Ahmad Tibi
The Jerusalem Post
July 12, 2010 - 12:00am

In the 11 years that I have served in the Knesset, I have received numerous death threats. Pulsa Denura (the term for a rabbinical death curse) has evidently taken exception to my consistent call for equal rights for the country’s Palestinian minority.

Recently I received a letter – the second in as many days – that warned: “You have 180 days to live. Your death will be sudden and cruel, accompanied by great pain...”

Last month, I was forcibly removed by armed guards from the Knesset podium. In recent days, colleagues have faced violent and vulgar rhetoric and one was very nearly physically attacked by a fellow Knesset member. Much, but not all of this fury, is a consequence of daring to speak out on behalf of Palestinians in Gaza, a land cruelly and illegally deprived of essential goods. Yet American elected officials seem far more concerned with specious claims against humanitarian aid workers who were violently attacked by Israel in international waters on May 31.

A young dual Turkish-American citizen was killed execution- style on board the lead ship, with one bullet to the chest and four, at close range, to the head, according to some reports in the Turkish press. The next day, another young American, Emily Henochowicz – a college student at New York’s prestigious Cooper Union – had her eye shot out by an Israeli-fired tear gas canister as she peacefully protested the flotilla raid in Jerusalem.

Days later, a Palestinian man married to an American woman was killed at a police checkpoint in Wadi Joz after what some say was a traffic accident. Israeli police maintain that the man tried to ram his car into two police officers and then flee on foot but some witnesses told police and media channels that the man's sudden swerving of the car was unintentional.

US OFFICIALS have not demanded accountability for these acts of violence. Instead, too many are busy responding to AIPAC, which has released a list of Congress members parroting the group’s talking points.

They speak of Israel’s right to “defend itself” from humanitarian workers brutally murdered in international waters by the equivalent of modern-day pirates. It seems that only in the US Congress is this perverted Israeli rationale accepted as reality.

The new American president’s silence is even more disappointing. It reminds us that Palestinian freedom and equal rights are unlikely to be secured by a United States committed to false notions of Israeli security.

Since his Cairo speech last year, President Barack Obama has failed to pursue new policies. In the Middle East, he is regarded as full of fine, but empty words.

Empty because securing Palestinian freedom and equal rights requires standing up to Israel.

Furthermore, the president is grievously undercut by fellow top Democrats such as Sen. Charles Schumer, who told an audience at the Orthodox Union last month that it made sense “to strangle them [Palestinians in Gaza] economically” because they elected Hamas and “they don’t believe in the Torah, in David.”

This may play well with some of Sen. Schumer’s constituents at the Orthodox Union where he was cheered for his remarks, but it goes over very poorly with Palestinians agonizing over stunted and malnourished children.

One can imagine the uproar had he suggested economically strangling Israelis for electing neo-fascists such as Avigdor Lieberman.

THE ONE glimmer of hope I can see came from President Obama’s National Security Strategy of May 2010. Promisingly, the document calls for “rights for all Israelis.” But the strategy requires crucial elaboration.

We have some rights in Israel. The question is whether we will have equal rights and here the document falls silent. The issue is vital as the human rights organization Adalah has documented over three dozen Israeli laws that discriminate against Palestinian citizens of Israel.

As we have learned with Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, constructive ambiguity is not helpful.

American support for a “Jewish state” suggests a willingness to relegate Palestinian citizens of that state to inferior standing.

Israel’s current government clearly opposes equal rights and its most extreme members are threatening the overthrow of numerous democratic norms. Foreign Minister Lieberman leads the charge with his loyalty oath that threatens to strip Palestinians of citizenship.

More than 20 bills have been introduced since Binyamin Netanyahu took office in spring 2009 that would exacerbate discrimination against Israel’s Palestinian minority.

In Israel, especially among those on the Right, there is a fierce refusal to accept any activity or statement, by myself or my colleagues, against government policy.

For example, my support of the Libyan flotilla and my calls for the end of the Gaza blockade, are immediately seen as an attempt to undermine the security of the state. It seems there is no tolerance for the “other,” the Arab, whose differing opinion is promptly attacked for being reckless and unrestrained.

Between the Scylla of death threats and the Charybdis of expulsion, the standing of Palestinian citizens of Israel is as tenuous as it has been since the lifting of martial law in 1966. Democratic allies of Israel must concern themselves not only with its 43-year subjugation of Palestinians in the occupied territories, but with the mounting threats being directed at its minority population by a majority that wrongly deems us a fifth column for demanding to be treated as equal human beings regardless of whether or not we believe in the Torah.


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