Modi, Herzog, and the Politics of Fabrication

Israeli President Isaac Herzog with US President Joe Biden. (Photo: Spokesperson unit of the President of Israel, via Wikimedia Commons)

By Benay Blend

Herzog’s visit comes a few weeks after the Israeli military attacked Jenin, murdering at least 12 Palestinians, injuring many others, and leaving destroyed homes, buildings, and infrastructure behind.

In America, and other countries too, there is a long-held tendency to fabricate the truth. In Nakba: Palestine, 1948, and the Claims of Memory (edited by Ahmad H. Sa’adi and Lila Abu-Lughod, 2007), the editors explain how Israel’s creation myth allowed for “rebirth” (P. 4) of the Jewish people after the horrors of the Holocaust, while at the same time denying Palestinians, the original inhabitants now forced to flee, their rightful place in history.

The mythologized history of the American West is pretty much the same. When I was in graduate school, Henry Nash Smith’s Virgin Land: The American West as Myth and Symbol (1978) was required reading. My interest in American Studies emerged from a desire to cut through the myths that obscured the real history of America, yet it was only later that I realized how Smith’s text was itself based on the myth that there were no original inhabitants on the land.

More recently, during the Johnson era (1963-1969), there was the concept of a “reality gap” between what the President said and what others would eventually know as truth. Nowhere has this reality gap been more glaring than in America’s choice of allies. For example, on June 21,  Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi received a royal welcome from Joe Biden, though he was previously denied a visa to enter the United States due to his anti-Muslim policies in the state of Gujarat when he was chief minister.

As Malik Miah notes, Biden ignored reporters’ questions related to the Modi government’s anti-Muslim and anti-minority policies, preferring instead to get India “on board” with the US-Indo-Pacific goal of containing China. The two most prominent members of Congress—Detroit’s Rashida Tlaib and Minnesota’s Ilhan Omar—boycotted Modi’s speech to Congress and his state dinner. Missouri’s Cori Bush, New York’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Jamaal Bowman also refused to attend Modi’s talk.

Nearly one month later, President Isaac Herzog of Israel also received a warm welcome from Joe Biden. In a press release, the White House referred to “democratic values” that the US shares with Israel. Herzog’s visit comes a few weeks after the Israeli military attacked Jenin, murdering at least 12 Palestinians, injuring many others, and leaving destroyed homes, buildings, and infrastructure behind. Along with the Palestinian Authority (PA), the military has also escalated arrests of Palestinians in the West Bank in a futile attempt to intimidate the Resistance.

In an interview on Democracy Now, Palestinian human rights attorney Noura Erakat placed Herzog’s visit in the context of recent allegations by credible agencies and scholars that Israel is indeed an apartheid state that has escalated the takeover of Palestinian lands. “They have shifted from occupation to warfare,” Erakat states, though in fact violence has always been a part of Zionist practice.

Erakat continues that mainstream Democrats who endorse the event are “normaliz[ing] apartheid” in a way that makes it “exemplary for others to follow.” Indeed, the statement could go further to charge Congress with normalizing colonialism, for that is the Zionist’s crime which includes the practice of apartheid. Referring to criticism of Rep. Pramila Jayapal’s comment that “Israel is a racist state,” Erakat accurately describes that pushback as “akin to gaslighting,” a form of abuse in which a group causes another person to question their own perception of reality.

“The attack on her is actually a bullying and harassment” tactic, Erakat explains, “that is meant to scare everyone from having a conversation and acknowledging this reality on the ground, and, most importantly, taking responsibility for it.” Indeed, it constitutes a ploy that is used by Zionists around the world to shut down criticism of the Zionist state.

Accordingly, the International Association of Democratic Lawyers recently adopted a resolution denouncing Zionist attacks on Palestinian solidarity and Palestinian community organizing in Europe. Included in this measure are

“the banning of Nakba commemorations and other demonstrations in Germany, the Israeli ambassador’s demand to ban Samidoun Deutschland, and the ongoing targeting of Palestinian activists for deportation, surveillance and immigration repression; the French government’s ongoing attempt to dissolve and ban the Collectif Palestine Vaincra and other organizations; the prosecution of protesters in Spain while Israeli security agents point guns on university campuses; the City of Geneva cancelling an art exhibition at the request of the Israeli ambassador; and the Netherlands’ recent arrest of Palestinian activists while buying Israeli from Elbit Systems.”

