Progressives stay largely silent on Israeli apartheid report

Standing woman looks over shoulder of seated woman

Congresswomen Ayanna Pressley and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have yet to comment for their Twitter followers regarding the Israeli apartheid report by Human Rights Watch.


Last month, Human Rights Watch started to catch up to Palestinians who for decades have insisted Israel is an apartheid regime.

The New York-based group acknowledged reality when it asserted in a report that Israel is “committing the crimes of apartheid and persecution.”

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, one of the best known veterans of South Africa’s anti-apartheid struggle, has also made that assertion.

In a 2012 op-ed, Tutu highlighted a Human Rights Watch report from 2010 describing the “two-tier system of laws, rules, and services” that Israel operates in the occupied West Bank and which provides “preferential services, development and benefits for Jewish settlers while imposing harsh conditions on Palestinians.”

Tutu then commented: “This, in my book, is apartheid.”

Over a decade ago, Human Rights Watch had all the facts, but it was Tutu and Palestinians who were connecting the dots to apartheid.

Still, better late than never.

Washington, however, much like with apartheid South Africa, continues to defy the message.

On the same day that the report was published, President Joe Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan – deemed a generational talent by Hillary Clinton – celebrated his meeting with Israeli counterpart Meir Ben-Shabbat and Israel’s US and UN ambassador Gilad Erdan.

They discussed Iran, violence in Jerusalem – the US “welcomed Israel’s recent calls for calm” while failing to note the organized mobs shouting “Death to Arabs” and attacking Palestinians.

And, of course, they discussed the never-ending, never-advancing “two-state solution.”

Sullivan affirmed the Biden administration’s commitment to “deepening the partnership between our nations.”

The depraved indifference and hubris of the best and brightest is a recurring theme of the American “meritocracy.”

The readout of Sullivan’s meeting said nothing of Israel being an apartheid state and how that reality would affect US policy.

It’s a non-issue for the Biden administration because he and his staff reject the conclusion.

Recall that in 1986 Biden declared, “Were there not an Israel, the United States of America would have to invent an Israel to protect our interests in the region.”

With the US only having emerged in recent decades from its own apartheid system of Jim Crow segregation, Biden nonetheless concluded in 1986 that an apartheid state could “protect our interests in the region.” His view has not changed in the intervening years.

Note that Human Rights Watch does not conclude that Israel is an “apartheid state” due to it being “a concept that is not defined in international law.” But it’s certainly a reasonable conclusion following 213 pages of documentation.

Squad’s mixed reaction

Given his record, Biden’s silence on the Human Rights Watch report is hardly surprising.

But even much of the progressive Squad failed to say a word on the subject.

Only congresswomen Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar – whose planned 2019 fact-finding mission was torpedoed by Israel – have highlighted Human Rights Watch’s report.

Outside of the Squad, they were joined by Betty McCollum who in 2018 apparently became the first member of Congress to accuse Israel of apartheid.

McCollum repeated the charge, at least as a concern, in August 2020. “Annexation,” she said, “will fuel instability, injustice, and an abhorrent system of apartheid.”

Congresswoman Tlaib added at the time: “The Netanyahu government receives $3.8 billion in US taxpayer-funded military handouts every year and, with the backing of the impeached president, they have worked to further entrench an apartheid system.”

In contrast, progressive standard-bearer Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has tweeted nothing on the subject.

Nor have progressives in Congress such as Ayanna Pressley, Jamaal Bowman, Cori Bush, Ro Khanna and Pramila Jayapal.

Ocasio-Cortez’s silence comes as she appears to be openly courting hardline Israel lobby support.

Apartheid-enabling New York Times

Unlike some Squad members, The New York Times did not ignore the recent report – as it did a January report on Israeli apartheid by Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem.

Instead, the so-called paper of record gave space to five voices – including Israeli diplomat Gilad Erdan and Mark Regev, a senior adviser to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – to disparage and undermine the report while allowing just one Palestinian to speak.

In labeling the report “an anti-Semitic slander,” the hyperbole of Eugene Kontorovich, who works for the far-right, pro-settler group Kohelet Policy Forum, is completely expected.

He’s been excusing Israeli violations of international law for years.

It’s absurd. What you can’t deny, vilify.

