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Reckless charges of anti-Semitism endanger Palestinians

The baseless claims made by The Forward’s Batya Ungar-Sargon at Bard College last week feed the dysfunction of the American debate on Israel-Palestine, making it more difficult for Palestinians and their allies to advocate for their rights.

In a strange public controversy last week, Batya Ungar-Sargon, the Opinion Editor at The Forward, published a column claiming that she had been protested by members of Students for Justice in Palestine during one of her panels at a conference on racism and anti-Semitism at Bard College, ostensibly “for being a Jew.”

The article omitted the fact that many of the protestors were Jewish, and were largely objecting to the presence of keynote speaker Ruth Wisse, who has made notoriously racist comments about Arabs. They were also objecting to Ungar-Sargon’s attacks on U.S. Representative Ilhan Omar and her dismissal of the concerns of Jews of color about her editorial decisions at The Forward.

As +972 contributor Mairav Zonszein reported in Jewish Currents on Monday, many other participants at the conference – including the Jewish protestors, fellow Jewish speakers, and Jewish organizers of the event – have revealed that Ungar-Sargon’s op-ed and her departing speech at Bard were grossly misleading and detached from reality. Many of these participants issued their own responses refuting Ungar-Sargon’s account (examples are here, here, here, and here).

This episode is unfortunate yet unsurprising to many observers. In recent years, Ungar-Sargon earned respect in part for actively bringing a diversity of voices to The Forward regarding Israel-Palestine. These included Palestinian writers whose views were radically different from her own, offering them a platform to engage American Jewish audiences that they might otherwise not have interacted with.

However, her theatrics at Bard were illustrative of a baseless and reckless diagnosis of anti-Semitism which — in addition to cheapening a serious accusation — has contributed to a dangerous climate for Palestinians and their allies, including Jews, to challenge individuals and ideas that condone their oppression.

In many ways, the current debacle echoes Ungar-Sargon’s role in the saga around Rep. Ilhan Omar, after Omar criticized AIPAC’s political and financial lobbying of Congress by quipping on Twitter that “It’s all about the Benjamins.” The post drew accusations from Ungar-Sargon of espousing “anti-Semitic tropes” — a narrative that quickly dominated the public discourse, tarnished Omar’s reputation, and has made her the target of relentless...

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In Israel, ‘politics as usual’ means escalating Palestinian oppression

Three trends from Israel’s do-over election demonstrate that the more Israeli politics stay the same, the more dangerous its policies become.

There are many moments in Israeli-Palestinian history where landmark developments seem to change nothing and everything at the same time. Israel’s September election is one of them. While featuring many familiar and predictable patterns, the latest political contest has also exposed novel shifts that could significantly alter the conflict’s dynamics. Three key and interconnected trends that reflect this paradox can be drawn from the election, all of which present crucial strategic questions for the Palestinian struggle in the years ahead.

The first trend is the intensified targeting of the voting rights of Palestinian citizens of Israel. A fifth of the state’s population, Palestinian citizens have always faced obstructions to their political activities despite their enfranchisement since 1948. However, under the three consecutive governments of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the past decade has seen a startling escalation of racist incitement and measures aimed at further undermining Palestinian participation in the electoral process. This trend is noticeable with each passing election cycle: In the final weeks of the September campaign, Netanyahu launched relentless diatribes about the threat of a “leftist-Arab” government, repeated baseless claims of “voter fraud” in Arab towns, and told his Facebook followers that the Arabs “want to annihilate us all.” His most notorious claim in the 2015 election – warning that Palestinian citizens were heading to the polls “in droves” – seems negligible in comparison.

