Cross-posted from Mondoweiss
John Kerry's use of the word "apartheid" before the Trilateral Commission last Friday and the brouhaha it has caused is spurring a debate we've never had in this country about Palestinian conditions. It's not that enlightened a debate in the mainstream. But at least it's beginning.
First, here is Mustafa Barghouthi talking to the Institute for Middle East Understanding yesterday on a conference call:
"The difference between me and Secretary Kerry is that he is saying that if Israel does not allow a [Palestinian] state, it will become apartheid. And I am saying, it is already apartheid.
"This occupation that has been there for 47 years has already transformed into a full fledged system of segregation and apartheid. And we will not accept that...
"Americans can use another term, segregation. I think you know segregation more. Because that's what you had in the United States, a system of segregation against people of African origin. But it is apartheid. And you cannot ignore -- What does apartheid mean? Apartheid is a word from Afrikaaner language which means that you have two systems of laws for two people living in the same place. And that's exactly what we have today in Palestine."
Barghouthi is a Palestinian statesman who lives in the occupied territories. You'd think that more American media would be asking people like him what they think of the occupation.
Not on Andrea Mitchell's MSNBC show yesterday, Senator Kelly Ayotte, New Hampshire Republican, piped the talking points:
"The comments are completely inappropriate by Senator Kerry, they were wrong"
Later Susan Page of USA Today told Mitchell that the apartheid analogy is just as inappropriate as the Nazi Germany analogy, and should be barred from US discourse of the conflict. But is that fair? Page is saying that alleging that Israel is guilty of a crime that other countries have also been accused of and that is in the international law books, as Barghouthi indicated, is equivalent to comparing Israel to a regime that is widely considered the greatest evil in human history. One is a legal question, the other an incendiary analogy. But that is the talking point: the apartheid claim is not a factual claim but "incendiary" and therefore illegitimate.
On Joe Scarborough's show yesterday morning, John Heilemann began bravely:
"It's not actually an unreasonable statement."
But under Scarborough's questioning, Heilemann began walking it back. There "is a risk of that happening," Heilemann said. "Some Israeli politicians have voiced this in the past." The risk is that "a Jewish minority" would be governing a Palestinian majority. Though Heilemann concluded, Kerry's choice of words was "kind of intemperate and inflammatory."
Scarborough and Heilemann suggested that apartheid has to do with a racial minority governing a racial majority. It doesn't; from the legal definition:
"For the purpose of the present Convention, the term 'the crime of apartheid,' which shall include similar policies and practices of racial segregation and discrimination as practiced in southern Africa, shall apply to the following inhumane acts committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons and systematically oppressing them..."
If you read some of those inhumane acts, from the persecution and denial of dignity to a group, to the denial of their participation in the political, social, economic and cultural life of the country, to their arbitrary imprisonment, to the creation of ghettoes and preserves for their separation, to the denial of mixed marriages ... you will find many aspects of the Israeli system of division.
The Nation's Katrina vanden Heuvel nailed it yesterday:
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