By Sheldon Ranz

“It is with great sadness that I must also conclude that my country has sunk to such political and moral depths that it is now an apartheid regime. It is time for the international community to recognise this reality as well.” – Michael Benyair, former Attorney General of Israel

Starting from the beginning of last year and through the present, the question of whether Israel practices apartheid – in the Occupied Territories, behind the Green Line, or both – has been raised more loudly in the US than ever before. In January of 2021, Israel’s leading human rights non-governmental organization (NGO), B’Tselem, broke with its habit of focusing just on Israel’s human rights violations in the Occupied Territories and called out all of Israel as an apartheid regime in a report entitled  “A regime of Jewish supremacy from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea: This is apartheid.”  B’Tselem now reports on institutional discrimination against Palestinian citizens of Israel, a topic that had previously been the sole bailiwick of NGOs like the Haifa-based, Palestinian-run Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights, since 1996. Funded in part by the Open Democracy Foundation and the New Israel Fund, Adalah is well-known for compiling the Discriminatory Laws Database that documents the published statutes Israel uses to maintain its Palestinian citizens’ inferior status; laws that stretch back to Israel’s founding. Like Adalah, B’Tselem cites legal developments in Israel that go back to 1948 to support its claim that Israel has always been an apartheid regime. But because B’Tselem is run by Israeli Jews, it is seen as having more credibility by anyone infected with anti-Arab or Islamophobic bias.

Then, in late April 2021, the US-based NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW) released “A Threshold Crossed”, a 213-page report that methodically details how Israel has been committing the crimes of apartheid and persecution in all the lands under its control. It is this report that caused AOC to refer to Israel as an apartheid state.  Liberal Zionists at this point, so wedded to opposing BDS, were stunned into silence; all Bernie Sanders could offer was to caution his supporters to ‘tone down’ the apartheid rhetoric. But he was too late to stop the tsunami: a poll taken by the Jewish Electoral Institute found that 25% of American Jews – 1.875 million people – agree that Israel is an apartheid state (38% under the age of 40). And a similar percentage of Israeli Jews believe their own country is an apartheid regime, according to B’tselem.

This month came the capper: Amnesty International (AI), the world’s largest human right’s NGO, issued its 280-page report: “Israel’s apartheid against Palestinians: Cruel system of domination and crime against humanity”. Years in the making, this erases any lingering doubt that the year 1948 saw the birth of not one but two apartheid states, South Africa and Israel.  Even before the report was officially released, Israel asked AI not to release the report and also condemned the report as anti-Semitic without having read it. Similar hysterics prevailed throughout the US pro-Israel lobby, be it in Congress or in mainstream Jewish organizations. In an unprecedented gesture, the New York Times imposed a news blackout on the AI report and has refused to even mention it thus far. Liberal Zionist groups are split: some fully indulged in the hysteria; others admitted to having no dispute with any of the facts presented in the report – it’s just the word ‘apartheid’ that they can’t abide, because, deep down, they feel personally implicated. The stigma, the shame of this ‘A’ word, this new Scarlet Letter, is too much for these Hester Prynnes to bear. They’ve invested years of effort fighting BDS, of staking their Jewish identities to the very nature of Israel, and look at where it’s gotten them!

So what’s up with the ‘A’ word? None of the aforementioned NGOs ever claimed Israel was a carbon copy of South Africa under the Boers. The Jim Crow American South was not a carbon copy; neither was white minority rule in Ian Smith’s Rhodesia. But what they all had in common was complying with what we now understand to be the definition of apartheid under international law – the Rome Statute, created in 1998 and activated in 2002. This Statute laid the foundation for the International Criminal Court, where accused war criminals, for example, can be put on trial. Contrary to accusations that Israel has been singled out, AI had called out Myanmar in 2017 as an apartheid state using this same Rome Statute’s definition: “The crime of apartheid means inhumane acts …committed in the context of an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime.” This definition of apartheid covers bias based on membership in a racial group considered to be inferior, even if that group is not an actual race but only deemed to be one, i.e., Palestinian Israelis being treated by similarly-hued Israeli Jews as members of an inferior race.

