An Invitation Rep. Jackson Should Have Declined
This article originally appeared on the Chicago Tribune on 31 August 2011.
Eighty-one members of the House of Representatives have just completed a trip to Israel, all expenses paid by an American Israel Public Affairs Committee offshoot, the American Israel Education Foundation. Even by the usually craven standards of Congress, which applauds any and all Israeli actions, this particular junket featured an unusually high number of participants. And it's at a time when domestic considerations, such as the crumbling economy, are surely worthy of the undivided attention of our elected representatives.
Among the 81 who went on this "Magical Mystery Tour" was Illinois Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. While there, the Democratic congressman met with Israeli and Palestinian leaders but clearly deemed it unnecessary to undertake any real fact-finding, choosing instead to stick to the scripted tours laid out by lobbyists for Israel.
According to David Kreizelman, who leads AIPAC's Israel office, "The question isn't so much going away with a different attitude, it's going away with more information. They have to go back to their constituents who are saying, 'We want (government help) and you are voting to give money to Israel.'"
Is that really what Jackson will do? Return home and tell his constituents that Israel should be getting billions from U.S. taxpayers while infrastructure and schools decay and unemployment rises in his district? Adding insult to injury, instead of going to Americans hard-hit by the economic downturn, this money is used by Israel to subjugate, humiliate and segregate millions of Palestinians.
One thing is certain: Rather than spend his time touring Israel, and seeing what the flacks for Israel wanted him to see, Rep. Jackson could have stayed home and met with constituents facing difficult times. Instead, he followed the lobbyists to the Holy Land, where he urged Palestinian leaders to recognize Israel "as the homeland of the Jewish people." Absent in his statement was any demand for Israeli recognition of the rights of Palestinians in what they also regard as their homeland.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's repeated insistence that Palestinians recognize Israel as the Jewish state is entirely at odds with the principles of the modern-day United States and a throwback to an era in which the U.S. was considered a white state. Recognition of Israel as the Jewish state formally reduces Israel's 1.4 million Palestinian citizens to second-class citizenship. It's as if Jackson thinks that none of the goals and principles of the civil rights or anti-apartheid movements should apply to Israel, and instead that Israel should be allowed to lift its Jewish citizens above its Palestinian citizens — to say nothing of Palestinians in the occupied territories living under illegal occupation.
If the congressman had chosen to stray from the well-worn partisan path laid out by AIPAC, he certainly would have drawn different conclusions than those included in a peculiar opinion piece he wrote for the Jerusalem Post earlier this month. The article displayed a disdain for facts about Israel and Palestine, as well as an astounding set of double standards.
Jackson explicitly lectured Palestinians for not using nonviolence, ignoring a long tradition of nonviolent resistance by occupied and disenfranchised Palestinians. In so doing he also implicitly placed blame on Palestinians for their miserable lot, apparently forgetting that it is they, not the Israelis, who are subjugated.
Inevitably, the congressman also ignored the highly coordinated Israeli campaign of targeting the leaders of the nonviolent protest movements in the West Bank. These grass-roots protests have been going on for years in opposition to Israel's massive apartheid wall, a behemoth (which is both longer and in places higher than the former Berlin Wall) that snakes through Palestinian territory, grabbing land meant for a future Palestinian state.
During this time, hundreds of unarmed activists acting in the spirit of the U.S. civil rights movement, and who proudly claim to be inspired by Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi, have been arrested without charge. Hundreds more have been injured or killed by rubber bullets and high-velocity tear gas canisters.
Countless other protesters, including children, are regularly targeted by this campaign of intimidation and violence carried out by an Israeli military that raids Palestinian villages at will, often in the dead of night, in behavior reminiscent of other oppressive regimes that the U.S. regularly criticizes in the region and elsewhere.
Jackson also approvingly quoted Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who has called for the forcible transfer of Israel's Palestinian citizens and whose stances have regularly been criticized internationally for their thinly veiled bigotry. The day that a prominent African-American and the son of a civil rights icon embraces a man like Lieberman for the sole purpose of greasing wheels in Washington is a sad one for anyone who cares about equality and justice.
Jackson's submission to the lobby of a foreign state is a tragic illustration of the abdication of progressives and others in the United States over the rights of Palestinians. Such behavior is one of the reasons Israel has been able to dominate Palestinians for decades with little protest from the United States.
It is no wonder then, that peace and security for all in the region is still so elusive.
Rashid Khalidi is a professor of Arab studies in the history department at Columbia University.