What Ted Cruz Doesn't Know About Apartheid

And it's not just what the word means

Ted Cruz: What he doesn't know can hurt US foreign policy
Ted Cruz: What he doesn't know can hurt US foreign policy

Earlier this week, C-SPAN viewers were treated to the spectacle of Sen. Ted Cruz's daily bloviation. This time, he was demanding the resignation of Secretary of State John Kerry, all because Kerry made an off-the-record comment that Israel's policies towards Palestinians tack dangerously close to apartheid-era South Africa.

For most students of international policy, Kerry's comments about the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations were pretty inocuous. He 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."

Kerry's remarks were made at an off-the-record briefing session of the international Trilateral Commission, and were recorded, much to the anger of the commissioners (Politico contends that it was an uncredentialed reporter from The Daily Beast who leaked the comments.)

The GOP obviously jumped all over this like Kerry had demanded that Israel be handed over to Syria, so cue an apology by way of policy re-statement from Kerry, who said, "I would have chosen a different word to describe my firm belief that the only way in the long term to have a Jewish state and two nations and two peoples living side by side in peace and security is through a two state solution.

However, this came after yet another rambling Cruz Senate speech (his stock-in trade) in which he demanded Kerry's political head on a platter. Condemning his use of the term apartheid in relation to Israel, he rambled:

There is no place for this word in the context of the State of Israel. The term 'apartheid' means 'apart' – different, isolated – the state of the victims of apartheid with which the Jews are all too familiar. The notion that Israel would go down that path, and so face the same condemnation that met South Africa, is unconscionable. The United States should be aggressively asserting that Israel can never be made an apartheid nation while America exists, because America will be with Israel regardless of the status of any diplomatic process.

Cruz is a subscriber to the Washington orthodoxy that holds that the greatest service the US can provide for Israel is constant and permanent political cover for everything the country does. It's a policy that melds genuine sympathy and empathy with real politik, diplomatic opportunism, and dangerous millenialism that believes that Israel must be protected so that the Apocalypse can come (as New Republic senior editor John B. Judis wrote for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace's Policy Brief, "Much of the religious right backed the war in Iraq not because they wanted to democratize the Middle East but precisely because Iraq’s Saddam Hussein had threatened Israel, which they are determined to protect in preparation for the end times.")

So let's parse this.

"The term ‘apartheid’ means ‘apart’—different." No, it doesn't. Apartheid is a pormanteau, and actually translates from Afrikaans as "apart-hood" or the state of being seperated.

In fact, Cruz as a lawyer should probably use the legal definitions of apartheid, because it is actually an international crime. The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court defines the crime of apartheid as "inhumane acts … committed in the context of an institutionalised 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."

Similarly, the 1973 United Nations International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid defined apartheid as any act "committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons and systematically oppressing them."

So let's jump to the end: "The notion that Israel would go down that path, and so face the same condemnation that met South Africa, is unconscionable. The United States should be aggressively asserting that Israel can never be made an apartheid nation while America exists, because America will be with Israel regardless of the status of any diplomatic process."

There are two ways to translate this. One, that America will not allow anyone to call Israel an apartheid state. Which means Cruz would have had strong words with three former Israeli prime ministers – Ehud Olmert, Ehud Barak, and the nation's first leader, David Ben Gurion – all of whom said that continuing to hold Arab and Palestinian territories would make Israel an apartheid state. (In a thinly veiled potshot against the unquestioning brand of Cruzian orthodoxy, Kerry's apology noted that it's easier to use the word apartheid in Israel than in American, saying, "While Justice Minister Livni, former Prime Ministers Barak and Ohlmert have all invoked the specter of apartheid to underscore the dangers of a unitary state for the future, it is a word best left out of the debate here at home.")

But there's another reading of Cruz's statement, and it depends on the term "the status of any diplomatic process." Here, it's not the oppression of the people that matters, but the international condemnation of the rule of segregation. In this reading, Cruz is saying that the entity suffering the state of apart-hood is not the black population of South Africa, but the state and government of South Africa. And clearly, the Freedom Riders should have been protecting Bull Connor's rights.

There's another issue, this time with Cruz's grasp of history and horror. His argument is that, after all the centuries of suffering that the Jewish people have suffered, they would have too much empathy for the victims of apartheid to replicate it. "The notion that Israel would go down that path, and so face the same condemnation that met South Africa, is unconscionable."

Again, tell that to Barak, Ben Gurion, and Olmert. Or to the New Yorker, whose columnist John Cassidy wrote that the majority of Kerry's comments were "indisputable." Or to artist Natali Cohen Vaxberg, who recently staged a performance/protest in Jerusalem in which she accused Israel of abusing the memory of the Holocaust to create political cover for its policies in Palestine. She told passers-by, "Who deserves credit for enabling you to place 3 million people in a ghetto without the superpowers bombing you?"

So it's time to poke at the obvious hole in Cruz's logic, and that's called "historical precedent." In 1900, British troops began rounding up an ethnic population and herding them into what were called concentration camps. Out of the roughly 100,000 to 120,000 citizens indiscriminately gathered in these tent cities, over 28,000 died of malnutrition, dehydration, and disease. It was one of the worst and earliest war crimes of the opening days of the 20th century. And that ethnic group? The Afrikaans-speaking Boers of South Africa, the same people whose children and grand children would develop and enforce apartheid.

So let's add up what we have here. A reporter violates journalistic protocol, is indulged by their editor, gins up a fake controversy, the right leaps on it without real thought, and forces America's top diplomat to issue an apology for saying something that most of the world is thinking. But the real takeaway point is simple: Even behind closed doors, Americans can't say what Israelis say about themselves.

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Ted Cruz, Israel, John Kerry, Foreign Policy, South Africa, Apartheid, Natali Cohen Vaxberg, Ehud Olmert, Ehud Barak, David Ben Gurion

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