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By Steve Kowit

The organization Stand With Us has recently put up a billboard in Helena celebrating Israel’s diversity, a billboard that attempts to paint a happy face over the ugly reality of that nation’s ongoing human rights violations and its fear of real diversity.

But it is also meant to counter that other Helena billboard campaign that urges the United States to stop giving Israel billions of dollars each year in military aid, a campaign to which, as a Jewish American advocate of human rights, I have been proud to contribute.

Surely Israel’s most notable characteristic remains its violent intolerance of diverse cultures, ethnicities and religions, an insistence that only Jewish citizens can have full human rights in that nation. It is no secret that Jews from anywhere in the world are granted automatic citizenship rights in Israel while non-Jews are given no such rights. Is that how a genuine democracy behaves? Clearly Israel does not want a multicultural population, does not want diversity: it wants a state in which all or almost all its citizens are Jewish.

Not surprisingly, Israel privileges Jewish citizens over non-Jewish citizens in numerous other ways as well. For example, residents of Jewish towns in Israel now have the right to exclude Arab families from renting apartments or buying homes in those communities. Isn’t that precisely the sort of housing discrimination that Jews and African-Americans fought against for decades here in the U.S.? Can one name any other nation on earth that permits such blatant discrimination?

David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s founding father and first prime minister, announced as far back as 1937 that he was in favor of “compulsory transfer,” what we now call ethnic cleansing, and that Israel could only become a viable Jewish state if no more than 20 percent of its population was non-Jewish. And based on that chilling ideology pre-state Israel confiscated 78 percent of the Palestinian homeland in 1948 through military aggression against a civilian population, dispossessing three-quarters of a million people from their land and forcing them to flee to refugee camps and lives of desperate poverty. The numerous massacres and acts of intimidation that forced those people to flee for their lives are by now thoroughly documented.

But 78 percent of another people’s land apparently wasn’t enough, so Israel has been illegally gobbling up the West Bank since 1967, despite the fact that the constant confiscation of Palestinian and Bedouin lands by the Israeli state is a continual violation of international law. Right now the Israeli Knesset is finalizing the Prawer-Begin bill which will force 40,000 Palestinian Bedouins off their land in the southern Naqab (Negev) and destroy about 30 villages where those people live.

Progressive Jewish organizations such as Rabbis for Human Rights and Jewish Voice for Peace have joined with other human rights organizations in supporting the UN Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing and the International Fact-Finding Mission on Israeli Settlements in condemning the compulsory transfer of Palestinians, Israel’s continual flouting of international law, and its pervasive violations of human rights. Nonetheless, Israel continues to build illegal settlements in the West Bank, and East Jerusalem continues to be “Judaized,” its Christian and Moslem inhabitants being forcibly removed and their homes given to Jewish settlers.

Few Americans know that Israeli Arab towns receive a pittance of what Jewish communities receive for schools and infrastructure, welfare and social services, or that Palestinian Israeli citizens who have married spouses living in the West Bank or Gaza are not allowed to bring their spouses to live with them in Israel. Does a country that practices such brutal forms of discrimination deserve U.S. tax dollars?

Just in the past few weeks, the European Union itself has joined the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions (BDS) movement, announcing it will no longer fund or support Israeli business enterprises operating in the illegally occupied territories, businesses that profit from the 46-year occupation of Palestinian land. And every nation in the world except Israel, including even the United States, accepts that the West Bank and Gaza are occupied lands. It’s only Israel that claims those lands are “disputed,” a term that implies that Israel, ever expansionist, wants to claim ownership of that territory too.

Surely the United States should not be complicit in these outrageous crimes and human rights violations. Which is why Jews of conscience in Israel, the United States and around the world have for the past several years actively joined forces with others who believe in cultural diversity and social justice to demand that the United States stop giving billions of American tax dollars each year to a country that is anything but the enlightened liberal democracy it pretends to be.

Steve Kowit is a writer and lives in San Diego.

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