This intensifying rhetoric has been paired with direct political actions. In April, Likud-affiliated election monitors were found to be carrying over 1,200 hidden cameras at Arab polling stations, with the intention of causing disruptions that would prevent voters from submitting their ballots, and to scare the Palestinian public from coming to the polls for fear of surveillance. Israel’s Central Elections Committee later forbade this practice, but in response, the Likud initiated emergency legislation to have the cameras installed (the bill failed to pass the Knesset). Ironically, these frantic attempts to deter Palestinian citizens backfired: voter turnout jumped from 49 percent in April to 60 percent in September, and the Joint List (the alliance of four Arab-led political parties in Israel) regained its position as the third largest party with 13 Knesset seats.

Despite this outcome, the government remains intent on keeping Palestinian citizens...

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Likud vs Likud: How Revisionist Zionism conquered Israeli politics

Israel’s elections have been billed as a clash of the titans between Netanyahu and Gantz. But no matter who wins, the real victory goes to Vladimir Jabotinsky, the grandfather of the Likud.

In what should be regarded as a historic photograph taken last Monday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the head of the Likud party, and Benny Gantz, the head of the Blue and White party, sat gripping one another’s hands for the camera with President Reuven Rivlin, who was arbitrating their meeting in his Jerusalem office. Rivlin, himself a former Likud member, was urging the two leaders to form a national unity government following last week’s election results, which saw their parties win a combined total of 65 Knesset seats out of 120 (32 and 33 seats, respectively).

The irony is that, despite their bitter rivalry during the election campaigns, the platforms of Likud and Blue and White are almost identical. Their main sticking point revolves around who should become prime minister; indeed, had Gantz not made Netanyahu’s personal overthrow a centerpiece of his campaign, he could have been a natural coalition partner. With talks at an impasse, Rivlin on Wednesday appointed Netanyahu — whose 55-seat bloc is just slightly ahead of Gantz’s 54 — to create a government; if he fails, the task will be reassigned to Gantz.

The narcissism of small differences in what has become the biggest battle in Israeli politics is not an accident. The meeting in Rivlin’s office was decades in the making, and marks a resounding victory for the legacy of Vladimir (Ze’ev) Jabotinsky — the founder of Revisionist Zionism, commander of the Irgun militia, and grandfather of the Likud.

Jabotinsky may have been furious that the fate of the Jewish state has been held hostage to an individualized battle between ideological twins. But the fact that the two parties are nearly indistinguishable from each other, and now account for over half of the political echelon, attests to the Likud’s profound transformation of Israeli state and society.

When it broke the Labor party’s hegemony in 1977, the Likud encouraged Israelis to believe that they no longer had to hide behind discursive façades to pursue Jewish sovereignty throughout ‘Greater Israel.’ “Our habit,” wrote Jabotinsky in an essay in 1911, “of constantly and zealously answering to any rabble has already done us a lot of harm and will do much more. We do not have to apologize for anything.” Armed with a clear and unrepentant ideology,...

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Unlike South Africa, the world is giving Israel a pass on apartheid

A UN Security Council resolution rejecting South Africa’s 1983 constitution shows that there is precedent and necessity to act against Israel’s Nation-State Law.

In a referendum on November 2, 1983, White voters in apartheid South Africa approved a new constitution to restructure their political system. In addition to consolidating executive power with the presidency, a tricameral parliament was established to grant segregated representation for Coloreds and Indians, with the White chamber holding the parliamentary majority. Non-whites were appointed to various public positions, and some economic and social restrictions were repealed. Black Africans, of course, remained excluded from the electorate.

Proponents of this reform hoped it would make apartheid more sustainable by assuaging growing opposition at home and abroad. It didn’t. The following year, the UN Security Council declared the new constitution “null and void” with Resolution 554 (13 in favor, with the U.S. and U.K. abstaining). Affirming the “legitimacy of the struggle … for the elimination of apartheid,” the Council accused the constitution of seeking to “continue the process of denationalization of the indigenous African majority, depriving it of all fundamental rights, and further entrench apartheid, transforming South Africa into a country for ‘whites only.’”