What, one may ask, is to make of the numerous Palestinian Israelis in important positions in Israeli society today?  How does this square with our traditional understanding of apartheid? For instance, Israeli courts have Palestinian judges, and those courts have prevented the banning of Arab candidates for elections. A Palestinian Arab party, the anti-Zionist Islamist Ra’am Party (formerly of the Joint List) is now part of the governing coalition.  Well, as prize-winning columnist Gideon Levy points out, all this is just tokenism: “It’s so good to wave the High Court of Justice, which has not prevented a single occupation iniquity, and Mansour Abbas to prove there’s no apartheid. Seventy-four years of statehood without a new Arab city, without an Arab university or a train station in an Arab city are all dwarfed by the great whitewasher of the occupation, the High Court of Justice, and a minor Arab coalition partner, and even that one considered illegitimate.”(Ha’Aretz, Feb 3)

Why ‘illegitimate’? Because Mansour Abbas, the chair of Ra’am, recently ‘converted’ to State Zionism by endorsing the racist Nation-State Law, recognizing Israel as an ethnocratic Jewish state, an act that earned him broad condemnation from across the Palestinian Israeli spectrum. He makes quite the contrast to the most popular Palestinian politician in Israel, Joint List chair Ayman Odeh. As recently as 2018, Odeh told a South African radio station, “You have to ask – a country that practices apartheid, does it have any loyalty to its Arab citizens? A country that committed Nakba, does it have any loyalty to its Arab citizens? How do you expect Arab citizens to be loyal? Instead of asking about loyalty, it should be a question of citizenship – put an end to the occupation and give equality to all.”(Jerusalem Post, March 8, 2018)

The policy recommendations in all of these reports are sound and familiar to those who have opposed apartheid in the past – boycott, divestment, sanctions. The AI and HRW reports, for example, endorse the Palestinian Right of Return. There are occasional missteps: AI does not call for the end to the occupation, but only to Israeli apartheid; HRW states that the term ‘apartheid state’ is legally invalid and should not be used, but does not say what should be used in its place. But that pales in comparison to the tremendous value and power of the information contained in these reports.

The publication of these reports represent an important opportunity for social democrats to make our voices heard. Our 2017 pro-BDS resolution took no stand on the issue of Israeli apartheid per se, but we noted that as far as Israeli laws that discriminate against its Gentile citizens are concerned, “Looking at these laws as one package led the Black Lives Matter movement to characterize not just the occupied West Bank but Israel as a whole as an apartheid state. While this label is controversial, these laws clearly undermine democracy and promote bigotry.”  Since then, what was once deemed controversial has been replaced by a general consensus of leading human rights groups who now agree with what the Palestinan people have been saying all along – that Israel has been an apartheid state virtually from the outset. But what path forward can we offer to the aforementioned 25% of American Jews who are dismayed by Israeli apartheid?

Demographics and membership rolls reveal that the vast majority of adults among the 25% are not doctrinaire anti-Zionists, be they Satmar Hasidim, members of DSA or Jewish Voice for Peace. Instead, they subscribe to some form of Zionism and some form of two-state option that dovetails with our advocacy of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions aimed at Israel. Outreach to this growing base using educational resources – handy summaries of both the B’Tselem and AI reports, for example – radiating outward from our established chapters would be a good place to start. Lobbying open-minded legislators and candidates for political office is another worthwhile investment. And let’s not forget working with Muslim-Americans and their friends, who have caught a lot of heat from the rise of Islamophobia these decades past.

One way in which a number of these tendencies are coming together is in New York City, where several members of a strong contingent of pro-Palestinian City Councilmembers elected last year have discussed with SDUSA scheduling hearings on whether NYC should declare Israel an apartheid state with a view toward severing all financial ties between the two, i.e., full divestment (Israel is NYC’s fourth largest trading partner). The hearings would include testimony from all the major human rights groups involved in Israel/Palestine work. Not to be overlooked is the input of courageous retired Israeli Jews who were once part of their country’s establishment, who blew the whistle on what Israel was doing early on. Alon Liel, former Israeli ambassador to South Africa, called out Israel as an apartheid state decades ago; Michael Benyair, Israel’s Attorney General during the second Yitzhak Rabin Administration, told Ha’Aretz twenty years ago that “In effect, we established an apartheid regime in the occupied territories immediately following their capture. That oppressive regime exists to this day.” (March 3, 2002). Now, he has evolved to see all of Israel as Liel did back then, and announced his full support for the Amnesty International report.