But the words of Brigadier General Dov Sedaka, the former military ruler of the occupied West Bank, reflect the type of “shooting and crying” hand-wringing intended to show that the apartheid reality remains an internal Israeli matter Israeli Jews will decide for themselves.

It’s like the internal Israeli debate over the so-called peace process too often being not a question of compliance with international law but a debate over how little, if any, land to give back – with one state with equal rights certainly not a consideration.

“I believed in the bosom of my heart that what we were doing was to avoid any kind of apartheid,” Sedaka, who controlled the lives of millions of Palestinians whom he helped deprive of their most basic rights, said. “But today I am not sure.”

The lopsided focus on Israeli views, including of Israeli officials, is blatant media bias and functions to enable and whitewash apartheid.

Such whitewashing is why most Palestine activists go elsewhere for their news on Israel’s efforts to deny equal rights and freedom to Palestinians.

But to see progressives stand silent is a tougher blow as hope there was higher.

They will have to be pushed hard and held accountable, especially Ocasio-Cortez with her reported US Senate aspirations.

Progressives can no longer be allowed to build grassroots credibility during campaigns by making strong statements on Palestinian rights, only to backtrack and waffle once they win office.

The Human Rights Watch report is something of a bellwether for discriminatory “polite society” that has long been dismissive of Palestinians’ testimony regarding their own reality.

It indicates that awareness of Israel’s apartheid practices is increasing.

Yet the silence with which most Democrats in Washington met the report suggests that the Israel lobby remains strong despite denying apartheid.

Late last month, 330 members of the US House of Representatives signed a letter rejecting conditions on the $3.8 billion in annual US military aid to Israel. Democrats accounted for 125 of those signers.

Most Democrats and an even larger percentage of Republicans in Washington stand exposed as supporters and enablers of Israeli apartheid. Perhaps history will remember them as anti-Palestinian racists.

Last week’s New York Times certainly did not.




We hear from self-described progressive candidates that they can do nothing for the cause until they get voted into office. This dictum is most frequently invoked in the case of Israel/Palestine. The candidate's supporters counsel us to accept his/her silence and even open collaboration with Zionism as a necessary tactic. Once seated, we're expected to believe, the new officeholder will find the courage to stand up for Palestinian rights. Only somehow things seldom arrive at that outcome. Rev. Raphael Warnock's is a case in point. Not so many years ago, he fulminated against Israeli apartheid from the pulpit. Then he declared his candidacy for the U.S. Senate, and in short order he announced, "I stand with Israel!" The stratagem seems to have aided his quest. But do we see a reversion to his former position now that he's gone to Washington? Of course not- and why would he backslide? Why would he tell the Democratic Party donor class he doesn't want their money? No, once ensconced in a luxurious position of authority, the former outsider develops a new set of interests and a new set of friends. This is equally true of Rep. Ocasio-Cortez, whose ambitions for much higher office would be capsized by support for Palestine. She knows it, We know it. No one who aims to advance through the Washington sewer can afford to antagonize the Israel Lobby. There may be a few who capture a seat in the House because their district is an anomalous one, and who also manage to retain their principles. But their legislative initiatives will go nowhere, and they'll have a hard time delivering to their constituents from the slush fund known as the budget. Those who do make progress as "progressives" will do so by adopting a decidedly unprogressive wayof doing business. In this regard, a quick scan of Rev. Sen. Warnock's tweets on and after the publication date of the HRW report reveals a focused concentration on Georgia. Nothing about the report. Nothing on Apartheid.


Ayanna Pressley, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Jamaal Bowman, Cori Bush, Ro Khanna, Pramila Jayapal, et al do what they do best--nothing! Anyway, who labeled them "Progressives". By any standard, in a different time, they would be bland, middle-of-the-road political opportunists and hucksters, full stop! It is Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, and Betty McCollum who dare speak the truth about apartheid/racist/white supremacist Occupied Palestine (Israel). Their courage does not need to be labeled, it is self evident.


It is difficult to understand how those who profess to support righteousness and Justice can so blatantly ignore the APARTHEID practiced in Israel. Do such people not have a conscience? Do they ever feel ashamed by their indifference about such an important moral issue? Dante paraphrased this by saying: “Those who do not take part in a MORAL issue, will have a special place in Hell.”

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.