The resolution went further, rejecting “any so-called ‘negotiated settlement’ based on bantustan structures” or on the new constitution. It called on governments and organizations not to recognize the 1984 elections (the first under the tricameral system), and to support the transformation of South Africa into a non-racial democracy. In short, the world was not buying Pretoria’s attempts to beautify its regime. Apartheid had to go.

When Israel’s Knesset passed the ‘Jewish Nation-State Law’ one year ago this month, it effectively declared apartheid the constitutional law of the land. Yet the responses of the international community have hardly matched those toward South Africa 35 years ago. Some like the European Union have publicly raised concerns about the Basic Law’s effect on Israel’s minority citizens and democratic values; but for the most part, they have treated it as an internal matter that they cannot interfere with, at least until the Supreme Court completes its judicial review.

This tepid reaction is disturbing given the severity of the new law. Among other provisions, it asserts that the right to national self-determination in the state belongs to Jews only; it demotes Arabic from its status as an official language; and it encourages exclusive Jewish settlement as a “national...

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Don’t wait for Israeli archives to prove what Palestinians already know

Israeli authorities are deliberately concealing historical documents to undermine evidence of the state’s dark and violent origins. And the world is still falling for it.

The village of Safsaf (“willow” in Arabic) appears on page 490 of the newest edition of Walid Khalidi’s All That Remains, a seminal book that catalogues 418 Palestinian communities that were destroyed and depopulated during the Nakba. A Palestinian eyewitness account describes the day when Zionist forces conquered the village and rounded up its residents in October 1948:

On Thursday, Haaretz published a widely-shared investigative piece by Hagar Shezaf on how Israeli authorities are systematically concealing archival materials relating to the 1948 war, even after they have been officially disclosed. It begins with an Israeli historian stumbling upon a document four years ago that was written in November 1948 by the Haganah’s former chief of staff. The note, which was first unearthed by New Historian Benny Morris in the 1980s, is also quoted in Khalidi’s book:

It is strangely consoling to see official Israeli admission of the event. As Shezaf’s excellent article shows, and thanks to the vital work of Akevot – an Israeli organization that works to expand public access to documentation about the conflict held in government and private archives – along with other historians, archive research has made it irrefutably clear that Zionist forces consciously carried out brutal acts of violence against Palestinians to facilitate their expulsion.

Though this is hardly news, such archives remain valuable in providing what are essentially “confessions” by officials of the inhumane crimes they oversaw – crimes that are denied by Israel and its supporters to this day.

Yet, for many Palestinians, the bewildered reactions to these discoveries can be infuriating. They remind us of how thousands of Palestinian testimonies, and decades of Palestinian-led research, struggle to stir so much as a ripple in mainstream discourse about Israel’s history. A few Israeli documents, however, can swiftly rile up a storm.

The knowledge of this disparity has been a key reason for Israel’s obstinate archive policy: as one official blatantly told Shezaf, authorities deliberately continue to hide these documents in order to “undermine the credibility of studies about the history of the [Palestinian] refugee problem.” And many still fall for it.

This cruel double standard over who has “permission to narrate” the conflict has been raised before – and, it seems, it must be raised again...

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For Michelle Alexander’s critics, Palestinians don’t deserve civil rights

The uproar by Jewish establishment figures over Alexander’s New York Times essay in support of Palestinian rights echoes the reactions of white Americans to the Civil Rights Movement decades ago.

Michelle Alexander’s powerful New York Times essay on Saturday (“Time to Break the Silence on Palestine”), ahead of the commemoration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, was arguably a milestone for the Palestine movement in the U.S.

First, for who wrote it: Alexander, the author of the seminal book The New Jim Crow, is a renowned lawyer and public intellectual respected for her activism and scholarship on racism in the U.S., who cannot easily be dismissed as “fringe.”

Second, for where it was written: in a leading mainstream newspaper, which more frequently features op-eds by Israel advocates like Bari Weiss, Matti Friedman, Bret Stephens, Shmuel Rosner, and even officials like Naftali Bennett.

