For American liberal Zionists, criticism of the Israeli occupation has become par for the course. Yet over the past few years, even as they have begun to understand the discriminatory foundations of the Israeli government’s policies toward Palestinians, many liberal American Jews have remained steadfast in their refusal to acknowledge that the occupation is but one aspect of Jewish supremacy in Israel-Palestine.
I recently encountered this dynamic after publishing an op-ed with The Forward, one of the most prominent Jewish American publications. In my piece, I argued that while the government is vaccinating Palestinian citizens of Israel and Palestinians in East Jerusalem, its exclusion of 5 million Palestinians living in the occupied territories from its COVID-19 vaccine distribution program is based on ethnic criteria. More than that, I argued that this policy is based on the Israeli government’s engineering of its citizenship laws, which grant automatic Israeli citizenship to Jews who move to Israel-Palestine.
Meanwhile, the Israeli authorities continue to deny citizenship to Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, even though nearly half of them are refugees from inside the internationally recognized borders of Israel — and all live under some form of Israeli control.
By publishing my op-ed, The Forward demonstrated its commitment to a diversity of views. Yet what happened next suggests that legitimacy has its limits, particularly when one challenges the discriminatory foundations of the Jewish state.
Following publication, I received multiple requests from The Forward editors to “clarify” my piece, including by withdrawing my central claim. Even after two rounds of post-publication edits, the site added an editor’s note that effectively repudiated the article’s argument and denied the ethnic discrimination baked into Israel’s vaccine campaign. Instead, the note sought to reframe the issue as a debate over Israeli obligations to Palestinians under the international law of belligerent occupation. The editors told me they added the note to clear up “confusion.”
I can understand why many, including The Forward’s editors, were confused by the claim that differential treatment of the 6.7 million Jews and 6.7 million Palestinians living between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea constitutes ethnic discrimination. After all, this is a confusing moment for liberal Zionists who support a Jewish state yet oppose its domination over Palestinians.
As members of a minority group inside the United States, whose grandparents fled or survived genocide in Europe, American Jews may find it particularly hard to acknowledge that the Jewish state singles out half the people under its control for unfavorable treatment simply because they belong to the wrong ethnic group. American Jews may find it hard to understand what Palestinians have faced for decades: an Israeli government that has always engaged in ethnic domination by granting rights based on national and religious identity.
The Israeli government’s Jewish supremacist policies extend far beyond the occupied territories, including discriminatory laws against Palestinian citizens, years of de-development and land confiscation under a military government, police brutality, admissions committees that maintain Jewish-only communities, Shin Bet surveillance, incitement against Palestinians by Israeli Jewish authorities, and most recently, the Jewish Nation-State Law. In addition, Israel’s 73-year-old refusal to permit the return of Palestinian refugees and their descendants remains a central element of the state’s policy to maintain Jewish demographic superiority.
Palestinian, Israeli, and international human rights groups have come to view these policies as a form of apartheid. Accepting that framework means acknowledging that Jewish domination over Palestinians cannot be ended solely by ending the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. It requires challenging the very legitimacy of engineering a Jewish-majority state.
Perhaps my piece did not do a good enough job outlining the argument that the occupation, and the failure to vaccinate Palestinians living under Israel’s military rule, are merely one part of Jewish domination in Israel-Palestine. But the contours of Jewish control over the everyday lives of Palestinians in Israel-Palestine — including where they can live, travel, or visit, or whether or not they can vote in elections — are getting increasingly harder to communicate. It is also difficult to overcome the reluctance of many good people to believe that Jews can concurrently act as aggressors against Palestinians in Israel-Palestine and be victims of violent antisemitism in other parts of the world.
Despite The Forward’s insistence on adding a note distancing itself from the article, I did not retract my piece. Never has it been more important to communicate with Forward readers, many of whom are presumably liberal Zionists, about ethnic domination in a country whose internal borders are being dramatically reshaped to grant maximum rights to Jewish Israelis, while denying those same rights to Palestinians.