Israel’s Apartheid Elephant Is Still in the Room

by James M. Wall

In a 1935 stage production of Billy Rose’s Jumbo, Jimmy Durante is leading an elephant down the street. A policeman stops him and asks, “What are you doing with that elephant?”

Durante responds, “What elephant”? That line became a 1935 nightly show-stopper. Durante repeated the same question in the 1962 film version of Jumbo (right).

Wikipedia speculates that this line may have contributed to the phrase, “the elephant in the room”, which refers to the denial of something as a reality, when that something is obviously in the room.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres last week became the latest official to deny the obvious presence of the apartheid elephant enforced by the state of Israel.

He joined the parade and said, “What elephant?”, when he instructed Rima Khalaf, Executive Director of the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), to withdraw a report written for her agency.

The report concluded that Israel imposes an apartheid regime on Palestinians. She refused to withdraw the report. Then she resigned as ESCWA’s Executive Director.

The Palestinian news agency Ma’an reported that Dr. Khalaf told reporters in Beirut that the report was the “first of its kind” from a UN agency.

She also said the report sheds light on “the crimes that Israel continues to commit against the Palestinian people, which amount to war crimes against humanity.”

The ESCWA, which is comprised of 18 Arab states from western Asia, said in the report that Israel was guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt” of imposing apartheid policies against Palestinians.

Richard Falk, who co-authored the original ESCWA report with fellow American academic, Virginia Tilley, has an important article in The Nation magazine, about the preparation and impact of the report. 

Falk explained the final careful steps of the report from draft to the finished document:

ESCWA, for its part, took steps to ensure that the report lived up to scholarly standards, submitting the draft text to three prominent international jurists, who anonymously submitted strong positive appraisals along with some suggestions for revision, which we gratefully incorporated before the final text was released. For government officials and others to dismiss our report as a biased polemic is irresponsible, with respect both to the authority of the UN and to international law.

Predictably, Israeli officials were quick to denounce the report, comparing it to Nazi propaganda and calling for Guterres to publicly reject it. Just as predictably, the U.S. quickly f0llowed with its Me-Two attack on the report.

The report is no longer on the ESCWA website, but it is posted elsewhere. It demands a close reading.

Falk closed his article for The Nation on a note of hope:

It remains our central hope, one shared by ESCWA, that the widespread availability of the report will lead to a clearer understanding of the Palestinian plight and encourage more effective responses by the UN, by governments, and by civil society. Beyond this, it is our continuing wish that people of good will throughout the world, especially within Israel, will work toward a political solution that will finally allow Jews and Palestinians to live together in peace, with justice.

The co-authors of the original draft of the report are Virginia Tilley, a professor of political science at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, and Falk, currently a professor emeritus of international law and practice at Princeton University. He was the United Nations Human Rights Rapporteur in the Occupied Territories from 2008 until 2014. 

Guterres, the UN official who dissed the report, is new to his post. He was sworn in as the new United Nations secretary general on Monday, December 17, 2016. The 67-year-old former Portuguese prime minister most recently served as head of the UN’s refugee agency. 

Rima Khalaf served as Executive Director of ESCWA from 2010 to 2017. A citizen of Jordan, she holds a BA in Economics from the American University of Beirut and a Master’s in Economics and a PhD in System Science from Portland State University in the U.S. 

Earlier in her career, Khalaf served her own Jordanian government as

Minister of Industry and Trade (1993–1995); Minister of Planning (1995–1998); Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Planning (1999–2000).

Her resignation for conscience’s sake, came more than a decade after President Jimmy Carter published his 2006 book, PalestinePeace Not Apartheid, a study of his years of dealing with Israeli governments.

President Carter was attacked by forces which have frantically sought to hide behind a wall of unreality, a wall that protects Israel’s five-decade long dedication to its illegal oppressive occupation.

The attackers were afraid a book by President Carter with “apartheid” in the title would lead many in the public to wake up to the presence of the apartheid elephant running all over Palestine, locking up children and building more check points.

Israel relies heavily on “Fifth Column” U.S. citizens loyal to Israel, to defend a false narrative which “justifies” the establishment of Israel’s apartheid state for “security reasons”.  

That “security” rationale for apartheid is showing additional signs of crumbling, thanks in part to Israeli officials who have seen the apartheid elephant in the line of duty, up close and personal.

Among those officials is former Israeli Mossad chief Tamir Pardo, who has just warned Israelis that they clinging to an unreality.

At a conference at Israel’s Netanya Academic College, Pardo said that Israel’s occupation and its conflict with the Palestinians are “the only existential threat facing Israel”.

“Israel has chosen not to choose, hoping the conflict will resolve itself – perhaps the Arabs will disappear, maybe some cosmic miracle will happen,” Pardo told a conference at the Netanya Academic College.

“One day we will become a binational state because it will be impossible to untie the Gordian knot between the two peoples. That is not the way to decide.”

Pardo stated: “Israel has one existential threat. It is a ticking time bomb. We chose to stick our head in the sand, creating a variety of external threats”.

The American people are discovering the hard way, what it means for its president to live in a self-enclosed understanding of reality.

