Carter: breaking a U.S. taboo on criticizing Israel


Richard Moore

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Posted on Tue, Jan. 02, 2007

Truth at last, while breaking a U.S. taboo of criticizing Israel

By George Bisharat

Americans owe a debt to former President Jimmy 
Carter for speaking long hidden but vital truths. 
His book Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid breaks 
the taboo barring criticism in the United States 
of Israel's discriminatory treatment of 
Palestinians. Our government's tacit acceptance 
of Israel's unfair policies causes global 
hostility against us.

Israel's friends have attacked Carter, a Nobel 
laureate who has worked tirelessly for Middle 
East peace, even raising the specter of 
anti-Semitism. Genuine anti-Semitism is 
abhorrent. But exploiting the term to quash 
legitimate criticism of another system of racial 
oppression, and to tarnish a principled man, is 
indefensible. Criticizing Israeli government 
policies - a staple in Israeli newspapers - is no 
more anti-Semitic than criticizing the Bush 
administration is anti-American.

The word apartheid typically evokes images of 
former South Africa, but it also refers to any 
institutionalized regime of systematic oppression 
and domination by one racial group over another. 
Carter applies the term only to Israel's rule of 
the occupied Palestinian territories, where it 
has established more than 200 Jewish-only 
settlements and a network of roads and other 
services to support them. These settlements 
violate international law and the rights of 
Palestinian property owners. Carter maintains 
that "greed for land," not racism, fuels Israel's 
settlement drive. He is only partially right.

Israel is seizing land and water from 
Palestinians for Jews. Resources are being 
transferred, under the guns of Israel's military 
occupation, from one disempowered group - 
Palestinian Christians and Muslims - to another, 
preferred group - Jews. That is racism, pure and 

Moreover, there is abundant evidence that Israel 
discriminates against Palestinians elsewhere. The 
"Israeli Arabs" - about 1.4 million Palestinian 
Christian and Muslim citizens who live in Israel 
- vote in elections. But they are a subordinated 
and marginalized minority. The Star of David on 
Israel's flag symbolically tells Palestinian 
citizens: "You do not belong." Israel's Law of 
Return grants rights of automatic citizenship to 
Jews anywhere in the world, while those rights 
are denied to 750,000 Palestinian refugees who 
were forced or fled in fear from their homes in 
what became Israel in 1948.

Israel's Basic Law of Human Dignity and Liberty 
establishes the state as a "Jewish democracy" 
although 24 percent of the population is 
non-Jewish. Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab 
Minority Rights in Israel, counted 20 laws that 
explicitly privilege Jews over non-Jews.

The government favors Jews over Palestinians in 
the allocation of resources. Palestinian children 
in Israel attend "separate and unequal" schools 
that receive a fraction of the funding awarded to 
Jewish schools, according to Human Rights Watch. 
Many Palestinian villages, some predating the 
establishment of Israel, are unrecognized by the 
government, do not appear on maps, and thus 
receive no running water, electricity, or access 
roads. Since 1948, scores of new communities have 
been founded for Jews, but none for Palestinians, 
causing them severe residential overcrowding.

Anti-Arab bigotry is rarely condemned in Israeli 
public discourse, in which Palestinians are 
routinely construed as a "demographic threat." 
Palestinians in Israel's soccer league have 
played to chants of "Death to Arabs!" Israeli 
academic Daniel Bar-Tal studied 124 Israeli 
school texts, finding that they commonly depicted 
Arabs as inferior, backward, violent, and 
immoral. A 2006 survey revealed that two-thirds 
of Israeli Jews would refuse to live in a 
building with an Arab, nearly half would not 
allow a Palestinian in their home, and 40 percent 
want the government to encourage emigration by 
Palestinian citizens. Last March, Israeli voters 
awarded 11 parliamentary seats to the Israel 
Beitenu Party, which advocates drawing Israel's 
borders to exclude 500,000 of its current 
Palestinian citizens.

Some say that Palestinian citizens in Israel 
enjoy better circumstances than those in 
surrounding Arab countries. Ironically, white 
South Africans made identical claims to defend 
their version of apartheid, as is made clear in 
books such as Antjie Krog's Country of My Skull.

Americans are awakening to the costs of our 
unconditional support of Israel. We urgently need 
frank debate to chart policies that honor our 
values, advance our interests, and promote a just 
and lasting peace in the Middle East. It is 
telling that it took a former president, immune 
from electoral pressures, to show the way.

The debate should now be extended. Are Israel's 
founding ideals truly consistent with democracy? 
Can a state established in a multiethnic milieu 
be simultaneously "Jewish" and "democratic"? 
Isn't strife the predictable yield of preserving 
the dominance of Jews in Israel over a native 
Palestinian population? Does our unconditional 
aid merely enable Israel to continue abusing 
Palestinian rights with impunity, deepening 
regional hostilities and distancing peace? Isn't 
it time that Israel lived by rules observed in 
any democracy - including equal rights for all?

George Bisharat (•••@••.•••) is a 
professor of law at University of California 
Hastings College of the Law. He writes frequently 
on law and politics in the Middle East.

© 2007 Philadelphia Inquirer and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.

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