Fasten your seat belts! Things are going to get wild with accusations and recriminations as those desperate to hold on to the power, perks and privileges of hafrada – Israeli apartheid – will do everything they feel necessary to ensure just that. But in 2022, it is we social democrats who will make folks understand that the road to justice in Israel/Palestine runs in large part though New York City and other metropoles. Just a few years ago, who’d have seen that coming??

Sheldon Ranz is Director of Special Projects for Social Democrats USA and the editor of Socialist

The Battle that Biden Forgot to Mention

Wikipedia has a detailed account (see “Battle of al-Hasakah”) of the Kurdish victory last month, with U.S. help, that Biden didn’t even bother to refer to in his Feb. 3 announcement of the U.S. attack on the compound of ISIS leader Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi. Fortunately, no Americans were killed in taking out the ISIS leader, but the Kurdish SDF suffered over 100 deaths (far less than those of the ISIS fighters) in their desperate battle at al-Hasakah to minimize the number of ISIS militants escaping from the prison in that city and to drive off the ISIS attackers.

Biden didn’t acknowledge the SDF deaths in his announcement. One would think he should have a new ending for any future speech or announcement about the struggle against Isis: “God protect our troops and the troops of our Kurdish allies.” Why is he so nervous about offending Turkish dictator Erdogan, ferocious enemy of the SDF? Erdogan’s cynical manipulation of Trump in 2019, causing Trump to betray the Kurds, was a direct assault on the U.S. national interest and the honor of the U.S. armed forces for which Erdogan has yet to pay any price.

Please note that the Wikipedia description of the battle in its first paragraph as a “partial strategic victory and major propaganda victory” for ISIS is not properly cited and is contradicted by the account that follows, including of the very large number of ISIS deaths, casualties and recaptures. According to Voice of America, the battle was characterized by Brigadier General Isaac Peltier, commander of Special Operations Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve, as a “huge ISIS failure.”

And would the battle have ever occurred if Donald Trump had not slashed U.S. support for the fight against Isis in Syria and thus failed to build a hardened prison for captured ISIS fighters?

Why have the Kurds been so easily forgotten?

President Biden announced this morning how a raid by U.S. troops against ISIS in northern Syria resulted in the death of ISIS’s new leader. Unfortunately, there was not any emphasis on the heroic Kurds in northern Syria, who, in late January, fought for over a week, with some air and armored vehicle support from the U.S., to prevent ISIS from breaking into a prison in al-Hasakah and releasing thousands of ISIS members detained there. The successful raid against the ISIS leader was almost certainly connected to the battle in al-Hasakah that resulted in defeat for ISIS.

It is not known by many Americans how the Kurds continued the battle against ISIS after Donald Trump betrayed them in October 2019 to Turkish dictator Erdogan in apparent hope of getting a Trump Tower in Istanbul. Nor do many Americans know just how many Kurdish women, including Kurdish women fighters, were raped and killed when the U.S. allowed the Turks to come over the border and seize Kurdish territory–the territory of our ALLIES, the ones who had done most of the successful ground fighting against ISIS in northern Syria since 2014 (with robust U.S. air support) that contributed so much to the defeat of ISIS in Iraq as well as Syria.

This may have been the greatest betrayal of an ally in U.S. history and one that Biden has been silent about, as has too much of the U.S. military leadership both at the time of the betrayal and ever since. Former Marine general James Mattis, Trump’s defense secretary, resigned over an earlier Trump decision in Dec. 2018 to pull out of Syria. Mattis’s resignation may have been caused by his recognition of an impending and profound matter of honor as well as by his alarm over the strategic implications. In The Atlantic, Jeffrey Goldberg quoted Admiral Michael Mullen, former head of the Joint Chiefs, as saying, based on a conversation with Mattis the day before his friend’s resignation: “He’s not going to leave friends and allies on the battlefield.” The friends and allies who would be abandoned on the battlefield the following year were the Kurds.

