Bullying is always a bad thing. It entails overpowering another by unfair means, and it is especially egregious when those who are able to prevent it instead become enablers of the bullies. This practice becomes a matter for international law when it extends far beyond schoolyard intimidation, that is, when a nation militarily and economically subjugates another people for its own unjust advantage.
It is in this context that seven human rights organizations have all recently issued reports that condemned Israel as an apartheid regime. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the United Nations Human Rights Council, Harvard University Law School with Addameer, B’Tselem and Yesh Gvul (the latter two being Israeli Jewish organizations) are unanimous in denouncing Israel for maintaining “an institutionalized regime of systematic racial oppression and discrimination, established with the intent to maintain the domination of one racial group over another, and which features inhumane acts committed as an integral part of the regime.” Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, Article 7(2)(h).
Palestinians are Semites. Consequently, it would be accurate to label the Israeli government’s rogue behavior as “the other antisemitism,” criminally victimizing the non-Jewish Semitic peoples under its malicious control. Historically this included the destruction of 531 Palestinian villages and expulsion of more than half of the native inhabitants in 1948, as documented by Jewish scholar Ilan Pappe in his 2007 book The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine. What the Palestinians call their “Nakba” or holocaust continues to this day with forcible land seizures and building of settlements in East Jerusalem, West Bank and Golan Heights, all of which are illegal under international law (Fourth Geneva Convention) and also affirmed as illegal by the World Court.
Regrettably, what human rights organizations have massively documented as Israel’s “crime against humanity” is nevertheless enabled by successive United States administrations and by Congress, itself often described as “Israeli occupied territory.” New York Times columnist Tom Friedman has deplored members of Congress leaping to their feet 24 times to applaud Israel’s prime minister when he addressed a joint session of Congress, stating that their support was bought and paid for by AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee).
Another blatant irony is support for Israel coming from self-described evangelical Christians. They ignore the reality that Christian populations in the “Holy” Land (who happen to be Palestinian) have been decimated by Israeli apartheid measures, and evangelicals further ignore the reality that leadership among Palestinian Christian communities has been unanimous in protesting discrimination against their congregations.
Cheerleading for Israel contradicts the gospel Jesus’s consistent support for underdogs and his persistent criticism of a Jewish establishment that he likened to “whited sepulchers.” In the New Testament the Gospel of Matthew contains a blistering criticism of the main Jewish religious parties. “You brood of vipers … do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father.’ For I tell you, God is able from these very stones to raise up children to Abraham” (Matthew 3:7).
Again, turning a deaf ear to Scripture, Christian Zionists ignore the Epistles of St. Paul, which echoes Christ’s refusal to accord Jews any special privilege as “chosen people.” According to St. Paul, “You are, in fact, all children of God through faith in Jesus Christ … No longer is there Jew or Greek; no longer is there slave or freeman; no longer is there male or female. You are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are the offspring of Abraham, heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:26) (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:13).
Hammering the point home in another Epistle, St. Paul insists, “Here there is no Gentile, no Jew, no circumcised, no uncircumcised, no barbarian, no Scythian, no slave, no free man, but Christ is all, and in all” (Colossians 3:11). Dispelling any doubt that Jesus rejects special status for Jews, St. Paul in another epistle asks, “Is God the God of the Jews only, and not of the Gentiles too? Assuredly he is also the God of the Gentiles. Why, there is but one God …” (Romans 3:29).
Repeatedly in Epistle to Romans, St. Paul underscores the New Testament teaching that “There is no distinction between Jew and Greek. There is the same Lord of all, generous toward all who call upon him …” (Romans 10:12). In a flourish, St. Paul seals the New Testament message: “With God there is no favoritism” (Romans 2:11). Predictably, hypocrisy marks evangelical fervor for Israel, since its crackpot theology is itself deeply anti-Semitic. These “Christians” believe that after Israel is restored to its supposed former glory, Christ will come again and only Jews who embrace Jesus will be saved. The rest will go to Hell.
Looking the other way while Israel commits state sponsored terrorism has historical precedent. Great Britain occupied Palestine following World War I and, despite assurances to the Arabs that Britain would support their independence in exchange for assistance against the Turks, the Palestinians were subjected to violent subjugation while Britain facilitated Jewish immigration and land seizures. British brutality in exploiting 400 million peoples within its colonial empire is well documented, most recently in Legacy of Violence by Harvard University historian Caroline Elkins (2022).
Equally well established is the original sin of Jewish colonial settlers in Palestine. A plethora of Jewish historians and political scientists, both Israeli and American, have published works exploding “origin myths” about Israel’s creation and Zionist denials of the ongoing violation of Palestinian human rights. These Jewish scholars include Ilan Pappe, Zeev Sternhell, Ian Lustick, Shira Robinson, Shlomo Sand, Norman Finkelstein, Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi, Simha Flapan, Jerome Slater, Max Blumenthal, Livia Rokach, Miko Peled, Susan Nathan, Neve Gordon, Lenni Brenner, Avi Shlaim, Israel Shahak, Josh Ruebner and many others. Ernest Renan has said, “Forgetting, I would even say historical error, is an essential factor in the creation of a nation and it is for this reason that the progress of historical studies often poses a threat to nationality.” In the case of Israel, exposing the historical facts as well as the current apartheid realities leads to Zionist blowback alleging antisemitism, forgetting the Holocaust and embracing terrorists. As already indicated, such attempts to silence valid criticism suffer the irony of Israel’s own anti-Palestinian antisemitism and state-sponsored terrorism.
Empires have family resemblances. And so, one can see the history of this human race as a repeat of “might makes right” by France, Spain, Great Britain, Netherlands, Portugal, Belgium, Germany, Russia and, yes, the United States. After all, our own patriotic myths cannot whitewash the atrocities committed against Blacks, Indians, Haitians, Filipinos, Mexicans, Chinese, Iraqis and Vietnamese, as well as Palestinians.
Applying a consistent, universal moral standard of human rights, it is necessary to criticize also the dismal failing of Arab regimes across the Middle East in meeting the legitimate needs and aspirations of their own people. Bullying by nation states with superior military power carries with it the assumption that the bully has a justifiable monopoly on the use of violence. But the historical reality is that insurgent terrorism most often has been in reaction to state-sponsored terrorism. The term itself derives from the “Reign of Terror” of the French government in the 18th century. In counting victims of terrorism the undisputed fact is that most are victims of “terrorism from above,” i.e., state terrorism. Sometimes it takes a while for the truth to come out, given the government’s control of media and propaganda machinery and its ability to buy sycophants at home and abroad.
In the case of the Palestinians, one can only hope that their steadfastness, their “sumud,” will eventually overcome Zionist apartheid rule and United States enablement. Human rights advocates can never presume that they are guaranteed a victory in the end. Anyhow, it is not the consequences that justify the act. Rather the act is justified by the moral principles that inspire it. If successful, Palestinians will one day breathe what they are today denied, the air of freedom and justice.