Uncategorized · February 21, 2023 0

An Open Letter to Michael Koplow


Dear Michael,

I was hopeful when I read your column this week entitled, “IT’S TIME FOR THE U.S. TO PUT UP OR SHUT UP”.  Perhaps it was a sign that you and other “progressive” supporters of Israel were seeing the light and beginning to confront the painful reality of modern Israel, a reality I have been writing about more and more frequently because it is so clear that Israel today is not a beacon of democracy, is not a land for all its people and is ignoring the pain and suffering of millions who have been deemed inferior just because they happen not to be Jewish.

After finding it be so lonely in the Jewish world, I had worked in for most of my adult life because of my challenge of Israel, I smiled when I read your condemnation of Israel’s legalization of nine Jewish settlements “that you were willing to recognize as “illegal under Israeli law and a number of which were constructed on private Palestinian land.” You went further to recognize that “ Israeli politics and society are roiling over the issue of Israeli democracy and whether the proposed judicial overhaul will fatally damage it, but the legalization of these outposts goes to the very heart of what democracy in Israel means. …and it should frighten those who care about the long-term sustainability of Israeli democracy…”

Were you really ready to join those of us who have recognized what Israel had become: an apartheid state who in the name of protecting the rights of its Jewish citizens was actively and brutally suppressing the rights of its Palestinian citizens and those millions of other Palestinians whose lives it controls but whose rights it tramples on?

I was happy to learn that you and I agree that all of the thousands protesting in streets across Israel over the “reform” of the Israeli court system are missing, or perhaps willfully ignoring, the real issue. But why did you not tell your followers that this action was just the continuation of the long-standing, decades-long effort by Israel’s Jewish citizenry to take the land and the future from the Palestinian people?

Yes, these nine settlements are illegal. Yes, their legalization will exacerbate the current tensions and might spark violence. But these nine settlements are but one more small step in a decade upon decade of oppressive, undemocratic action by Israeli governments left and right.

When I first visited Israel almost 50 years ago, there was a “green line” on our maps that told where the borders of the state of Israel were. But that line did not exist on the ground, and I could travel across the land without knowing I had crossed a border. On Palestinian land, the only settlements were those of the Bedouin and those of the displaced Palestinian refugees.

Today, more than 500,000 Jewish Israelis live in more than 100 “legal” settlements; legal only under Israeli law but not recognized as legal by international law.  Today, a wall, a separation fence, and tunnel roads have carved up what was the 1948 land of Palestine into a patchwork of disconnected Bantustans.

Today there is a Jewish State Law that legalizes Jewish Supremacy in a land of many peoples.

How can you ignore this larger context?

And in those decades, the rights of the Palestinian people, those living within Israel and those living in the areas where it has been the occupying power since 1967, have been treated as if they matter not at all. Can you not see that when those Israelis protest about the loss of their democracy but ignore the loss of the rights of others (even banning the inclusion of Palestinian flags among the protestors),are making a mockery of the meaning of democracy? They are willfully participating in the destruction of the very dignity of millions of men, women, and children.

Jamelle Bouie recently pointed at the central importance of human dignity, “The denial of dignity to one segment of the political community, then, threatens the dignity of all. This was true for Douglass and his time — it inspired his support for women’s suffrage and his opposition to the Chinese Exclusion Act — and it is true for us and ours as well. To deny equal respect and dignity to any part of the citizenry is to place the entire country on the road to tiered citizenship and limited rights, to liberty for some and hierarchy for the rest.”

If democracy has any meaning it must rest on the protection of each person’s dignity. Yet you ignore the trampling on the dignity of the Palestinians living under Israeli control that is the policy of modern Israel by minimizing the options you are willing to accept and put before your followers.

Ignoring this broader context makes your pleas for the United States to take action to pressure the Israeli Government to stop its actions ring hollow.

You would like the Biden Administration to act but the actions you suggest do not have a moral core that respects the rights and lives of all because their call is to have Israel return to a time when it was eating away at the lives, the dignity of its non-Jewish subjects, on the Palestinian people but doing it in ways that were more politically correct. Urging the Biden Administration to “temporarily put a damper on the visa waiver process…temporarily suspend any discussions about a Netanyahu invite to Washington …” and even consider a modest UN resolution condemning both Israel and Palestine to pass out of the Security Council without being clear about how much change is needed in Israeli policy is just more of the same excusing the aggressor and blaming their victims for a terrible situation playing out in front of our eyes.  

These are not steps that will solve the major issues of Israel’s crumbling democracy. What about a simple step of reopening the East Jerusalem American Consulate? How about stopping the flow of arms to Israel? These are the arms that are being used by the soldiers who guard those settlements and raid Palestinian homes in their defense.

Can you not see what B’Tselem, and Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have seen? Can you not see what those of us who see BDS as an appropriate response to these decades of destruction have seen?

I recognize that when you have been a supporter of the Israeli fantasy of a modern, democratic and Jewish state, that seeing that now seeing that this has been a mirage is painful. I still long for the ability to again visit the land. But this is a moment when you do harm when you do not see that the Israel you dream of does not exist.

Peter Beinart, in his New Times Sunday opinion piece  concluded that “a movement premised on ethnocracy cannot successfully defend the rule of law. Only a movement for equality can.”

Are you ready, finally, to take a position that is clear on its morality, that is clear that it is based on true equality, recognizing that we are all created in out of one mold? I know that speaking this truth will not make you popular. Perhaps it will keep you out of some rooms that now welcome you, and that it will cost you friends, perhaps even jobs. But it is the right thing to do.