Moreover, Erakat makes clear that Israel’s policies are “exported across the world.” In the U.S., for example, white nationalist Richard Spenser went on Israeli TV to explain that his vision of European sovereignty is actually modeled on the Zionist State:

 “As an Israeli citizen, someone who understands your identity, who has a sense of nationhood and peoplehood and history and experience of the Jewish people, you should respect someone like me… I care about my people. I want us to have a secure homeland for us and ourselves, just like you want a secure homeland in Israel.”

When Modi visited the White House, he represented the Hindutva movement in India which Iqbal Jassat views as a “replica of Israeli despotism against Palestinians.” Finally, Volodymyr Zelensky stated that his country would most likely be modeled on “big Israel” after the war is over. Rather than a model democracy, which his country is often claimed to be, it would carry on as if still under a state of siege. Do not be surprised, he said, if there continue to be armed members of the military standing guard in public places.

Despite clear evidence to the contrary, the House of Representatives on July 18 passed a resolution declaring that Israel is “not a racist or apartheid state.” Passed overwhelmingly as a rebuke to Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), who claimed at a Netroots conference that Israel is a racist state, the resolution had the vote of all but Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Jamaal Bowman (D-NY), Summer Lee (D-PA), Cori Bush (D-MO), Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), Andre Carson (D-IN) and Delia Ramirez (D-IL). Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN), a consistent advocate for Palestinian rights in congress, voted present.

Jayapal, who quickly walked back her statement by clarifying that she was only referring to the current government as problematic, not the country overall, admitted that the resolution had “clear political motivations” but voted for it anyway. On the other hand, Rep. Ilhan Omar announced that “no way in hell” would she attend Herzog’s address to Congress, and she was joined by a number of Democratic House members (including Reps. Tlaib, Omar, Ocasio-Cortez, and Bowman) who announced that they would boycott the event.

At least two grassroots organizations staged a broader protest. In a private text dated July 18, 2023, Benjamin Zinevich, a member of the DC branch of the Party for Socialism and Liberation, informed me that his group, along with members of the Palestinian Youth Movement, had traveled to Washington to send a message to President Herzog during his White House visit. “The people of the U.S. are growing sick and tired of billions annually of their own money being spent to murder Palestinians, including children,” he said. “It is long past time that the US sever all ties with the apartheid regime of Israel.”

Moreover, he cited resemblances to the “racist apartheid system in South Africa,” a situation that required “people in the streets—not Congress” to dismantle, just as “Zionist and terrorism” will need popular struggle to undo, rather than reliance on official sources.

From Zaid Khatib, an organizer for the Palestinian Youth Movement, I received the following statement via email on July 20:

“On July 19, 2023 the Palestinian Youth Movement, Party for Socialism & Liberation, and others unveiled a banner in the center of Washington, DC to protest Israeli President Isaac Herzog’s visit. The US Congress and President Biden hosted Herzog in defiance of the will of DC residents and people of conscience who reject zionism and fascism in all forms everywhere. The US government seeks to further strengthen its relationship with the settler-colonial zionist entity in order to fulfill its own imperialist goals in the region. But the people of DC and around the world wholeheartedly stand against colonialism and remain committed to a free Palestine. We demand the immediate end to all US aid to the zionist entity and an end to global complicity in the colonization of our homeland.”

From at least the Unity Intifada of 2021, the Palestinian Resistance has organized across religious and political lines as a unified grassroots movement. They understand that neither the US government nor the various political factions are going to save them. It Is time that Palestinian solidarity groups in the West look to that model rather than relying on the politics of fabrication to make a difference.

– Benay Blend earned her doctorate in American Studies from the University of New Mexico. Her scholarly works include Douglas Vakoch and Sam Mickey, Eds. (2017), “’Neither Homeland Nor Exile are Words’: ‘Situated Knowledge’ in the Works of Palestinian and Native American Writers”. She contributed this article to The Palestine Chronicle.

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