Oh, and when will the U.S. Justice Department begin to investigate Trump’s (and possibly Jared Kushner’s and West Point graduate Mike Pompeo’s) role in the betrayal. Certainly Trump deserves to spend the rest of his life in jail for the rapes and murders that resulted, although I know the chances of that are almost non-existent.

A good beginning at some measure of justice would be for MSNBC to start interviewing Erdogan’s Kurdish victims and the U.S. troops who served with the Kurds until Trump told them, in effect, to “stand by.” And then let’s pressure Biden, his Secretary of Defense, and the Joint Chiefs to break their silence on Trump’s orchestration of one of the most dishonorable events in the history of our military.

One step might be to reach out to the families of the Kurdish fighters killed in the battle that helped to stave off a disaster of the first order at al-Hasakah last month. The U.S. should offer burial of these heroes at Arlington National Cemetery or, if the families prefer, erection at the cemetery of a memorial to the fallen. I know this is an unusual idea, but what Trump did was far more than unusual; he implicated our nation and military in a high crime and cynical betrayal that requires something more than an “oh yeah, sorry, I forgot about the Kurds” mumble from Biden.

And maybe, while he’s at it, our current President could give the Kurds  sufficiently advanced weapons to make Erdogan think three times before launching any more campaigns of murder, rape and land seizure against Kurdish territory in Syria.

For Kansas progressives, a cup of cold water in a dry spell

By Susan Stevens

I was thrilled to testify last week as a private Kansas citizen in support of Kansas House Bill 2215 — a bill written to right the wrong committed when certain drug-impacted Kansans were previously banned — for life — from access to food assistance via SNAP. Because I submitted my testimony through the nonprofit statewide advocacy organization Kansas Appleseed, there could be no hint of partisanship so I didn’t mention my affiliation with Social Democrats USA. Nonetheless, I was fully participating in the work of social democracy, as we passionately and diligently march, step by step, closer and closer, to the real America shining brightly in all our hearts; one where we see one another’s true equality, regardless of any past desperation that may have driven some of us to make poor choices and commit crimes.

We are in a seemingly dark time here in Kansas. Republican supermajorities in the State House and Senate have led to a redistricting nightmare. It seems practically certain that my county — Wyandotte County, the most racially-diverse county in Kansas — is going to be split apart along I-70, greatly diluting our largely urban and working and lower-class voice.  Progressives here envy Berniecrat Nina Turner’s Ohio district, where redistricting is actually helping her consolidate and increase her voting base to make a forceful challenge to centrist Democrat, incumbent Rep. Shontel Brown.

Yet moments like these — getting to speak out in support of this anti-hunger legislation being introduced — are like a cup of cold water to the thirsty, reminding us that we are still the people of Kansas, and we can — we MUST — keep exhorting our elected representatives to truly listen and represent us! Especially now that our Republican supermajority has voted to add an anti-abortion amendment to our State Constitution on the August 2022 ballot. In this case, the ‘cup of water’ will be a direct democratic vote, where each voter has a say even if they’re living in a predominantly anti-abortion district. The challenge is that, as a primary, it is expected to be a low voter turnout election.

So we of Social Democrats USA of Kansas City, Kansas will be out knocking on doors this spring and summer, alerting Kansans as to what is at stake come August (see: FORCED CHILDBIRTH WEARS A TEN-GALLON HAT ). The night may be dark but we know how to light it up — by uniting our individual sparks into a radiant social democratic blaze. We hope you’ll join us!

Susan Stevens is the Chair of the Kansas City, Kansas chapter of Social Democrats USA.

From Libertarianism to Social Democracy: A Personal Journey

By Michael Mottern

In my youth, I fancied myself as an ultra-libertarian Alex Keaton type (from the TV show “Family Ties”). As an opponent of social services, I was ignorant of the SD USA’s famed Freedom Budget or great Social Democrats like Bayard Rustin. My anti-welfare stance didn’t end until the anti-NAFTA protest in Buffalo in the late spring of 2000. 

