by MATT PEPPE, Counterpunch
If the vast majority of Americans are still in denial that Israel is an apartheid state (which it has been for 47 years), how long will it take them to realize the U.S. is – and has been since its founding – an apartheid state due to its constitutional endorsement of slavery, then segregation and, for the last 115 years until this day, “Separate and Unequal” treatment of 4 million residents of the U.S.’s colonies?
The firestorm over Israeli apartheid started when reports surfaced that Secretary of State John Kerry said in a private meeting that Israel risks “becoming an apartheid state” if it continues on its current course.
The Israeli political lobby quickly set their attack dogs in motion to deny, deny, deny. “Any linkage between Israel and apartheid is nonsensical and ridiculous,” wrote “progressive” Senator Barbara Boxer on Twitter. The Anti-Defamation League was “startled and disappointed” over “such an inaccurate and incendiary term.”
Facing hysterical outrage from apologists of the Middle East’s only state to have never joined the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Kerry quickly cowered and walked back his statement, saying he chose the “wrong wording”. His retraction echoed Obama’s own statements on the issue, when he came out against “injecting a term like apartheid” that is “historically inaccurate.”
Of course, Israel has been an apartheid state since 1967. How else to describe a socioeconomic system in the occupied territories under Israeli sovereignty where residents of one ethnicity are subject to military law while residents of another to civilian law? Where there is complete separation of land and roads, which a principal architect of the settler colonies in the occupied territories (and admirer of South Africa’s racist segregation) modeled after the Bantustans he saw in that country?
Inside the Green Line, Israel can make the dubious claim that it’s discriminatory laws like the Prevention of Infiltration Law, Citizenship and Entry Law and Acceptance to Communities Law, as well as institutions such as the Jewish National Fund, do not actually constitute the crime of apartheid, but merely legalized discrimination and racial supremacy.
Lost in this discussion (if you can call it that) is the system of apartheid ongoing in the United States itself.
At its inception, the U.S. Constitution – which deprived average citizens of the right to elect the President and Senators, who held the true policy making power – applied only to landowning white males. Since the beginning, the United States has been an apartheid state.
You could argue that after the Civil War and the passage of the 13th and 14th amendments (while women were still unable to vote) the U.S. was able to shed its apartheid status. But in reality slavery continued virtually unabated in the South for another century through a system of involuntary labor and convict leasing in many ways as bad or worse than antebellum slavery, as described by Douglas Blackmon in his thoroughly documented book Slavery by Another Name.
The nation’s discriminatory racial system was certified by the Supreme Court in Plessy vs. Ferguson. This would persist into the Post-War period until the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1963. At this point, most people would believe the U.S.’s apartheid system had finally been abolished.
In reality, since the U.S.’s colonial adventures began in 1898 an apartheid state persists which, unlike the system inside the continental U.S., doesn’t even disingenuously claim to be “Separate But Equal”. It is the “Separate and Unequal” status granted to residents of U.S. colonies. The vast majority reside in Puerto Rico but also include residents of Guam, U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa and the Northern Mariana Islands.
The Insular Cases, which determined Puerto Rico and other territories belong to but are not part of the United States, represent the Supreme Court demonstrating “an unabashed reflection of contemporaneous politics, rather than the pursuit of legal doctrine,” writes federal judge Juan R. Torruella, who sits on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit. “As in the instance of the legal framework established by Plessy, the Insular Cases have had lasting and deleterious effects on a substantial minority of citizens. The ‘redeeming’ difference is that Plessy is no longer the law of the land, while the Supreme Court remains aloof about the repercussions of its actions in deciding the Insular Cases as it did, including the fact that these cases are responsible for the establishment of a regime of de facto political apartheid, which continues in full vigor.”
Since the early days of the U.S. occupation of Puerto Rico, American corporations happily exploited the island’s population and resources to make vast fortunes from privatized sugar and coffee plantations, which they promptly shipped off the island and into their bank accounts on the mainland. Later, the U.S. directed a revolutionary transformation of Puerto Rico’s agricultural economy a large-scale industrial economy that further lined the pockets of large corporations without delivering lasting benefits to the island’s residents. To this day, U.S. colonialism continues to suppress Puerto Rico’s self-sufficiency by preventing it from developing its own industries and creating sustainable food sources.
All of this for the last 115 years without the consent of the governed.
Puerto Ricans spoke decisively against their political status in a referendum in 2012, with 54% of voters rejecting the political status they have been subjected to for 115 years. What they heard in response were crickets.
Kerry’s comments should be forcing Americans to look not just abroad at apartheid in Palestine, funded by their tax dollars, but also in the mirror to recognize apartheid at home. So far any reflection on American complicity in crimes against humanity is nonexistent.
Matt Peppe holds a master’s degree in Public Administration from the Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy at SUNY Albany and a bachelor’s degree in English and American Literature from NYU. He writes about U.S. foreign policy and Latin America on his blog. You can follow him on twitter.