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Stephen Gottlieb: Is Israel An Apartheid State?

Whenever I talk about the Middle East I get lambasted. And when I fail to mention Israel or Palestine I get lambasted because I didn’t. Pro-Israeli listeners brook no criticism whatever of what Israel does. Supporters of the Palestinians recognize the legitimacy of nothing else. Sometimes you can’t please everybody and sometimes you can’t please anybody. So, OK, here goes.

First, I’ve had very disturbing conversations with Palestinians who had absorbed extremist rhetoric. They told me they have a God-given unilateral right to kill innocent Israeli civilians but Israelis have no right to shoot back – if they do it’s a human rights violation. Extremists are scary. In those particular conversations, Muslims from other countries tried to intercede and talk sense. But extremists often get disproportionate power because they are fanatic and armed.

Second, whatever Secretary of State John Kerry meant to say, he was right about apartheid. People with the strength to look at the facts have been warning that for decades. Israel cannot exist as a Jewish state while swallowing the West Bank. They will be overwhelmed demographically. So they are trying to push the residents of the West Bank out before they can populate Israel itself, and in the process Israel has also been driving out many long time Israeli-Arab residents.

Years ago we put up a couple of young Israeli musicians here for a concert. We had a lot to talk about. But what interested me most was very basic – Jews and Arabs do not go to school together, do not get to know each other. In this country we contrast integration and segregation. Segregation is a time bomb. Integration is a cure. Many Americans fight integration because of their own fears, dislike, hostility, whatever – and in doing so they continue to fuel the time bombs here. So too in Israel.

Many of us have been convinced for years that Israeli policies worsen the prospects for peace. And whenever the Israeli and Palestinian leadership seemed close to a deal, someone blew someone else up and both sides used the ensuing reaction as an excuse to pull out of talks, thus giving the fanatics the power to prevent peace. Call peace shalom or salaam; I call it poof.

Netanyahu doesn’t want to talk with a unified Palestinian government. Fine, he can negotiate with a partner of his dreams. He just can’t make peace without Hamas at the table. That’s only another way to make sure we cannot get to shalom, salaam, or peace.

And no, time is not on Israel’s side. Too much of the Muslim world has been radicalized. Too many of us in America are sick and tired of Israeli behavior – including the way that Israeli religious extremists dishonor our own Jewishness. And the American population is changing so that an anti-Israeli lobby is growing and will grow. One can ignore it – for a while – like one can ignore global warming – for a while – but reality crashes in.

Either we look straight at reality and deal with it realistically as Secretary Kerry wants to do or we will reap the whirlwind.

Steve Gottlieb is Jay and Ruth Caplan Distinguished Professor of Law at Albany Law School and author of Morality Imposed: The Rehnquist Court and Liberty in America. He has served on the Board of the New York Civil Liberties Union, and in the US Peace Corps in Iran.


The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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