Third, for when it was written: Alexander is the latest prominent Black American in recent months to vocally express — and be targeted for — her solidarity with the Palestinian people, after others like Tamika Mallory, Marc Lamont Hill, and Angela Davis faced similar public outrages and disavowals.

And fourth, for why it was written: to challenge the widespread fear of backlash, held by many progressive Americans, for publicly criticizing Israel and speaking up for Palestinian rights.

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The uproar over Alexander’s essay came swiftly from Jewish establishment groups and figures. Some of them are worth reading in full, if only to witness the hysteria and chutzpah of telling a Black woman how to remember one of the most significant African-American leaders in history, or how to interpret her knowledge of injustice:

  • The Anti-Defamation League (ADL): “We have great respect for Michelle Alexander & her path-breaking civil rights work, but her piece on the complex Israeli-Palestinian conflict is dangerously flawed, ignoring critical facts, history & the shared responsibility of both parties to resolve it.”
  • The American Jewish Committee (AJC): “MLK’s memory is not a moral cudgel to wield against any cause or country you disapprove of. Michelle Alexander’s op-ed is a shameful appropriation. We all have a long way to go to reach the mountaintop. There’s no need to take potshots at democratic Israel.”
  • David Harris, CEO of AJC: “Michelle Alexander’s piece: in essence, calls for #Israel’s end / approvingly cites...
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A masterclass in Palestine solidarity

By using his platform to elevate marginalized Palestinian views onto the global stage, Marc Lamont Hill’s UN speech challenged the unequal parameters of permissible thought on the conflict.

Watching Marc Lamont Hill’s speech at the United Nations on Wednesday was like a breath of fresh air. Unlike the mundane and repetitive remarks made by aging diplomats, Hill delivered a powerful articulation of the Palestinian struggle and how he, as a Black American, identifies with their cause. More provocatively, Hill reflected upon the history of Black resistance to “American apartheid,” which ranged from nonviolent boycotts to slave revolts, saying that true solidarity “must allow the Palestinian people the same range of opportunity and political possibility.”

Pro-Israel advocates have portrayed Hill’s speech as a violent and anti-Semitic diatribe, focusing especially on his call to achieve “what justice requires, and that is a free Palestine from the river to the sea.” They claim that this phrase is a “genocidal” and “jihadist” slogan associated with groups like Hamas, and that it implies the elimination of the Jewish state, if not the Jewish people on the land. CNN, for which Hill was a frequent contributor, severed its ties with him following the uproar.

Aside from the fact that many of Hill’s critics deliberately misconstrued the content of his speech, the hysteria over the phrase “the river to the sea” is grossly misplaced. Groups like Hamas do not own, nor do they orchestrate, the source from which that phrase derives: the Palestinians’ collective desire to fulfill their human rights in their historical homeland. Conflating the two is politically dishonest and viciously dehumanizing; it encourages the belief that the Palestinian cause is something to be defeated, rather than respected.

The outrage is also hypocritical, given that the premise of the phrase is as embedded in Israeli-Zionist consciousness as it is in the Palestinian one. Take the first article of the Nation-State Law, which asserts that the land of Israel (stretching from the Mediterranean to the Transjordan) is the “historical homeland of the Jewish people.” Or, take the legislation being advanced in the Knesset, which would formalize Israel’s fifty-year de facto annexation of two-thirds of the West Bank. Or, take the words of center-left opposition leaders who, like right-wing officials, pledge to keep East Jerusalem and the Jordan Valley under Israeli rule in any peace deal.

These...

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‘This is how you change the status quo’: Rethinking the Palestinian boycott of Jerusalem elections

Aziz Abu Sarah withdrew his historic bid for Jerusalem mayor after Israeli and Palestinian pressures, but he hopes his short campaign ‘provokes’ new ideas on how to build stronger, younger Palestinian political activism in the city.

