It took Secretary of State John Kerry exactly 24 hours after his “apartheid” comments were revealed by The Daily Beast to issue a comprehensive apology for the remarks. Despite demands from the American right, Kerry did not resign. The New York Times reports:
In the statement that Mr. Kerry issued Monday, which bore the title “On Support for Israel,” he said that he had been a staunch supporter of Israel during his years as a senator and had spent many hours since working with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other Israeli officials.
Mr. Kerry added that he did not believe that Israel was an “apartheid state” or intended to become one. Mr. Kerry did not dispute he had used the phrase but said it had led to a “misimpression” about his views.
“If I could rewind the tape, I would have chosen a different word to describe my firm belief that the only way in the long term to have a Jewish state and two nations and two peoples living side by side in peace and security is through a two state solution,” he said.
Earlier Monday, AIPAC called Kerry’s remarks “offensive and inappropriate,” reminding the secretary of state that “The Jewish state is a shining light for freedom and opportunity in a region plagued by terror, hate and oppression.” Representatives from both parties parroted the line, and as they say, “poof!”
Kerry, it should be noted, never called Israel an “apartheid state.” He spoke purely in theoretical terms, saying that if Israel becomes “a unitary state,” meaning a single unit including the occupied territories, it would either become a non-Jewish state (due to demographic imbalance) or an Apartheid regime, should it choose to continue keeping millions of Palestinians bereft of political rights. One could argue (as I have here) that this is already the case in the West Bank. But Kerry didn’t say that. As most reports pointed out, he merely repeated what many centrist Israeli politicians, including two prime ministers, have previously stated.
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At this point, the mainstream debate over Israel/Palestine in the U.S. is so crazy and absurd – so disconnected from the facts on the ground, as any person in his/her right mind knows them to be – that any decision by the White House to distance itself from the diplomatic effort is probably the best course of action. There is zero chance that such a bizarre political conversation would lead to a reasonable policy that would serve the interests of the U.S., or even Israelis and Palestinians for that matter.
The two-state solution is on its death bed and Palestinians are redefining their struggle in human and civil rights terms. Meanwhile, the settlers are pushing for gradual annexation of the occupied territory. Yet the conversation in the U.S. is taking place between those supporting yesterday’s ideas and those denying the existence of a problem. So where can one even begin?
Observing American politics from afar, I can argue that dysfunctional systems and/or disconnected politics exist in many fields – gun control and climate change being the most obvious ones. However, there is still a big difference between the issues, since many Americans take part in the debate and have strong opinions on these issues. Therefore, ultimately, one could expect that Washington will either change or break (and then change) on them.
But the Israel/Palestine field is way smaller, and is dominated by strong gatekeepers and lobby organizations that police every aspect of the debate. By “police” I mean they prevent any meaningful debate on issues, and only work on forbidden terms (apartheid, occupation and the likes) and ad hominem attacks, which, when successful, are turned into “guilt by association” charges for maximum effect. The outcome is echoed by a media that is either not knowledgable or too carful or biased to challenge the rules of engagement. Thus, one ends up with the “equal parties” framing (listening to American commentary might leave you with the impression that the powerful Palestinians forced the helpless Israelis to occupy them), along with all sorts of absurdities, such as The Times recently calling Hamas “the devil” in a news report, or the latest Kerry fiasco.
This is not just an Israeli or Palestinian problem, and it is certainly not a Jewish problem. This is, more than anything else, an American problem. And sure enough, it creates a lot of negative effects on the ground here. As an Israeli, what concerns me the most is the way U.S. support prevents any accountability from our leaders for the occupation. Ultimately, however, the U.S.’s inability to come up with an effective policy, or even a reasonable one, will invite other forces in and change the behavior of players on the ground, such that they won’t be as bound or influenced by the wonderland in D.C.
In many ways, this process has already begun.