Joe Biden was once a fierce critic of apartheid in South Africa – now he’s accused of ignoring similar policies in Israel

IIn 1986, a relatively fresh-faced senator from Delaware gave a cryptic speech about the immorality of the apartheid regime in South Africa and his country’s support for it. During a Senate foreign relations committee hearing, a 43-year-old Joe Biden slammed his fist on the table in anger while attacking George Shultz, Ronald Reagan’s secretary of state, for supporting the South African government. , which imposes a discriminatory policy system. against the non-white majority.

“I’m embarrassed because it’s our policy […]. I am ashamed of the lack of moral backbone! ” he say. “These people are being crushed, and we’re sitting here with the same kind of rhetoric.”

“What is our timetable? What are we saying to that disgusting regime? Are we saying you have twenty days, twenty months, twenty years? We ask them to come up with a timetable, what is our schedule? Where do we stand morally? ” he asks.

It is a strong condemnation of a system of racist oppression being implemented by an ally of the United States, and one of several implemented by the senator on the subject throughout. his career. But some 35 years later, those same questions are asked again for Mr. Biden when he visits Israel and Palestine for the first time since becoming president of the United States.

When Mr. Biden visits Bethlehem in the coming days, he will be greeted with large billboards that read: “Mr. President, this is the apartheid regime,” along with a map of what remains. back of the divided Palestinian territories – an Israeli stunt choreographed rights group B’Tselem.

In an interview with Israeli television on Wednesday, the president was asked what he thought of “voices in the Democratic Party” who called Israel a racist country.

“There are very few of them. I think they were wrong. I think they are making a mistake. Israel is a democracy. Israel is our ally. Israel is a friend. I don’t think I’m making any apologies,” he said, before going on to tout $4 billion in military aid his administration provided to Israel.

It’s a soft question, framed as an internal political disagreement rather than an actual fact. In any case, it has not been fully answered. But there are reasons to expect that it should be.

Since Mr. Biden’s last visit to Israel in 2016, a consensus has emerged among leading human rights groups on the question of racism in Israel. The consensus is that Israel is now committing the same crimes that Biden was condemned as a senator.

The last year has seen a dramatic shift in the way human rights groups describe the Israeli occupation. In January 2021B’Tselem released a detailed report in which it labeled Israel a “racist” country.

“According to geographical, demographic and physical technical space, the regime allows Jews to live in the contiguous zone with full rights, including the right to self-determination, while Palestinians,” the group said. live in separate units and enjoy fewer rights,” the group said.

“The regime is seen as a racist regime, although Israel is often seen as a democracy that favors a temporary occupation regime,” it added.

Soon after, last April, Human Rights Watch presented its own milestone The report is 213 pages long lead to the same conclusion. The human rights group found that Israeli authorities were “committing crimes against humanity due to a racist and oppressive regime”.

“We achieved this determination based on our documentation of an overall government policy to perpetuate Israeli-Jewish domination over the Palestinian people along with abusive practices,” HRW said. serious use against Palestinians living in the occupied territory, including East Jerusalem.

Amnesty International watched February this year with a report that Israel committed racial discrimination against Palestinians.

The report “shows the extent of the massive expropriation of Palestinian land and property, illegal killings, forced handovers, drastic restrictions on movement, and the denial of citizenship and citizenship to Palestinians.” are all components of a system of racial discrimination under international law”.

And in March, Michael Lynk, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in the occupied Palestinian territories since 1967, called on the United Nations to address the issue, which he also described as fragmentation. racial segregation.

“Sadly, apartheid is not a phenomenon confined to the history books of southern Africa,” he said in his report to the Human Rights Council.

He added: “Today in Palestinian territory occupied by Israel since 1967, a deeply discriminatory dual legal and political system privileges 700,000 Israeli Jewish settlers living in 300 zones. illegal Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank,” he added.

Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Gilad Erdan, answered for the reports by accusing the groups behind them of waging “a Jihad war against the only vibrant democracy in the Middle East.”

Yair Lapid, who was secretary of state at the time of the report but who welcomed Mr Biden as prime minister of Israel today, said in a statement responding to the Amnesty report: “Israel is not perfect, but we are a democracy committed to international law, open to criticism, with a free press and a strong and independent judiciary. “

The Biden administration also said it rejected the view that Israel’s actions constituted a racist regime. State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters: “The department’s reports have never used such terminology.

The Convention on Racial Discrimination, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1973, declares that racism is a crime against humanity and that “inhumane acts resulting from the policies and practices of the racism and similar policies and practices regarding racism and discrimination” is an international crime. The Rome Statute 2002 of the International Criminal Court also defines racism as a crime against humanity.

Of course, there are significant differences between the apartheid regime in South Africa and Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories. But there are also many similarities – Desmond Tutu, an anti-apartheid leader whom Mr. Biden praised in a 1986 speech, speaks of them frequently.

“I have witnessed the systematic humiliation of Palestinian men, women and children by members of the Israeli security forces. Their humiliation is familiar to all people of skin. black South Africans who were assaulted and assaulted by racist government security forces,” he said in 2014.

Mr. Biden often talks about his long and deep relationship with Israel. He is a consistent advocate, both in word and in action. But his refusal to properly address the question of racism in Israel makes his campaign pledge that “human rights will be central to our foreign policy” sounding hollow. It’s also the kind of vague answer a younger Joe Biden would have to interrogate first, as he did with Shultz.

The question Mr. Biden should answer right now is exactly how he disagrees with the world’s leading human rights groups and their designation of the crime of racism in Israel.

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