This is part of Marc H. Ellis’s “Exile and the Prophetic” feature for Mondoweiss. To read the entire series visit the archive page.
It’s too late to express horror or cry hypocrisy about the Kerry apartheid retraction. By now it’s just too obvious. Like the Los Angeles Clipper owner, Donald Sterling, once the racist or apartheid cat is out of the bag, there’s no way to pretend it didn’t happen.
Descriptive words about race and apartheid don’t just slip out. You don’t have to be a Freudian to realize that apartheid has been floating around Kerry’s consciousness for some time.
In the meantime, some political leaders in Israel are calling for unilateral measures against the Palestinians. This includes the possibility of annexing large parts of the West Bank.
More rhetorical gestures? Whether they implement what they say or not, you have to give credit where credit is due. For the most part, Israel’s political leaders don’t backtrack. They rarely retract even their most outrageous statements. When they do, they tact on another insult for good measure.
Rhetorically, the United States struck a rich vein with Kerry’s apartheid statement. Retracting it cancels that support. The more important issue is whether Kerry’s rhetorical stance, even with the retraction, yields political fruit.
Unilateral moves by Israel would trump this entire apartheid debate. Would anything be done if Israel annexes significant parts of the West Bank? Remember the response to the annexation of Jerusalem and the building of the Wall? If history tells us anything, the response will be – more rhetorical jousting.
So with the latest peace process in shambles what should we make of political words that break political boundaries with the attendant retractions that reinforce them?
Framed in American political space, Kerry broke a barrier.
Framed in American Jewish space, Kerry broke a barrier.
But these political spaces are too limited – even with the acknowledgement that a barrier was broken. What other political space is there? J Street?
That issue is being joined this week with a vote on whether or not to admit J Street to the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations. Those against argue that J Street supports “Israel’s enemies.” Those for argue that J Street means including Jewish voices who “love Israel.”
Is “love Israel” the (rhetorical) response to “apartheid” Israel?
American Jews matter less and less to Israel. Israel knows American Jews aren’t going anywhere. Including J Street in the Conference of Presidents would be a bonus for Israel. It would further internalize the American Jewish debate and further isolate Jews of Conscience who want to move beyond rhetoric and confront abuses of Israeli power.
If the Conference of Presidents rejects J Street, will this mean anything beyond another round of rhetorical skirmishes? I doubt it. Progressive Jews hope to be the next Jewish establishment. Rejection means raising their “Love Israel” banners higher.
Can inclusion of J Street and Israeli annexation of significant parts of the West Bank go hand in hand?
The issue in Israel-Palestine isn’t about love, apartheid or even annexation – rhetorically. It’s about – real – justice denied.