The false claim that Israel is an ‘apartheid’ state underpins the intellectual foundations of the BDS (boycott, divestment, and sanctions) movement. The smear actually originated in anti-Zionist campaigns that were initiated by Communist states during the Cold War.

Since the 2001 UN conference in Durban, which launched the BDS movement, the comparison of Israel with racist apartheid-era South Africa has also been a key leitmotif of anti-Israel activists.

Today, this apartheid smear has become a key strategy of the Islamist-Leftist coalition arrayed against Israel. The tactic has had some success overseas, but it hasn’t really caught on in mainstream U.S. political circles. But now the Israel haters have made inroads by getting a congresswoman with a long history of hostility to Israel to use it at the annual conference of one of America’s most virulent anti-Israel organizations.

Several weeks ago, U.S. Congresswoman Betty McCollum (D-MN) said that Israel practices ‘apartheid’.

McCollum made the remark about Israel having an apartheid form of government in a speech delivered upon accepting a leadership award at the annual national conference of the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights (USCPR).

The USCPR is a Rockefeller Brothers Fund-supported BDS umbrella group which is leading the anti-Israel movement’s push to isolate and weaken Israel through boycott and divestment drives across the country, ALERT: Anti-Israel coordinating group to launch municipal-level campaigns against Israel in June.

[Cities for Palestine campaigns | USCPR]

McCollum’s remarks are now being considered the “highlight” of its convention, Together We Rise, which was held on September 28-30, 2018 in St. Paul, Minnesota.

As USCPR’s Executive Director Yousef Munayyer put it last week in a fundraising email to his group’s supporters and donors:

Ten days ago, a sitting Member of Congress used the ‘a’ word: apartheid…Smack dab in the middle of our three-day conference, where more than 550 people from around the country came together for 40+ workshops, panels, and artistic performances that organized, energized, and amplified the incredible work people like you are doing, history was made. Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN) openly, and correctly, named Israel for what it is…This. Is. Huge.”

Munayyer is absolutely right that what McCollum said is a big deal. But best I can tell, the mainstream media has completely ignored this story.

Basically, it’s important because it marks the first time that a U.S. lawmaker has publicly equated the only Jewish state on the planet, and the only country in the Middle East that provides its citizens with rights and liberties that other people in the region can only dream of, with the defunct apartheid regime in South Africa.

Rep. Betty McCollum says Israel is an ‘apartheid state’

As we’ve highlighted in our prior post, it’s important to understand that the USCPR’s focus isn’t really on improving Palestinian human and civil rights but on demonizing Israel and trying to shift U.S. policy against the Jewish state.

So, the fact that Congresswoman Betty McCollum endorses this group actually  says a lot about her views on Israel (as blogger Elder of Ziyon recently noted, McCollum’s appearance as a guest speaker at the USCPR conference along with her egregious remarks should put to rest the false J-Street claim that she’s ‘pro-Israel’).

Rep. McCollum’s presence at a conference put on by the vehemently anti-Israel USCPR was bad enough. But at the group’s national convention in St. Paul her words were even worse.

Taking the podium to accept the USCPR’s Congressional Leadership Award, McCollum described Israel as an apartheid state on account of its legislature having passed the nation-state law back in July:

Friends, the world has a name of that form of government that’s codified in the Nation State Law, and it’s called apartheid.”

According to USCPR co-founder Phyllis Bennis, who attended the conference and recently wrote about it, people were “sitting on the edge of their chairs” as Rep. McCollum spoke, hoping that she would “say the whole truth”. When she used the “a” word:

There was a collective gasp, and the audience, many in tears, leaped to their feet in a massive ovation.”

Why McCollum was wrong to say Israel practices ‘apartheid’

It’s truly disappointing to hear that so many people were overjoyed by McCollum’s words, and that they’re so lacking in basic elementary facts about Israel that they can believe comparing it to South African apartheid is actually an “accurate description.”

The apartheid regime in South Africa was a state-sponsored segregation and subjugation of an indigenous people based on race. It was a structure that doesn’t even in the least bit begin to describe majority-minority relationships in Israel. As scholar Benjamin Pogrund, who was a leading activist in the fight to dismantle the South African apartheid regime, puts it:

Under apartheid, every detail of life was subject to discrimination by law. Black South Africans did not have the vote. Skin color determined where you were born and lived, your job, your school, which bus, train, taxi, and ambulance you used, which park bench, lavatory, and beach, whom you could marry, and in which cemetery you were buried. Israel is not remotely like that…So anyone who equates Israel and apartheid is not telling the truth.”

