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Despite “Symbolic Rebukes” of Israel & Netanyahu, Will Biden’s Legacy Be Apartheid?

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President Biden has invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the White House later this year after the two leaders met on the sidelines of the United Nations this week. The invitation is a major victory for Netanyahu and comes as his far-right government guts the power of the judiciary and moves closer to full annexation of the West Bank, with Israeli forces killing hundreds of Palestinians so far this year. We speak with Palestinian American analyst Yousef Munayyer, a scholar at the Arab Center Washington DC, as well as journalist Alex Kane, whose latest piece for Jewish Currents is headlined “Biden’s Legacy Will Be Apartheid.” The article looks at the decades-long Biden-Netanyahu relationship and how reluctant the U.S. administration has been to impose consequences despite Israel’s growing extremism. “When Biden says his support for Israel is ironclad, it basically means that his support for Israel is unconditional even as it consolidates an apartheid rule in the Occupied Territories and escalates ethnic cleansing processes that are going on right now,” says Kane. Munayyer adds that Biden’s push for normalization between Saudi Arabia and Israel — a key goal for his administration — will further legitimize Israeli repression.

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

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

Protesters are planning to gather today outside the United Nations, where Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is scheduled to address the U.N. General Assembly. On Wednesday, President Biden met with Netanyahu on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in their first meeting since Netanyahu returned to office in December as head of the most right-wing government in Israeli history. Biden reportedly invited Netanyahu to the White House for a future meeting.

In recent months, the Biden administration has criticized the gutting of the judiciary by Netanyahu’s far-right government and its expansion of illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank. But the Biden administration continues to send Israel $3.8 billion in annual military funding to help Israel run what many human groups describe as an apartheid state. So far this year, Israeli forces have killed at least 240 Palestinians, including six on Tuesday, the day before Biden and Netanyahu met.

This is President Biden speaking as their meeting began.

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: We’re going to discuss some of the hard issues. And that is, upholding democratic values that lie at the heart of our partnership, including checks and balances in our systems, and preserving a path to a negotiated two-state solution and ensuring that Iran never, never acquires a nuclear weapon, because even where we have some differences, my commitment to Israel, as you know, is ironclad. I think without Israel, there’s not a Jew in the world that’s secure. I think Israel is essential.

AMY GOODMAN: During the meeting, President Biden also pushed for Israel to reach a deal to fully normalize relations with Saudi Arabia. Today’s protest against Netanyahu is scheduled for 4 p.m. outside the United Nations. A key organizer of that demonstration is Jewish Voice for Peace. Beth Miller, the political director of JVP Action, spoke to Democracy Now!

BETH MILLER: This morning, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is going to be addressing the United Nations General Assembly, and he’s going to be attempting to justify his government’s violence and racism against Palestinians. And he’s almost certainly going to falsely claim that his government’s brutality against Palestinians somehow protects Jews. That is simply not true.

So, today, the New York City chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace is taking to the streets in front of the U.N. to protest Netanyahu and Israel’s apartheid government. Right now the Israeli government is demolishing Palestinian homes, throwing Palestinian children into military prisons, locking millions of people in Gaza under military blockade. So we’re going to be making it clear that no leaders of this government, including Netanyahu, are welcome in New York City; more importantly, that it’s time for the U.S. government to end the flow of $3.8 billion every single year to the Israeli military.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined now by two guests. Alex Kane is a senior reporter for Jewish Currents. His new piece is titled “Biden’s Legacy Will Be Apartheid.” And Yousef Munayyer is a Palestinian American analyst, head of the Israel-Palestine program at Arab Center Washington DC.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Alex Kane, let’s begin with you, that title, “Biden’s Legacy Will Be Apartheid.” Yet many would say that Biden has been critical of this, what many describe as Israel’s most far-right government in its history. Talk about the significance of this meeting with Netanyahu this week and inviting him to the White House.

ALEX KANE: Thanks, Amy.

So, the meeting at the U.N. General Assembly was notable for where it was not. It was not at the White House. And that was taken in Israel and the United States as a rebuke of Netanyahu for pursuing a far-right agenda to gut the power of the Israeli judiciary, which Biden is very concerned with, because Biden sees Israel as a fellow liberal democracy. So, the fact that the meeting took place at the U.N. General Assembly rather than at the White House was a sort of symbolic rebuke.

And Biden’s State Department has issued many, many, many statements of condemnation of Israel’s plans in the West Bank when they build illegal settlements and legalize outposts that were previously under Israeli law illegal, and as well as kill Palestinians, including Palestinian Americans. The State Department has repeatedly told Israel to calm down the situation in the West Bank. But these, these are merely symbolic rebukes.

The Biden administration has refused to even think about conditioning U.S. military aid to Israel on respect for Palestinian human rights. They have shielded the country from pressure at the United Nations over its illegal settlements and have continued to stress the importance of the U.S.-Israel alliance. So we should be clear that Biden is deeply uncomfortable with this far-right Israeli government because it has an agenda at odds with how Biden conceives of Israel, but he continues to support Israel with money and diplomatic support. And so, when Biden says his support for Israel is ironclad, it basically means that his support for Israel is unconditional even as it consolidates an apartheid rule in the Occupied Territories and escalates ethnic cleansing processes that are going on right now.

AMY GOODMAN: And the issue of Saudi Arabia? When Joe Biden ran for president, he said he would make MBS, Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, a “pariah” for the assassination of The Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, among other human rights issues. But now the U.S. is pushing for normalization of relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia.

