The controversy over U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s apartheid remark about Israel has become the latest distraction from a just settlement in the Middle East.
"If there’s no two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict soon, Israel risks becoming an ... apartheid state,"Ω Kerry is reported to have said at a private meeting. (He quickly backtracked on his comment once it became public and aroused fury.)
Kerry is not the first to use the "A" word in reference to Israel. In fact, former President Jimmy Carter wrote a book on this subject. Kerry is the third top American official in the current administration to be intimidated for speaking his mind on Israel’s occupation policies. During his first term, President Barack Obama spent precious political capital in confronting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu regarding "illegal Israeli settlements." The president no longer talks about the subject.
The second muted U.S. leader is Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel. He went through an ordeal during his confirmation hearings for supposedly being anti-Israel.
Now, Kerry is the latest to pay dearly for speaking the truth on Israel’s risks of continuing to live with an occupation that is likely to undermine its security, its Jewish character and, ultimately, its democracy.
It might help for Israelis to realize that it is the occupation — not the character of Israel’s society — that is being challenged. Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land is a social system that breeds violence, creates permanent inequality and expands barriers between communities. Reference to apartheid should not be an automatic label of ill will toward Israel.
The backlash Kerry has received should not deter him from continuing his dedication to ending the occupation. The real issue here is the cost of the occupation — to the occupied and the occupier.
Ghassan Michel Rubeiz is a former secretary of the Middle East for the Geneva-based World Council of Churches. He wrote this for Progressive Media Project.
— McClatchy-Tribune News Service