On that occasion, I heard a woman giving a speech regarding the Trico plant in Buffalo relocating to Mexico for cheaper labor. During that protest at Front Park in the west side of Buffalo along the river (where I made the paper several times), the woman brought a tear to my eye when she described the very thing I feared as a low-level employee in the workforce, worker exploitation: how long it takes until 14-year-old female Mexican workers collapse due to exhaustion, the cost factor per laborer. The woman stood there and said that the company’s lawyers only smirked at her and said “It was legal.” 

Of course I was no high roller and even as a libertarian, I despised rich financiers and liberal opportunists. To be a person of change, you must cease to be an opportunist and work for the collective good. It was only for certain that I would ask myself a fundamental question as a political science lover and a left-leaning libertarian, since I never met a bullhorn I didn’t appreciate or a rally I didn’t respect: am I a democratic socialist?? Working at the Naval Park for $6.20/hr, I began to realize that I was.

Education didn’t come easy for me. Diagnosed with a severe learning disability by the age of four at Women and Children’s Hospital in Buffalo, I was immediately placed in self-contained classes out of kindergarten, meeting a new and interesting academic career that began in special education. Learning about geography and Martin Luther King Jr., my first direct action was in second grade at the Early Childhood Center helping Greenpeace to raise money for the Rainbow Warrior 2. After my teacher was choked up in the class because the Rainbow Warrior 1 was bombed by the French in the anti-nuclear protest. We raised over $300 in popcorn sales for the Rainbow Warrior 2 and I got to stamp everybody’s hand with a sperm whale rubber stamp, reminding them why we were there. 

But the Early Childhood Center only went up to 2nd grade. After that I was in self-contained classes all through Elementary School, and if the Rodney King verdict and the LA riots weren’t enough, self-contained special ed (inner city) in the early 90s was no joke either. One day,  I saw the toughest guy in class – all of 13 years old –  break down in tears because he didn’t get a school lunch. That day they ran out of school lunches and I didn’t mind because the food was purchased from the Marriott company which supplied the prisons as well as the schools. My mother, after all, was a good cook and I knew quality food. However what I did not know was that school lunch was all that he had. Like the Black Panthers said in the 1970s: how are the children supposed to learn if they have nothing in their stomach, and how do they focus on learning “if they don’t have anything to eat…” The Federal School breakfast program was pioneered on that model, a program I benefited from ever since fourth grade. 

By eighth grade, special ed was a thing of the past and I made breakthroughs in the drama program because my acting teacher wrote a letter of recommendation to get me into BAVPA, the Buffalo Academy for Visual and Performing Arts High School. What was supposed to be my Sean Astin “Rudy moment” was plagued by low grades and the inability to focus properly so that I could have achieve my goals. Before I got into the Performing Arts High School, I was tested by a psychologist by the name of Mrs. Peterson, a woman whose son I played hockey with in North Buffalo. She informed me – now 14 years old – that I was not going to make it at Performing Arts High School because my reading level was only that of a second grader. By ninth grade, not only was I beginning with a learning curve, my disability was apparent. While I flunked arithmetic, I excelled in Global Studies and geography. I still had my acting abilities and appeared in plays such as, “The Man Who Came To Dinner” and “Hello Dolly,” playing the union organizer and the German waiter. 

Despite Mrs. Peterson’s dire warning, I would eventually graduate from Performing Arts with one class to spare. My dad referred to it as “a bump in the road…” At Performing Arts, I was in the slums academically, graduated bottom of my class. Yet, I enjoyed Global Studies, economics (senior history), theater and technology. Those subjects I excelled in; science and math, not so much. When I was a college freshman, I started reading the 1974 Edition of the World Book Encyclopedia. Easy to read, it gave me insight on every subject out there, from World War II to baseball. That is how I taught myself how to read. My reading level jumped up significantly when I got retested in college later on. I did receive my bachelor’s degree in history from Buffalo State College with a minor in political science.

My journey was a learning experience due to the immense academic struggle in which I found myself, a struggle that resulted in me being able to understand important political facts. If not for the Working Families Party or Social Democrats USA, I wouldn’t have known where to go politically, and might have wound up on the wrong side of history. In solidarity to all who struggle in academia with severe learning disabilities, You Are Not Alone…

Michael Mottern is the first vice chair of Social Democrats USA.