Less than a month after declaring his candidacy to become the first Palestinian mayor of Jerusalem, Aziz Abu Sarah – a 38-year-old activist, social entrepreneur, and former +972 contributor – announced that he and his slate of candidates, “Al-Quds Lana” (“Our Jerusalem”), would be withdrawing from both the mayoral and city council races, which are scheduled for late October.

In a post on his Facebook page, Abu Sarah cited two reasons for his decision. First, Israeli authorities recently informed him that his legal status as a resident of East Jerusalem was “being checked” due to his “travels and work abroad” with National Geographic and his own tourism company, MEJDI Tours. Abu Sarah, like other Palestinians in the city’s occupied east, does not have Israeli citizenship, and his Jerusalem residency can be easily revoked by Israel on various grounds (since 1967, Israel has revoked the residency status of more than 14,500 Palestinians from Jerusalem).

Second, some Palestinian groups who were vehemently opposed to Abu Sarah’s list participating in the local election, in adherence to a longstanding boycott of municipal politics by Palestinian residents, were “applying strong pressure on our candidates and their families” to end their campaign. Under these precarious circumstances, he believed it was best to step down.

Abu Sarah was never naïve about his motives for running for office, or the significant hurdles that he would face. Throughout his campaign, he was clear about his distrust of Israeli political institutions, which have entrenched the 50-year occupation of East Jerusalem and denied the Palestinian community their most basic rights. At the same time, he was highly critical of the Palestinian leadership’s inability to provide an alternative, practical political strategy for the city’s residents, who have felt increasingly abandoned and directionless. “I wanted to push Israelis and Palestinians to rethink their situation,” said Abu Sarah.

Despite its short lifespan, Abu Sarah’s candidacy has rekindled the controversial discussion, including among Palestinians, about the future of their politics in Jerusalem and whether they should maintain or end the boycott of municipal elections. +972 Magazine spoke to Abu Sarah in Jerusalem the day after he announced he dropped out of the race. The...

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Want to combat Israeli authoritarianism? Listen to Palestinians

Jewish and international observers are constantly having to catch up to what Palestinians have always known about Israel. This needs to change.

In his 1963 book The Fire Next Time, James Baldwin wrote a profound personal letter to his young nephew (also named James), in which he poignantly described the dehumanizing world that Black people must face in America:

“You were born into a society which spelled out with brutal clarity, and in as many ways as possible, that you were a worthless human being. You were not expected to aspire to excellence: you were expected to make peace with mediocrity. Wherever you have turned, James, in your short time on this earth, you have been told where you could go and what you could do (and how you could do it) and where you could live and whom you could marry. I know your countrymen do not agree with me about this, and I hear them saying ‘You exaggerate.‘” [emphasis mine]

This passage captures a critical component of racial inequality. When people under oppression try to articulate the injustice they face to the society in power, their narratives are actively ignored, undermined, and delegitimized as absurd, false, or unimportant. To this day, Black Americans are regularly told that they “exaggerate” when they warn about white supremacists, police brutality, job discrimination, and other racial problems. This feeling of dismissal, expressed by Baldwin 55 years ago, resonates powerfully with the Palestinian experience.

The recent outrage over the political interrogations of prominent left-wing American Jews like Simone Zimmerman and Peter Beinart is an important and much-needed development. But for many Palestinians, it can be very frustrating to watch. Despite thousands of Palestinians, Arabs, and Muslims being detained, interrogated, humiliated, threatened, deported, and banned for trying to enter Israel or the occupied territories, hardly any of them could garner the same local or international attention, or stir the same level of shock, among people with power and privilege who claim to be concerned about democracy and civil rights in the country.

Many Israeli and American Jews who have been subjected to such invasive practices, including those recently detained, have rightly stressed that what they faced was a mere fraction of what Palestinians and others are put through. However, the international reactions they received (through no fault of their own) are a jarring reminder of how “worthless” Palestinians and...

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In Haifa, a display of Palestinian grassroots power

The combined efforts of Palestinians in using their bodies, cameras, and voices to support detained protesters made it impossible for the police to hide the severity of their actions.

