There has been a reinvigorated debate around Israel's right to exist, but it's unfortunately been bungled in with important debates around antisemitism. In all this, Israel's racist new Nation State Law has largely been overlooked by our national media. Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign member Kishore Lennon says the law only reveals what was already clear: Israel is an apartheid state and we should be able to say so...
For at least fifteen years, Israel has been identified as an apartheid state by the pro-Palestine movement. We haven't been alone: a 2017 UN report accused Israel of imposing an "apartheid regime" across the territory of historic Palestine. Israel's response was to go on the offensive and declare itself specifically as the nation state of the Jewish people through the 'symbolic' new Nation State Law. The law was controversial even within the Knesset, Israel's legislative committee, only passing by seven votes (62 to 55). But let's be clear: Israel did not become an apartheid state with the passing of this law and Israeli apartheid is not simply a policy adopted by the current Israeli government; Israel is intrinsically an apartheid state.
An understanding of this is rooted in understanding Israel as the product of an ongoing settler colonial project and analysing moves such as this in that context. Any suggestion Israel was ever a liberal democracy only serves to contextualise the passing of this law in a mythological pro-Israel propaganda, one that suggests Israel is a "normal western democracy" rather than a classic settler colonial state which finds its equivalent in Northern Ireland as a "protestant state for protestant people" or apartheid South Africa. In responding to the adoption of this law, the question at hand is not how did a liberal democracy become an apartheid state but rather why did a settler colonial state decide, at this moment, to formalise its apartheid structures in its laws?
John Kerry, in one of his final speeches as Secretary of State for Obama's administration, warned against moves toward a one state solution. He warned Israel would have to choose between being a Jewish state and democratic state. There are of course many problems even with this – Israel isn't democratic, nor has it ever been – but Kerry did understand that to declare the occupied territories as “Israel” was to make official the reality of apartheid that exists on the ground. With this, American imperialism lost a vital bargaining chip with Arab regimes having previously dangled the possibility of a two state solution to attract support for interventions elsewhere in the Middle East (including the Iraq War).
This might have created a divergence in the interests of the American and Israeli states in the past; America has often appeared largely unable to curtail the actions of its "watchdog" in the Middle East presumably due to Israel being its only real ally in the region since the Iranian revolution. But the current Israeli government has been emboldened by the presidency of Donald Trump, who appears not only happy but eager to support moves toward a one state solution defined by an ongoing apartheid. The Nation State Law makes clear that Israel regards Jerusalem as its "undivided capital", something Trump has supported enthusiastically.
Such a move undermines much of the pro-Israel propaganda we hear from the top of society and with that East-West relations. For the West to openly align itself with an apartheid state would mark a major shift given previous rhetoric about "bringing democracy to the Middle East” was used to justify previous actions. If a one state solution came to pass and the West uniformly supported it, what would it be able to offer Arab states in such a context? The dismantlement of Israeli apartheid? Western imperialists would never risk losing their vital watchdog.
There's already significant evidence the prior option would be deeply unpopular. Opinion polling in Britain shows overwhelming sympathy with the Palestinian people, which includes a drop in support for Israel among the Jewish community. Internal Israeli politics today is characterised by a rise in extreme right wing forms of Zionism and the context is one of a dramatic rise in inequality. Israeli expansionism already casts dobut over the possibility of a two state solution and disagreements exist in the pro-Israeli camp to whether they can even accept a 'corridor' between the West Bank and prison-like Gaza in any future arrangement.
John Kerry (above) echoed concerns in his final speech as to whether or not a two state solution would even be tenable if Israel was to continue building settlements; now, Israel continues to expand with the unequivocal support of the Trump administration. The demographic reality on the ground, coupled with an unstable internal Israeli politics makes an increasingly fragile ally all the less reliable.
If a one state solution comes to pass, the effect on British political discourse in relation to Israel/Palestine may be dramatically affected. For the political classes, attempting to explain and build support for what is essentially a "special relationship" with Israel is aleady incredibly difficult. Those on the right wing of British politics who most avidly support Israel have tapped into a rhetoric from the top of society by normalising Israel as a "normal western democracy" alongside allegedly hostile, uncivilised Muslim neighbours. In reality though, the aforementioned polling shows this rhetoric simply hasn't worked – is it any wonder the same forces are now weaponising racism against Jewish people to shut down criticism of Israel?
Time will tell just how such moves will affect the future discourse on Palestine in British politics, but real questions are raised here in how we talk about Israel and how we understand the nature of the oppression of the Palestinian people. This symbolic change in Israeli law doesn't explain why we've seen Palestinians persecuted in an ongoing project of ethnic cleansing and apartheid since 1948. The very existance of the Israeli state as an exclusively Jewish state is predicated upon ensuring Palestinians cannot live on the lands from which they have been forced out. Support for the Zionist project remains central to Israel policy and opponents aren't permitted to hold office in the Knesset.
So let's put to bed the notion that the the brutal mistreatment of Palestinians we're witnissing is merely the result of curent Israeli government's policies. In a sense each Israeli government has simply taken over the management of the same settler project over the past several decades, which ultimately belongs to western imperialism, not a particular Israeli party and certainly not to the Jewish people.
To oppose the oppression of the Palestinians is to call for the complete dismantlement of the Israeli state and it's on this basis we oppose the new Nation State Law. Israel essentially declaring itself an apartheid state smashes many of the myths used to defend Israel, that it's democratic or somehow not a racist enterprise. Israel has been successfully normalised as a future part of some undefined, unacceptable and unachievable two state solution. If Israel declares that it does in fact exist across all of Palestine, then it must acknowledge that a Palestinian majority live there who are denied the right to vote, denied basic infrastructure and treated dramatically differently. Israel requires a new line of argument – this is just the start of a new chapter of normalisation.