You can read here the moving story of Tshediso Mangope, a South African human rights activist who firmly believed that the suffering he experienced under apartheid was also visited upon the Arab minority in Israel—until he visited the country and learned just how mistaken he was. Blogger Elder of Ziyon has also curated a powerful series of images depicting societal diversity and pluralism in Israel that puts the lie to the apartheid charge.

And you can watch this just released video, featured yesterday on the IsraellyCool blog, in which a devout Muslim Israeli Arab describes her career successes—all while speaking perfect Hebrew (English subtitles included). There are literally hundreds of thousands of similar stories:

But what of McCollum’s outrage over Israel’s recently passed nation-state law? Is she right that the new law abrogates equality and so diminishes Israeli democracy that it’s now morphed into an apartheid form of governance?

In fact, the Congresswoman’s perspective of the law is so hysterical and over-the-top that it’s complete nonsense.

The reality is that the new law (officially titled Basic Law: Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People) is a necessary corrective to an “aggressive judicial activism” and overreach by Israel’s Supreme Court, exacerbated by the prior lack of any law anchored in the Jewish collective right to a nation-state.

By giving “constitutional force” to Zionist principles without denying rights to any Israeli citizens, the new law now obligates judges to consider the need to preserve Israel’s character as the Jewish state. But it doesn’t do away with the individual rights of Arab Israelis, or in any way subverts Israel’s democratic principles.

The new law has been controversial, and thoughtful critics have taken issue with some of its specific wording and provisions (see, for example, here and here). But the basic contours of the law are really only a serious problem for anti-Zionists who don’t believe that the Jewish people have any right to self-determination in their ancient homeland.

Bottom line: Just like the USCPR which bestowed her with an achievement award, Rep. Betty McCollum seems to think that establishing a narrative in Congress that promotes Palestinian rights requires the slander of Israel as an illegitimate state akin to apartheid South Africa.

Conclusion

In last week’s fundraising email, USCPR’s Executive Director Yousef Munayyer didn’t mention any other portions of Rep. McCollum’s speech.

But it’s actually worth listening to the entire talk because it helps to explain how she could believe the longstanding apartheid smear. The virulently anti-Israel site Mondoweiss has reproduced a transcript and here’s a video of her 23-minute speech, which USCPR posted to You Tube several days ago:

In her remarks, McCollum repeatedly denounces Israel’s “cruelty” and “dehumanizing” and “brutal treatment of Palestinian children”; condemns Israel’s security forces for a “massacre of scores of unarmed protesters in Gaza”; and declares it “appalling” that Israel is “abusing an entire population of people under their control.”

These charges show just how misinformed and misguided the congresswoman is on these issues. She basically works to sanitize the cynical use of human shields by Hamas and its repeated attempts to send armed militants to breach the Gaza border. Further, her comments reveal a profound ignorance about the Oslo Accord jurisdictions. The reality is that over 98% of West Bank Palestinians have been self-governed since the mid-1990s.

As to her accusation that Israel is committing systematic human rights abuses against Palestinian children in military detention, we’ve highlighted in a prior post that these allegations originated with pro-BDS Palestinian NGOs, some of which have ties to terrorist organizations.

So what McCollum said at the USCPR national conference was basically a bogus pack of falsehoods. But even worse than what she said, in my view, is what she didn’t say. She never mentioned the culture of martyrdom fostered by Hamas and the Palestinian Authority or the urgent need for Palestinian educational reform so that young people aren’t constantly inspired to engage in murderous behavior against Jews. She didn’t speak honestly about the horrific abuses and day-to-day indignities visited upon the Palestinian people by their own corrupt and ruthless governments. And she never once pointed to the importance of people-to-people engagement—the economic and social coexistence efforts that are a necessary condition for peace.

Bottom line: At the recent USCPR national convention in St. Paul, Rep. Betty McCollum’s said that she needed to “stand with the children of Palestine and to stand with their parents.” But the reality is that all she did was stand with the haters. Her remarks are a sobering reminder that for U.S. lawmakers on the extreme left-wing of the Democratic Party a professed support for Palestinian rights actually has very little to do with Palestinians—and everything to do with assaulting Jewish identity while spreading misleading and deceptive propaganda about Israel.

Miriam F. Elman is an Associate Professor of Political Science and the Inaugural Robert D. McClure Professor of Teaching Excellence at the Maxwell School of Citizenship & Public Affairs, Syracuse University. She is the editor of five books and the author of over 65 journal articles, book chapters, and government reports on topics related to international and national security, religion and politics, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. She also frequently speaks and writes on the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) anti-Israel movement. Recently, Elman was included on the Algemeiner newspaper’s 2018 list of the top 100 people worldwide who are “positively influencing Jewish life.” Follow her on Facebook and Twitter @MiriamElman