Letter From America

Written By: Ian Williams
Published: March 27, 2017 Last modified: March 27, 2017

As Galileo said after recanting the heretical idea that Earth revolved around the Sun, “It still moves”. And across the UN, people will say, “It is still Apartheid” since the new, already embattled Secretary General Antonio Guterres withdrew the report from the UN’s regional body for ‘West Asia’, which detailed the legal case for regarding Israeli practices as Apartheid.

His spokesman stressed that it was withdrawn for “procedural” reasons. We can be sure that SG’s do not routinely scrutinize all of the innumerable documents that its subsidiary bodies gush out to an un-reading universe, but in Guterres’s defence, it would seem politic for local officials to alert headquarters when they are going to jump firmly on the toes of a member state with a tripwire to the White House, not least when the whole issue of Trump/UN relations is so delicate.

Rima Khalaf, the official who resigned in protest at being ordered to take down the report, did so with dignity and eloquence, admitting the difficulties Antonio Guterres faces, and sympathising with him for ordering withdrawal of the reports  since she is aware of “your commitment to human rights in general, or your firm position regarding the rights of the Palestinian people”, and knows that the withdrawal was “not due to any fault found in the reports and probably not because you disagreed with their content, but due to the political pressure by member states who gravely violate the rights of the people of the region and the vicious attacks and threats the UN and you personally were subjected to from powerful Member States.”

She added “I do not find it surprising that such Member States, who now have governments with little regard for international norms and values of human rights, will resort to intimidation when they find it hard to defend their unlawful policies and practices. It is only normal for criminals to pressure and attack those who advocate the cause of their victims.”

It is noteworthy that the faecal storm raised by opponents of the report obscures the complete lack of rebuttal of the facts the report adduces. They rely upon the bald assertion that it is simply “unthinkable” that “the only democracy in the Middle East” could practice apartheid, just as the British proponents of Israel raise a storm of “anti-Semitism” against anyone who reports the same truths in the Labour Party. Sadly, we recently saw the demise of a Labour MP who was courageous enough to think the unthinkable, Gerald Kaufman, who memorably said “I find it degrading that the sufferings of Jews in the Holocaust should be used as a kind of justification for persecuting Palestinians.”

It is especially ironic that Israel and its supporters should find the comparison with racist South Africa so obnoxious since, even more than Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, no country did as much to break sanctions and help arm the Apartheid regime than Israel. But even South Africa never introduced Whites-Only roads, while in the West Bank there is a whole highway that Palestinians are forbidden to use. If only for the sake of appearing consistent, Pretoria honoured the allegations of autonomy for the Bantustans it set up, while the IDF has no scruples in ranging across the alleged autonomous parts of the Occupied Territories.

There is another tangential comparison. During Apartheid, African states understandably obsessed about South Africa not least because people like them were being suppressed on the basis of their skin colour. Arabs are equally perturbed because in Israel they see people of their language and culture being refused the right to buy property in the overwhelming lands owned by the Jewish National Fund, and being harassed and mistreated and summarily shot with impunity across the Occupied Territories. The purpose of the report was to establish the legal facts for triggering international conventions against that behavior at a time when politicians across the world rush to embrace the most reactionary government in Israeli history.

We should make one small concession to Israel and its protectors at the UN. It occupies far too much of the agenda, often at the behest of equally culpable regimes in the area trying to avert attention from their own felonies. However, last year there was not a peep from Israel, the US or Britain when Ban Ki Moon was forced by Saudi financial pressure to remove references to the feudal tyranny’s murderous activities in Yemen.

So, as Galileo and Gerald Kaufman might have chorused with Rima Khalaf, “It is still Apartheid.” Now is the time to insist the UK support the integrity of the United Nations, not to pander to amoral blowhards like Donald Trump and Binjamin Netanyahu.

About Ian Williams

Ian Williams is Tribune's UN correspondent