President Trump is a man who clings to what he thinks is true in spite of overwhelming evidence that it is not true. Like the current leaders of Israel, he surrounds himself with loyalists who support him in his views of reality.

It does seem clear, however, that when Israel and its U.S. loyalists, and Trump, and his Russian-loving pals, cling to their own narrow understanding of reality, we can hear them asking,”What elephant?”

Allison Weir, who has long seen the apartheid elephant, has debunked Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu’s flimsy new law to keep Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) supporters out of Israel by asking in good Joe McCarthy fashion, “Are you now or have you ever been in favor of BDS”?

Weir flattened Bibi by writing “a letter to the Israel government”, which she posted on  Dissident Voice.

In her letter she says: “I’m not trying to go to Israel. I want to go to Palestine.”

“I want to go to Bethlehem and Nablus, Ramallah and Hebron, Jenin and Tulkarem. I hope to return to Khan Yunis, Rafah, Gaza City, and numerous other towns and villages in the West Bank and Gaza.

In other words, I want to go to Palestine – a country recognized by 136 countries around the world. But your law, astoundingly, prevents me from visiting that country. You control entry and exit to the places I want to visit, even though they’re not part of your territory, or included in your exclusive democracy.”

Israel’s anti-BDS law is a confession that Israel’s apartheid elephant stands guard in both Palestine and Israel, protecting Israel from opinions.

Border monitors will not change the reality that Palestinians will not have freedom as long as the apartheid elephant exists.

“What elephant?” 

About wallwritings

From 1972 through 1999, James M. Wall was editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine, based in Chicago, lllinois. He was a Contributing Editor of the Century from 1999 until July, 2017. He has written this blog, wall, since it was launched April 27, 2008. If you would like to receive Wall Writings alerts when new postings are added to this site, send a note, saying, Please Add Me, to Biography: Journalism was Jim's undergraduate college major at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia. He has earned two MA degrees, one from Emory, and one from the University of Chicago, both in religion. He is an ordained United Methodist clergy person. He served for two years in the US Air Force, and three additional years in the USAF reserve. While serving on active duty with the Alaskan Command, he reached the rank of first lieutenant. He has worked as a sports writer for both the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, was editor of the United Methodist magazine, Christian Advocate for ten years, and editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine for 27 years. James M Wall died March 22, 2021 at age 92. His family appreciates all of his readers, even those who may have disagreed with his well-informed writings.
This entry was posted in Israel, Jimmy Carter, Middle East, United Nations and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Israel’s Apartheid Elephant Is Still in the Room

  1. Pauline Coffman says:

    Jim, I kept reading to see if you would find a way to use “Good night, Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are,” but it just doesn’t fit. Not the time to sleep! Rima Khalaf’s act of conscience demands that we protest the elephant in Israel’s living room. Thanks.

  2. John Kleinheksel says:

    Hi Jim,
    Thanks for shedding more light on the “elephant in the room”.
    Very enlightening indeed.
    Just read Philip Weiss’s review of HERE I AM, the Zionist anguish unmasked by Jonathan Foer (Mondoweiss, March 22).
    The hardened concrete slab poured over the root of Palestinian presence is more and more fracturing due to the vibrant cogency of the Palestinian narrative.
    You can close the Tomb, but the risen Jesus has a way of breaking out and upsetting the Status Quo. Long live Jesus and the Spirit of vulnerability, repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation.

  3. Samia Khoury says:

    This is excellent. Thank you very much for exposing the truth which they cannot cope with. No wonder it is almost impossible for them to see the elephant in the room..

  4. Jim. Bravo! Another brilliant analysis and commentary.

  5. BTW, I hope your readers download and save the ESCWA report. You have linked us to one of the few remaining sources to find it. Thanks.

  6. Robert Assaly says:

    Jim and others, please explain the criticism of being one of Trump’s “Russian-loving pals.” Why must the man’s nativist racism invite a new McCarthyite Russiophobia, “Are you now or have you ever been…”? Trump is the only one with courage to propose detente with Russia, after seeing the US-sponsored putsch in Ukraine, calling out the fake WMD war on Iraq and Hillary’s destruction of Libya.

    Last time I checked, just as at Stalingrad, Russia turned the tide of the massively destructive war on Syria (and legally so), except this time the American illegal bombing campaign didn’t make a dent until Russia showed up.

    Not just alphabetically is seems, are PERs the successors to PEPs (Progressive except Palestine).

  7. Sami Joseph says:

    Thank you for this essay which prompted me to add that Israel’s apartheid is considerably worse than South Africa’s because its abuse of Palestinian human rights is unparalleled. For example documented killing of Palestinian children, almost on a daily basis, and instances where an injured child is surrounded by dancing rabid Israeli settlers chanting die, die, die…, are not uncommon. Additionally, the list of horrific Israeli crimes in contravention of the Fourth Geneva Convention is endless.

  8. There’s a lot hitting the fan these days, both here and abroad. More than an umbrella is called for. Keep writing, Jim!

  9. Charlton Price says:

    Let’s all find ways for this Wall Writing to get used in as many academic situations and public conferences and symposia as possible.

  10. Patricia says:

    Excellent, Americans who know the truth must remove Zionists from our government, must loudly oppose support of ISRAEL.

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