Even in the wake of a meticulously documented report by Amnesty International detailing the history of how successive Israeli governments have pursued laws and policies that amount to the crime of apartheid under international law, U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi just led a congressional delegation to Israel, where she declared that American support for Israel remains "ironclad." The delegation included key Democratic lawmakers, some prominent progressives among them, including Reps. Adam Schiff, Ted Deutch, Barbara Lee, Bill Keating, Eric Swalwell, Ro Khanna and Andy Kim.
In what might be considered normal times, such a delegation would be unremarkable, just another sign of the blind support the Israeli government receives from the U.S. government, regardless of which political party is in power, both in Israel and Washington. Yet the Amnesty report follows groundbreaking reports last year by Human Rights Watch and B'Tselem, the Israeli NGO, and draws the same conclusion: Israel is an apartheid state, committing extensively documented violations of Palestinians rights "that together constitute a system of apartheid under international law." Other leading Israeli NGOs and even a former Israeli attorney general and acting Supreme Court judge, Michael Ben-Yair, also share this conclusion. As Ben-Yair wrote in a recent op-ed agreeing with the apartheid assessment, "My country has sunk to such political and moral depths that it is now an apartheid regime. It is time for the international community to recognize this reality as well."
So these are not "normal times," and although the delegation was surely planned in advance of the release of the Amnesty report, by continuing with the trip, Pelosi and company allowed themselves to become pawns in what amounted to a state propaganda exercise. It was an exercise that was not much different from Chinese efforts to show off its "progress" on human rights for ethnic minorities in Xinjiang, or Saudi efforts to promote its "reformist" government and crown prince by showcasing supposedly green energy projects—or any of the myriad historical examples of governments bringing in useful stooges for photo-ops and vacuous plaudits. Today, with the help of a U.S. congressional delegation, the Israeli government works to send a similar message that there is nothing to see here.
Despite the closeness of U.S.-Israel relations and the various political calculations that American politicians make about how to demonstrate their support for Israel, the inescapable fact is that apartheid taints everything.
- Adam Shapiro
But just blocks from the Israeli Knesset, where Pelosi praised Israel's government, Palestinian homes in Jerusalem are being demolished. Gaza, only a 40-minute drive away from Tel Aviv, is blockaded by an Israeli regime that determines the exact number of calories a Palestinian child can consume. During their visit, these U.S. lawmakers met with Knesset counterparts who are proud members of religio-nationalist parties and movements actively committing violence against Palestinian civilians—both in the West Bank and in Israel—on a daily basis.
Each day on social media, videos are posted from Sheikh Jarrah, the East Jerusalem neighborhood where Palestinian families are being forcibly expelled from their homes by security forces subsidized by the United States and cheered on by modern-day Klansmen. In Israel, as in apartheid South Africa, no hoods are required for the persecutors because the law does not apply to them. Israel does have a legal code, but it is one that maintains racial discrimination in favor of Israeli citizens and Jewish Israeli settlers over Palestinians. These settlers today comprise a kingmaking minority in the world of Israeli parliamentary politics. Their lock on the maintenance of Jewish power and privilege over all non-Jews living in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza—all the territory between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River—is predicated on the millions of Palestinian refugees being denied their fundamental right to return to their homeland for almost 75 years.
Despite the closeness of U.S.-Israel relations and the various political calculations that American politicians make about how to demonstrate their support for Israel, the inescapable fact is that apartheid taints everything. With the legal, political and media exposure of multiple reports by leading international human rights organizations, no one can close their eyes to it—certainly not in Jerusalem, and increasingly not in Washington. By making this uncritical visit to the seat of apartheid Israel, Pelosi and company have effectively endorsed an apartheid system. They didn't visit Gaza, made only the briefest visit to Ramallah in the West Bank, and apparently couldn't be bothered to even see the situation for themselves in Sheikh Jarrah, less than two miles from the Knesset.
Israel's face has changed because it is now being recognized for what it is: an apartheid state. Palestinians will not keep silent and, indeed, there is something to see here.
- Adam Shapiro
Just what will it take for a congressional delegation to go to Jerusalem and address these disturbing realities? Will there ever be a demand for a better return on America's "ironclad" support for Israel, and so many billions of dollars in aid, that reflects those oft-referenced "shared values"?
A week after the violent insurrection of Jan. 6, Pelosi quoted an Israeli poet, Ehud Manor, to try to shake some sense into Republicans who were denying the reality of the attack on the Capitol: "I can't keep silent in light of how my country has changed her face, won't quit trying to remind her. In her ears, I'll sing my cries until she opens her eyes. I can't keep silent of how my country has changed her face."
But now, it is Speaker Pelosi and her fellow Democrats who keep silent and close their eyes. Israel's face has changed because it is now being recognized for what it is: an apartheid state. Palestinians will not keep silent and, indeed, there is something to see here. Just open your eyes.