The release of 19 Palestinian citizens of Israel on Monday, who had been arrested since Friday, after police violently dispersed a demonstration in Haifa against last week’s mass killings in Gaza, is a fleeting speck in the context of recent events in the conflict. As the detained activists have emphasized, their experiences are nothing compared to what Palestinians are subjected to in the blockaded Strip. But after weeks of tragic news, the past three days have offered a moment of strength and hope that should not be overlooked.

The police’s response to Friday’s demonstration is hardly exceptional, even in the purported “capital of coexistence.” Harassment and repression are frequent features of political protests by Palestinian citizens, especially those in solidarity with Gaza. Last week, police launched “preventative” arrests and interrogations of several activists in their homes, hoping to deter them from participating in further demonstrations.

The courts, far from putting law enforcement authorities in check, routinely grant the police extensive impunity to keep protesters in detention and to avoid responsibility for their brutality, even when they clearly violate their own laws and regulations.

This past weekend, however, the protesters altered the rules of the game. Unfazed by the police’s repressive tactics, young and old activists and leaders returned to the streets in Haifa, and gathered outside the court to continue showing their solidarity with Gaza and with the detainees (including in the face of a right-wing demonstration calling to “return Haifa to Israel”).

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Supporters from afar – including Palestinians in Gaza – shared images of Friday’s demonstration on social media, tying Haifa to the global discussion on Gaza. Volunteer lawyers worked around the clock preparing and strategizing their cases and legal arguments. Friends and family members filled the courtroom on Sunday for nine hours in support of the detainees, refusing to leave until the judge finally issued his decision at dawn.

These combined efforts of Palestinians and allies to use their bodies, cameras, and voices to defend the detainees – and the skills of the lawyers in harnessing those efforts in court –  forced the Israeli police and the judge into a corner...

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How Childish Gambino explains the problem with Israel’s Eurovision win

Gambino’s new music video illustrates why audiences should focus on the injustices unfolding in the background of artistic performances – especially those representing the state.

In the music video for his new single “This is America,” the singer and rapper Childish Gambino (Donald Glover) dances in a warehouse while scenes of violence and chaos unfold around him. Among other messages, the video is a reflection of how art can be used to distract people’s attention from the brutal realities faced by Black Americans and other people of color in the United States. Gun murders, police sirens, running youths, and other images fill the background as Glover smiles and performs for the camera, trying to keep the audience’s gaze on him. “We just wanna party,” he sings, before pulling out a pistol and shooting a hooded man in the head. “This is America,” he says, and continues dancing.

Glover’s video rang through my mind when I heard that Netta Barzilai had won the Eurovision contest on Saturday night. Barzilai is a talented and charismatic singer, and her performance arguably deserved the popular vote. But like many Palestinians, I could not help but feel frustrated, even hopelessness, after hearing the news of her victory.

The idea that art and culture can be separated from their political context is a naïve luxury that oppressed people cannot afford. This is especially the case with an event like Eurovision, where countries routinely manipulate their candidates’ performances to boost their public image and deliver political messages. As the world’s eyes fixated on Barzilai raising her award in triumph, it seemed like the violence that had transpired in Israel-Palestine that week, like those in Glover’s video, had gone completely unnoticed.

A day before her win, Israeli snipers opened fire on Palestinians in Gaza as they marched in protest toward the fence for the seventh week in a row. In the weeks prior, Israeli settlers in the West Bank vandalized the homes and properties of Palestinian villagers – attacks which have spiked in recent months. To the north in Syria, Israeli and Iranian forces faced off in the wake of President Trump’s withdrawal from the JCPOA – a goal long-pursued by Prime Minister Netanyahu. On Saturday, right-wing Israelis chanted racist slogans as they marched through the Old City to celebrate...

