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Palestinian Attorney Noura Erakat: The U.S. Is Normalizing Apartheid by Hosting Israel’s President

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As President Biden meets with Israeli President Isaac Herzog at the White House today, several progressive Democrats have announced plans to boycott Herzog’s address to a joint session of Congress. This comes after Biden invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to visit the United States this year despite recently criticizing the makeup of Netanyahu’s far-right Cabinet as “one of the most extremist” he has seen. The visits from Israeli leadership are an attempt to “normalize apartheid,” says Palestinian human rights attorney Noura Erakat, who compares today’s U.S. support of Israel to the nation’s support for South African apartheid. “The United States is complicit and a pillar of Israeli apartheid in its provision of unequivocal financial, diplomatic and military support.” Erakat also applauds the efforts of activists and politicians who have shifted Democrats’ sympathies more toward Palestine than Israel, according to a recent Gallup poll.

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: President Biden is meeting Israeli President Isaac Herzog at the White House today. On Wednesday, Herzog will address a joint session of Congress, though several progressive Democrats have announced plans to boycott his speech. The group includes Congressmembers Rashida Tlaib, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Cori Bush, Ilhan Omar and Jamaal Bowman. Cori Bush wrote, “The Israeli government is responsible for enforcing an apartheid state and rampantly abusing the rights of Palestinians. Congress should not be giving a platform to the President of a country that shows no respect for human rights. I will not be attending his joint address,” unquote.

On Monday, President Biden spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and invited him for a meeting in the United States this year. Biden recently criticized the makeup of Netanyahu’s far-right Cabinet, describing it as, quote, “one of the most extremist” he’s ever seen in Israel.

Israeli President Herzog’s visit to the White House comes just weeks after the Israeli military attacked the Jenin refugee camp, killing at least 12 Palestinians in Israel’s largest military operation in the occupied West Bank in 20 years.

We begin today’s show with Noura Erakat. She’s a Palestinian human rights attorney and associate professor at Rutgers University. She’s the author of Justice for Some: Law and the Question of Palestine.

Let’s begin with Herzog’s visit, the Israeli president, to Biden, the address, joint session of Congress, and then, yesterday, President Biden speaking personally on the phone with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, inviting him to the United States. Your response, Noura Erakat?

NOURA ERAKAT: So, let’s just begin by setting up the context, that this is 2023, in the aftermath of the legacy human rights organizations, Israeli human rights organizations, U.N. committees, U.N. agencies, as well as multiple scholars and independent investigations have all concluded that Israel oversees an apartheid regime. This is also in a context where, since the collapse of the peace process in 2000, Israel has made clear that there will be no Palestinian state, there will be no such thing as binationalism, that they will catalyze and enhance their takeover of Palestinian lands and their removal. They have shifted from occupation to warfare.

This is a completely different universe than the one existed in 2000, and yet the rhetoric and the feedback surrounding Isaac Herzog’s invitation and speech is one that completely ignores all of that. So, it’s important to emphasize that this effort within Congress, specifically among a mainstream Democratic element, is meant to normalize apartheid. It’s not just saying that they want to defend Israel. They are saying that if this is in fact apartheid, as all of these luminaries and experts have concluded, then in this case it’s OK, it should be an exception, and it should be exemplary for others to follow.

And so, I applaud the progressive members of Congress who are skipping this address. I encourage other members of Congress to do the same and continue — continue to build the momentum amongst a progressive base that sees Palestine squarely within a social justice agenda. This is already manifest in social justice movements, such as Black-Palestinian transnational solidarity, that has centered that this is a joint struggle, that has endorsed BDS, and that, in fact, catapulted many of these progressive Democrats into office. This is also evident amongst the Democrats themselves. Not only has Israel become a bipartisan issue, but for the first time ever, more Palestinian — more Democrats sympathize with Palestinians than they do with Israelis, according to a 2023 Gallup poll. Continue to build that momentum. Resist this movement to normalize apartheid.

What the members of Congress are doing with the invitation, what they did in response to Representative Jayapal’s very accurate statement that Israel is a racist state, is akin to gaslighting, for lack of a better word, but really is normalization that is responding to the fact that they have lost the battle on the grassroots level and are trying to stem, from the top down, what they couldn’t defeat from the bottom up. And we see this not only in this normalization, but we also see it in the passage of anti-BDS resolutions, as well as the adoption of the Israel Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition that wants to equate criticism of Israel with antisemitism.

AMY GOODMAN: Noura, I wanted to play the clip you were just referring to, to the Progressive Caucus chair, Congressmember Pramila Jayapal, who made headlines this weekend after she called Israel a “racist state” while speaking at the Netroots Nation conference in Chicago Saturday.

REP. PRAMILA JAYAPAL: I want you to know that we have been fighting to make it clear that Israel is a racist state, that the Palestinian people deserve self-determination and autonomy, that the dream — that the dream of a two-state solution is slipping away from us.

