TIBI: Israeli extremism exposed

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With little surprise, I learned of the recent refusal of Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon to meet with members of the U.S. Congress, whose institution provides Israel with the economic wherewithal to occupy the West Bank. Through astonishing ineptness, rather than principled policy, Israel is risking the anger of its bankroller.

Former Secretary of State James A. Baker III recently noted, “United States taxpayers are giving Israel roughly $3 billion each year, which amounts to something like $1,000 for every Israeli citizen, at a time when our own economy is in bad shape and a lot of Americans would appreciate that kind of helping hand from their own government.” Palestinian citizens of Israel scarcely see the American largesse, and Mr. Baker’s numbers are somewhat off, but his point is well taken. With Israel’s abusive treatment of Palestinians in the territories, inequitable distribution of government funds between Jewish citizens and Palestinian citizens, and the ongoing recession in the United States, it is time to put U.S. aid on the table.

The visiting members of Congress, though staunch supporters of Israel not yet questioning American aid, are beginning to raise questions about Israel’s actions against the Palestinians.

Rather than meet with them, Mr. Ayalon lashed out at J Street, the new lobby group that had scheduled the meeting. Mr. Ayalon would never reject a meeting arranged by the American Israel Education Foundation, an offshoot of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, because the organization has not been critical of Israel’s subjugation of Palestinians in the West Bank. But now, this serial offender of diplomatic norms and backer of transferring Palestinians from Israel, having learned nothing from his effort to humiliate Turkey’s ambassador to Israel, has once again inadvertently managed to highlight the far-right political trend running riot through Israel - and extending itself into occupied Palestinian territory as well as Dubai. While Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seeks to obscure Israel’s daily human rights violations against the Palestinians, Mr. Ayalon seems oddly intent on showing the discriminatory side of Israel.

I am uncertain whether to thank Mr. Ayalon for accidentally and repeatedly exposing Israel’s extremism to the world or to criticize him for harboring opinions more in keeping with white viewpoints in apartheid South Africa than a leading diplomat in Israel’s Foreign Ministry. His bungling is the gift that keeps on giving in helping make plain to the world the kind of reactionary leaders Israel has chosen to run the country. Mr. Netanyahu holds similar beliefs but is an experienced enough politician to avoid making a public spectacle of himself.

The rejected members of Congress all have an open invitation to my office. In fact, it is my sincere hope that all members of Congress will make a stop at my office a crucial visit when they travel to Jerusalem. There are more than 35 Israeli laws that discriminate against the 20 percent of Israelis who are Palestinians. While we are able to vote and hold office, rank discrimination in all other aspects of life significantly hold us back. Such treatment by Israel merits American censure and calls into question the wisdom and morality of knee-jerk American support for Israel.

We are entering a time period similar to that faced by the United States 50 years ago. Then, at long last, some American allies finally were waking up to the reality of Jim Crow discrimination in the American South and not liking what they saw. Israel’s policies are putting it in league with the West’s most notoriously racist governments of the past five decades. So far this year, Defense Minister Ehud Barak has warned of Israel becoming “an apartheid state,” and Mr. Baker expressed concern that if Israel did not find a “negotiated peace” it could become “an apartheid type of nation.” Neither man thought that day had arrived yet, but we Palestinians see it every day with the separation wall running through the West Bank and East Jerusalem and different Israeli laws for Jews and Palestinians in the occupied territories.

Israel’s response to its declining international standing, however, is to put out propaganda rather than wrestle with the fundamental injustices meted out to Palestinians every day. The Israeli Information and Diaspora Affairs Ministry earlier this month began handing out Hebrew pamphlets on Israeli airlines to passengers interested in contesting how the state is viewed abroad.

The ministry’s approach, also posted online, wrongly suggests that Israelis are monolithic. We are not. Not all Jews agree with the suppression of Palestinians. And certainly almost all Palestinian citizens of Israel oppose the occupation.

An approach that obscures government crimes against Palestinians dallies in simple-minded foolishness and refuses to see our situation as others see it. Israelis don’t need to explain away the occupation more effectively but to address it, end it and accept moral culpability for decades of ruling over another people. As for the United States, members of Congress don’t need another decade of complicity with Israel’s occupation, but the political courage to tell an ally and its associated lobbyists that continued domination of the Palestinians is simply not acceptable in the 21st century.

Ahmad Tibi is a Palestinian citizen of Israel and is deputy speaker of the Knesset, Israel’s parliament.

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