amnesty International’s recent landmark report.

More members joined a tour sponsored by the Israel lobby group AIPAC later in February – run through its subsidiary, the American Israel Education Foundation – including 27 Republicans and 14 Democrats. Representative Ted Deutch did double duty for Israeli apartheid by attending both trips.

Deutch, a Florida Democrat, will depart Congress within a year to head the American Jewish Committee, a major Israel lobby group. That work will begin in October.

He’s clearly qualified for the job: Before the trips, he was on record lambasting the Amnesty report as “full of the same mischaracterizations, false accusations and biased language that have been hurled at Israel and its advocates for decades.”

He didn’t mention Palestinians a single time in his Twitter thread.

Notwithstanding his anti-Palestinian position, indeed likely because of it, Democrats have elevated him to the position of chair for the Subcommittee on the Middle East, North Africa and Global Counterterrorism.

On the second trip, AIPAC showed him extolling the virtues of American and Israeli “shared values.”

While systemic racism remains pervasive in the United States, Jim Crow was at least formally abolished. Israel, on the other hand, continues to entrench a dual system of law – and extrajudicial violence and discrimination – that subjects Palestinians to life with inferior rights in an ethnonationalist state.

As Amnesty noted last month, “since its establishment in 1948, Israel has pursued an explicit policy of establishing and maintaining a Jewish demographic hegemony and maximizing its control over land to benefit Jewish Israelis while minimizing the number of Palestinians and restricting their rights and obstructing their ability to challenge this dispossession.”

Yet US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, on 16 February, that Israel’s creation was “the greatest political achievement of the 20th century.”

Words that no present-day Democrat would venture about apartheid South Africa are gladly proffered on behalf of apartheid Israel.

The statement ignores the Palestinian experience of dispossession and apartheid – in effect, celebrating them – and suggests an acceptance of racial discrimination provided it remains of a socially acceptable kind.

Casual anti-Palestinian racism remains the norm for congressional Democrats. Consequently, anti-racist positions on other matters of concern to the Democratic Party must be seen as potentially little more than a pose – pandering for votes.

Economic peace, once again

During his junket, Congressman Ro Khanna, who represents part of Silicon Valley, met with people at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa.

“Some of them spoke about the joint ventures where Palestinians are being employed or are participating even in joint economic activity, all of which I think are promising places to explore,” he told Jewish Insider.

This tech-washing of Israeli apartheid is no different from how former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner, promoted “economic peace.”

The basic idea – which re-emerges every few years – is that the denial of the most basic rights of the Palestinian people can be sidestepped by providing shopping malls, consumer goods and other distractions.

The late Desmond Tutu, a hero of the anti-apartheid movement, called this polishing the chains of the oppressed.

“We don’t want our chains comfortable,” Tutu said in 1984 at the height of the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa. “We want them removed.”

But polishing Israel’s chains on the Palestinian people is exactly what Khanna is proposing – a bit more tech here, a few less checkpoints there.

Freedom and equal rights for Palestinians are tellingly absent.

Khanna acknowledges mere “places of disagreement” with Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett over “forced evictions” and the need “to open up Gaza in terms of economic activity.”

His phrasing indicates an unwillingness to grapple with the underlying reality of apartheid and the discriminatory denial of political rights.

AIPAC, meanwhile, was eager to showcase the delegates’ bipartisan and interracial support for Israel – apologists all for Israeli apartheid.

The organization has long been concerned that support for Israel among progressives and young people of color is slipping.

The organization quickly touted Democratic delegates’ meeting with Member of Knesset Mansour Abbas, who is treading close to being the Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi of Israeli politics.

Abbas’ small party props up Israel’s coalition.

A Zulu leader, Buthelezi was widely reviled by the anti-apartheid resistance movement for working with the racist South African government.

Abbas does much the same in providing a veneer of legitimacy to Israel’s apartheid system, where a small number of Palestinian citizens of Israel are represented as tokens but exercise no real power and most certainly not in regard to stopping Israeli military violence against Palestinians.

In a February appearance at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a think tank affiliated with AIPAC, Abbas said in response to a question implicitly about Amnesty’s report: “I would not call it apartheid.”

He added, “I am within the coalition,” though he surely must be aware by now of how frequently he is used by conservative and liberal defenders of Israel to make the case that apartheid doesn’t exist there, even as he actively votes to uphold it.

Whatever justifications he may give for supporting the government of an apartheid state, Abbas is clearly happy to be used as a propaganda prop by the pro-apartheid lobby for Israel.

International law when convenient

Republicans, for their part, made clear their belief that international law applies only when convenient.

As Russia attacks Ukraine to widespread condemnation in Washington, Republicans visited the Israeli-occupied Syrian Golan Heights – recognized in 2019 by President Trump, in complete disregard to international law, as being under Israeli sovereignty.

AIPAC retweeted an Israeli propaganda group showing off their presentation to Republicans in the occupied Golan Heights.

The maps used by the propaganda group clearly depict the illegally annexed Golan Heights as part of Israel.

Democrat Kathleen Rice of New York, also explicitly put the Golan Heights in Israel.
The message is that territorial conquest is acceptable in some situations provided it is American allies doing the taking.

That double standard from the US has been obvious to many observers over the past few days regarding occupied Syrian and Palestinian territory as opposed to Ukrainian territory.

Congressman Ritchie Torres, also a New York Democrat, bragged about his visit to the “City of David” in occupied East Jerusalem.

This is a theme park built on land Israel seized from Palestinians. It is part of Israel’s efforts to change the demographics of the city and scrub its Arab, Muslim and Christian history and identity while imposing an exclusively Jewish identity.

Torres and other Democrats visited more parts of East Jerusalem with the Israeli occupiers assisting the trip, disregarding the Palestinians whose land and rights Israel is usurping.

Palestinians made clear what they think of such visits, through the words of the BDS National Committee, the steering group for the Palestinian-led, boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.

“We condemn the current US Congress delegation whitewashing Israel’s regime of military occupation, settler-colonialism and apartheid. This delegation crosses our nonviolent Palestinian BDS picket line and harms our struggle for freedom, justice and equality.”


Michael F. Brown

Michael F. Brown is an independent journalist. His work and views have appeared in The International Herald Tribune,, The San Diego Union-Tribune, The News & Observer, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Washington Post and elsewhere.