ALEX KANE: Yeah, Biden believes that the fundamental root of the sort of conflict in the Middle East that Israel is involved with is Arab rejection of Israel as a Jewish state. And so, as a result, he’s doubling down on Trump-era normalization deals, known as the Abraham Accords, in which Israel — in exchange for dropping plans to declare annexation of the West Bank, Israel normalized ties with the United Arab Emirates, as well as Bahrain and Morocco. And so, when Biden came in, he decided to pursue this. And now with Saudi Arabia, he’s looking to basically bring Israel, Saudi Arabia together, with some serious U.S. guarantees of — there’s talk of U.S. defense treaties with both Saudi Arabia and Israel, which would bind the U.S. to come to the defense of these two repressive countries.

And really what the Abraham Accords will do — there’s a lot of talk of, you know, how this will help the Palestinians, who are, of course, under a brutal military occupation. But what Saudi normalization with Israel would do, with U.S. help, will be to further isolate and marginalize Palestinians. And so it’s not going to help regional peace. It’s just going to further consolidate Israeli apartheid, this time with the blessing of the most important Muslim state in the region.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s bring Yousef Munayyer into this conversation, Palestinian American. As they met on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly — that’s Biden and Netanyahu — this was just a day after six Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces. Can you talk about the significance of this? That’s among about 240 Palestinians who have been killed by Israeli forces so far this year.

YOUSEF MUNAYYER: Yeah. Thanks for having me, Amy.

That’s correct. You know, in 2022, last year, the United Nations noted that it was the single deadliest year for Palestinians in the West Bank being killed by the Israeli military in nearly two decades of them keeping track of those numbers. And the pace that we are seeing for 2023 looks to far go over the numbers from the record-setting year the year before.

I think, you know, if we are to describe the Biden administration as in any way critical of the Israeli government, and Netanyahu, in particular, we really need to put that kind of criticism in perspective and in the context, the extreme context, which we are seeing on the ground of unprecedented violence against Palestinians on a daily basis, not just being carried out by the Israeli military, which, you know, as you noted, has been accused by various human rights organizations, Palestinian, Israeli and international human rights organizations, of committing the crime of apartheid, but also violence against Palestinians at the hands of Israeli settlers, who are running amok in the West Bank, feeling a sense of support from an extremist government in ways that they have never felt before, and really conducting attacks on Palestinians with a sense of impunity. And all of this is happening alongside, of course, this Israeli government attempting a massive legislative power grab to ensure that right-wing forces in Israel remain in power in Israel for years to come.

And so, while we’ve heard some mild criticism from the Biden administration, particularly around these judicial issues, that criticism does not match the extreme situation on the ground. And in fact, it seems completely ignorant of the very dangerous realities. Couple that with the fact that the Biden administration is also doing for Netanyahu things that other administrations have not been willing or able to do before. This American administration is racing towards granting Israel entry into the U.S. visa waiver program, something that Israel has sought for many years, that the Biden administration seems willing to bend over backwards to accommodate, even if it means accepting the discrimination of Palestinian Americans traveling into and through Israeli-controlled borders. It’s also working on providing Netanyahu now with perhaps his biggest political achievement in normalizing ties with Saudi Arabia. When one considers the degree of severity of the situation on the ground, the rampant violence against Palestinians, the way this extreme right-wing government is dedicated to annexation and destroying any possibilities of peace, and then puts that alongside what this administration is actually doing, it’s hard to think of this administration as any way critical, but rather providing full-throated support for continued apartheid.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you see a difference in concrete ways between the Biden policy towards Israel and Trump’s policy towards Israel?

YOUSEF MUNAYYER: You know, in some ways, the Biden administration policy is worse, because I think it’s more hypocritical. With Trump, you had this, you know, ethnonationalist approach that was at least in harmony with what the Israelis were trying to do and what other right-wing leaders across the world were trying to do. With the Biden administration, you have language about human rights being at the center of foreign policy, but the reality is completely different. You see this not just with Israel, of course, but with Saudi Arabia, that the administration is normalizing its relations with, after calling them a pariah a few years ago. You see that, as well, with India, which has just been accused of a gruesome act of transnational repression in neighboring Canada. And many people have been outspoken and criticizing the human rights violations of the Modi regime in India, that the Biden administration welcomed with a red carpet here for a state visit earlier this year.

So, the Biden administration you hear talk about human rights, you hear talk about democracy, but the reality is quite the contrary. And I think that hypocrisy is what separates them most from Donald Trump, because, you know, you knew what you were getting with Donald Trump, and he was quite honest about it. And with the Biden administration, you hear talk about democracy, but the reality is that they’re supporting apartheid and authoritarianism in many places around the globe.

AMY GOODMAN: Very quickly, Alex Kane, you’re a senior reporter for Jewish Currents. Do you see Jewish public opinion in the United States shifting around Israel and the occupation of the Palestinian territories?

ALEX KANE: Yes, particularly amongst young people, but not just young people. People are waking up, and particularly now as Netanyahu’s extremist government puts on display a shocking level of violence. We have over a thousand Palestinians that have been displaced this year, their villages literally wiped off the map. Young American Jews and, I think, many other even not just young American Jews are waking up and seeing this. But that is not being reflected in the organized American Jewish establishment, which continues to lobby the U.S. government to support Israel as it does. So, there’s a real gap between Jewish public opinion and what the organized American Jewish community is telling the Biden administration to do.

AMY GOODMAN: Alex Kane, I want to thank you for being with us, senior reporter for Jewish Currents. We’ll link to your piece, “Biden’s Legacy Will Be Apartheid.” And Yousef Munayyer, Palestinian American analyst, head of the Israel-Palestine program at Arab Center Washington DC.

Next up, we speak with California Congressmember Ro Khanna as Republican infighting could soon lead to a government shutdown and more. Back in 30 seconds.

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