I’m sure Secretary of State John Kerry, himself the son of a diplomat, heard a lot of scripture during his years at St. Paul’s School in Concord. Founded in the Episcopal tradition, St Paul’s today is a diverse community that welcomes all faiths and traditions, where its students are called to: “Strive together, in the words of the School Motto, ‘to learn those things on earth the knowledge of which continues in heaven.'”
And one of those things I believe John Kerry, ’62, learned as he listened to scripture, studied history and played hockey in rural New Hampshire was the value of truth-telling.
And recently, following the breakdown of peace talks between Palestinians and Israelis, John Kerry dropped the “A-Bomb” of truth-telling: While speaking in Washington to senior officials of the Trilateral Commission, Secretary Kerry said: “A two-state solution will be clearly underscored as the only real alternative. Because a unitary state winds up either being an apartheid state with second-class citizens — or it ends up being a state that destroys the capacity of Israel to be a Jewish state.”
You would have thought a real A-Bomb had fallen on Foggy Bottom.
It didn’t take long for Kerry to be attacked over his warning that without a two-state solution, Israel risks becoming an apartheid state.
The pro-Israel lobby AIPAC released a statement, “Any suggestion that Israel is, or is at risk of becoming, an apartheid state is offensive and inappropriate.”
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor offered, “The use of the word apartheid has routinely been dismissed as both offensive and inaccurate, and Secretary Kerry’s use of it makes peace even harder to achieve.”
Sen. Ted Cruz, who had opposed Kerry’s appointment as secretary of state, said Kerry should resign: “There is no place for (the use of the word apartheid) in the context of the state of Israel.”
The Anti-Defamation League said, “It is startling and deeply disappointing that a diplomat so knowledgeable and experienced about democratic Israel chose to use such an inaccurate and incendiary term.”
The liberal, pro-Israel lobby, J Street, did defend Kerry: “Instead of putting energy into attacking Secretary Kerry, those who are upset with the secretary’s use of the term should put their energy into opposing and changing the policies that are leading Israel down this road,” said J Street President Jeremy Ben Ami.
“Israel today is not an apartheid state, and that’s not what John Kerry is saying,” continued Ben Ami. “For over a year now, Kerry has argued that, without a two-state solution, Israel is risking its future and its values as it moves toward permanent rule over millions of Palestinians without equal rights.”
The reality is that Kerry was not alone in his use of “apartheid” in warning what Israel risks becoming if it fails to achieve peace with the Palestinians.
Former Israeli Prime Ministers Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert both used “apartheid” to describe Israel’s possible future.
And most recently, Tzipi Livni, Israel’s minister of justice, in a speech on energy, said “the time has come for (Israeli) youth to ask, to what kind of state do they want to leave the gas reserves? To a Jewish democratic Israel? Or to a binational Arab state? Or to an apartheid state?”
“I go and I visit the Holy Land and I see things that are a mirror image of the sort of things that I experienced under the apartheid,” the Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town Desmond Tutu told HuffPost Live. “How can you stop me from the right to describe as I feel. You go anywhere in the world and if I see things that mirror the kind of experience that I know firsthand …”
Words matter. Opinions matter. Law matters.
Under the 1998 Rome Statute, the definition of apartheid under international law is: “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.”
The truth is that America cannot be an interlocutor between Palestinians and Israelis if it binds itself to the needs of one while ignoring the other.
The truth is that Kerry, Livni, Olmert, Barak and others are not speaking of apartheid in Israel. They are not even speaking of apartheid in the occupied territories — they are speaking of the risk of becoming an apartheid state if a two-state solution is not equitably negotiated between the parties.
Listen to the truth.
Perhaps using “apartheid” is a gift — a way of forcing us to look at the hard choices that confront us. To make us confront the reality of how hard it is to find a space for peace between oppression and freedom.
The future of Israel does not depend on continued occupation, exploitation and colonies. Only peace with its neighbors can ensure Israel’s future. Palestinian President Abbas and his predecessor, Yasser Arafat, both recognized the state of Israel, as have Egypt and Jordan. The Arab Peace Initiative also offered recognition by all Arab states if Israel withdraws from the occupied territories.
Maybe this is time to pause and breathe.
Israel just celebrated Independence Day and the Palestinian people mourned the ongoing Al-Nakba (catastrophe) that befell them — leave them both to those memories, and to prayerful recognition of all that has been accomplished and sacrificed in order “to learn those things on earth the knowledge of which continues in heaven.”
Then pause again, take another deep breath, and listen to Rumi:
Now be silent.
Let the One who creates the words speak.
He made the door.
He made the lock.
He also made the key.
This column appeared originally in the Portsmouth Herald.