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The myth of the Gaza 'border'

The Green Line disguises the fact that Palestinians in Gaza are no longer being oppressed outside the Israeli state, but are being caged and brutalized inside it.

Palestinian activists have long criticized the use of the word “border” to describe the 1949 armistice line that divides Gaza and Israel, and which protestors in the Great March of Return have been trying to cross at great risk to life and limb. By invoking the term, Israel insists that its open-fire policy toward the march is part of its legitimate right to defend its sovereignty and security. It further claims that, because the government dismantled its settlements in 2005, it no longer occupies the Strip and therefore bears no responsibility for its conditions.

These are disingenuous arguments. Israel’s blockade and control of Gaza stretches from its eastern and northern land crossings to the Mediterranean Sea in the west, with Egypt controlling the south. What it calls a “border” is actually a militarized network of naval ships, barbed wire, electronic barriers, lethal no-man zones, and surveillance systems that operate as the fence of an open-air prison. In legal terms, Israel retains “effective control” of the Strip (including people’s movement, its airspace, flow of goods, and other needs of daily life), and therefore remains its occupying power.

The human rights community has spent years articulating the nature of Israel’s occupation under international law and the responsibility of third-parties to end it. The law, however, is only worth as much as the will to enforce it; and half a century later, these efforts have failed to produce meaningful outcomes. It is not that the law is incorrect, but that it has been unable to mobilize political action or make Israel’s military rule less sustainable.

The Palestinians’ own ambiguities about the Green Line have further complicated matters. We focus on the military structures that have spawned since 1967, yet emphasize that the real problem is 1948. We cite Israel’s obligation to abide by international law, but chastise the law for being useless in practice. We combine settler colonialism, occupation, and apartheid as lenses to explain the ongoing Nakba, but arrive at different conclusions for what the solution entails. These debates are natural, but they also muddle the struggle’s priorities and the discourse it promotes.

Exploiting these uncertainties, Israel has turned Gaza into an area that is simultaneously separated from...

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Palestinians are the majority. Is it apartheid yet?

Israel has always valued Jewish supremacy over democracy. But new demographics could bolster the Palestinians’ efforts to challenge this system.

A resounding fear struck many Knesset members this week upon hearing that, on both sides of the Green Line, Palestinians may now outnumber Jews, 6.8 million people to 6.5 million. The statistics were given to the Knesset by an official from COGAT, the military body that governs the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. If the figures are correct, the ‘dystopic’ future of a Jewish minority living between the river and the sea appears to have finally arrived.

Israeli politicians, particularly on the center-left, have long warned about the changing population numbers. “If we do not wake up from the delusions of annexation,” said Tzipi Livni after hearing this week’s news, “we will lose the Jewish majority. It’s simple.” In 2015, former Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog conveyed the same message when he declared, “I don’t want 61 Palestinian MKs in Israel’s Knesset. I don’t want a Palestinian prime minister.”

Foreign officials, including US mediators, echoed the same mantra for years in the hopes of encouraging Israel to see the two-state solution as the only way to protect its Jewish character. These critics repeatedly warned that, in the absence of an agreement, Israel could only ensure its Jewish majority by becoming openly and unapologetically undemocratic.

But this has already been the case for decades. Countless Israeli military campaigns, laws, and policies since 1948 have aimed to keep non-Jews out of the state (namely Palestinian refugees) and curb the rights of those living inside it. While these policies principally target Palestinians and Arabs, they are also directed against African refugees and other ‘unwanted’ persons deemed socially and politically undesirable by the Zionist ethos.

The belief in the ‘demographic threat’ – an inherently racist and dehumanizing concept – breeds cruel consequences to this day. While the Law of Return allows any Jew in the world to acquire automatic Israeli citizenship and residency, the Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law denies thousands of Palestinian families the right to unify and live in Israel, regardless of a spouse’s citizenship. Approving this law in 2012, former High Court justice Asher Grunis wrote that “Human rights should not be a recipe for national suicide.” Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked also did not mince words last month when she Read More

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