Israel’s president stood before a joint session of the U.S. Congress earlier this month and told a story — one the American lawmakers in attendance dearly wished to believe. The sound of their applause filled the room as he described Israel as a “strong and resilient” democracy that “stand[s] for liberty, equality, and freedom.” But wanting to believe a story doesn’t make it true.
The deception and falsehoods in Isaac Herzog’s story are easily detectable these days. Everyone can see that it is absurd to speak of Israel as a thriving democracy even as hundreds of thousands of Israelis flood the streets to defend their rights and freedoms, fearful of a government that is pushing a racist, conservative, authoritarian, and violent worldview. But Herzog’s story is a lie not because Israel is suddenly in danger of no longer being a democracy, or because of the moves being carried out by extremist ministers in the current government, but because Israel has maintained a racist and discriminatory regime for as long as it has existed.
To deflect criticism that might expose this lie, Israel raises the false flag of antisemitism to attack Senator Sanders, Congresswomen Jayapal, Tlaib, Omar, Ocasio-Cortez, and anyone else who insists on describing Israeli reality as it truly is: a reality of oppression and ongoing human rights abuses. A reality of apartheid.
Over the years, Israel has developed various tools to help it maintain Jewish supremacy. While, as Jewish citizens, we can exercise our rights anywhere in the area Israel controls — whether we live in Tel Aviv or in a settlement in the West Bank — Palestinians’ rights hinge on where they live in the geographical divide-and-rule system Israel imposes and maintains: within the Green Line, in East Jerusalem, in the West Bank, or in the Gaza Strip.
While Israel allows any Jew anywhere in the world to become a citizen, millions of Palestinians in the diaspora and in their homeland are denied citizenship, even if their parents were born here. Correspondingly, every Jewish citizen gets the right to vote for the Israeli parliament, while over five million Palestinians who live in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip cannot vote in the general elections as they are not considered citizens.
The state has almost total control over land within the Green Line (over 90 percent of it is under state control), and since 1948, it has built hundreds of communities for Jews and almost none for Palestinians. In the West Bank, Israel built more than 200 settlements for Jews and allowed land use to serve the needs of Jews alone. Palestinians, on the other hand, are denied almost any sort of construction and development.
The Israeli regime’s logic is realized in its most brutal form in the territories it has been occupying since 1967. In the West Bank, the killing of Palestinians is a daily affair, while entire communities are forced to leave their homes due to intolerable living conditions produced by the army’s restrictions and violence on the one hand, and on the other, an increasingly emboldened settler population that descends upon Palestinian villages to carry out pogroms with impunity. Meanwhile, in the Gaza Strip, more than two million people live in inhumane conditions, unable to leave or escape the world’s largest open-air prison.
These are not stories, narratives. or opinions. These are facts.
As painful as it may be to admit, it is undeniable that Jewish supremacy is the Israeli regime’s guiding logic, and this isn’t being suppressed or hidden: five years ago, Israel enshrined it as a constitutional principle in Basic Law: Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People. The current government’s founding guidelines are even more explicit: “The Jewish people have an exclusive, indisputable right to the entire expanse of the Land of Israel,” the term used to refer to the whole area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.
An apartheid regime is characterized by one group perpetuating its supremacy and control over another through government practices, laws, and organized violence. The Israeli regime is just that. We pride ourselves on being “the only democracy in the Middle East”; citizens of Apartheid South Africa, a country similarly divided into areas on the basis of race, told themselves and the world that they were “the only democracy in Africa.” They, too, had free and “democratic” elections — for whites only. But again, telling yourself a lie does not make it true.
When members of Congress stand and cheer falsehoods about Israel being a vibrant democracy, they are not helping us move toward a different future, one based on equality, democracy, and human rights. They are aiding and abetting more oppression and more violence. They are upholding a lie that is turning us into a scared, broken, and cruel society.
To change reality, you must first recognize it. Instead of applauding fairy tales, the world must recognize reality and help us dismantle the apartheid regime. Because everyone living between the river and the sea deserves to live in a true democracy.