AMY GOODMAN: After facing criticism, Congressmember Jayapal later clarified her comments, writing, quote, “I do not believe the idea of Israel as a nation is racist. I do, however, believe that Netanyahu’s extreme right-wing government has engaged in discriminatory and outright racist policies and that there are extreme racists driving that policy within the leadership of the current government. … We know that the status quo is unacceptable, untenable, and unjust,” Pramila Jayapal said. Your response to that, Noura Erakat?

NOURA ERAKAT: One, I want to point out that nothing that she said was controversial. If Representative Jayapal is wrong, then so are all the experts and the advocates that study this issue and that apply it across the globe. So, the attack on her is actually a bullying and harassment attack that is meant to scare everyone else from even having a conversation and acknowledging this reality on the ground, and, most importantly, taking responsibility for it.

The United States is not just a bystander here. The United States is complicit and a pillar of Israeli apartheid in its provision on unequivocal financial, diplomatic and military support, that, but for that support, Israel could not sustain this regime, which is not surprising, which is not surprising at all, because the U.S. was the last pillar to fall, the last domino to fall, in sustaining apartheid in South Africa, where it had to fall in line with everyone else. But during apartheid South Africa and the international campaign against it during that regime’s tenure, the United States issued the most vetoes within the Security Council to protect apartheid there, just — to protect apartheid in Namibia and South Africa, and here we’re seeing a similar pattern.

As to the way that Representative Jayapal amended her statement, note that she didn’t walk it back. She didn’t say that Israel is a racist state. She wanted to make a distinction between Israeli people and the Israeli government. But what we need to understand here — and this is important for the audience to know — that she used the term “Israeli nation,” and there is no such thing as an Israeli national within Israel’s law.

And this is the crux of the matter. Israel bifurcates Jewish nationality from Israeli citizens so that it can flow all of the possessory rights to land, to employment, to housing, to the right to life through Jewish nationality in a way that it’s extraterritorialized, so that a pubescent Jewish teen, who doesn’t even know where Israel is on the map, ostensibly has more claim than a Palestinian grandma who is 80 years old, who was born before the state of Israel was established in 1948, has to those rights. Under any situation, we would decry this system as being discriminatory, contravening liberal norms of democracy. But in this situation, the international community, specifically the United States and Western governments, want to insist that this exception is acceptable and exemplary.

And what I want to emphasize is that it actually is not just harmful to Palestinians, as evidenced by the systematic killing of Palestinians, the removal and the harm inflicted upon them, but that these ideas are not contained just to Israel-Palestine, but in fact are exported. These ideas of what sovereignty should look like are exported across the world. We see it embodied by the Hindutva movement in India and its reigning government. We also see it embodied even in the United States by European supremacists such as Richard Spencer, who says that he envisions that the future of European sovereignty should be modeled upon Israel’s model of sovereignty. These ideas are dangerous. And it’s not that we want to make an exception here. We want to actually make it clear that there should be no situation where states are not states that belong to everybody who is there, rather than to a nationality that exists extraterritorially.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Noura Erakat, I wanted to ask you — President Biden’s announcement that he has invited Prime Minister Netanyahu also to visit the United States, after months of saying that he had no plans to do so, especially in light of the enormous settlement expansion that the Netanyahu government has been involved in — I think the group, the watchdog group, Peace Now has said that 12,800 settlements across the West Bank have been established since January by the Netanyahu government. Your response to this, the Biden presidency just saying, “Well, we’re inviting Netanyahu to come to the U.S. again”?

NOURA ERAKAT: Listen, the 13,000-some settlements are just the tip of the iceberg. Israel has actually transferred authority of the West Bank from military supervision to civilian oversight. They’ve basically taken the fig leaf off, that this is not a temporary situation, but that this is a permanent condition, and they’re planning for annexation. This contravenes the diplomatic consensus on the two-state solution, which is fraught on its own.

But even more than that, this contravenes even the U.S. and this U.S. administration, specifically the Biden administration. They didn’t want to invite Netanyahu not just because of his contravention and violations against Palestinians — I think that that would be quite ambitious on our part — but, in fact, it was Netanyahu who undermined a sitting president in trying to establish Iranian nuclear rapprochement. It was Netanyahu who came to Congress to address a joint session to actually torpedo President Obama’s attempt to establish an Iran nuclear agreement, and received several standing ovations. This is the Biden administration’s legacy.

So, the fact that not only has this been overturned, but now they’re going to invite Netanyahu nevertheless without stepping back any of those missteps, any of that betrayal, is an about-face and says a lot about the Democratic administration and where Israel fits, wherein as far as the United States is concerned, they’ve thrown up their hands, that they will continue to provide unequivocal support and place absolutely no conditions on Israel’s behavior, on Israel’s participation, even in furtherance of the U.S.’s national interests in the region.

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