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By Greg Slabodkin

Douglas Turner, columnist and retired Washington Bureau chief for The News, is a veteran observer of politics whose world view often comports with my own. However, in a May 5 column, Turner attacked U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s recent “anti-Semitic” comment that “if Israel didn’t knuckle under to Islamist demands that it help create an independent Palestine, that Israel would soon become an ‘apartheid’ nation.”

Unfortunately, Turner uses the same old tactics employed by apologists for Israel’s brutal 47-year occupation of the Palestinians to stifle debate in this country, leveling the scurrilous charge of anti-Semitism against anyone who criticizes Israeli policies in the occupied territories.

Turner’s labeling of Kerry is the same kind of vitriol flung at former President Jimmy Carter for his book “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid,” which argues that Israel’s continued military occupation and colonization of Palestinian land could lead to an apartheid-like situation. When the book was published, left-leaning Israeli politicians came to Carter’s defense, arguing that his critique of Israeli policy in the occupied Palestinian territories reflects that of many of Israel’s citizens.

Earlier this month, an Israeli organization for the prevention of racism and apartheid in Israel ran an ad in Israel’s daily newspaper Haaretz, saying: “John Kerry was right! There is no other word! Without a just two-state solution, Israel will become an apartheid state.”

Human Rights Watch concludes that Israel “operates a two-tier system” in which Palestinians face systematic discrimination due to their race, ethnicity and national origin, depriving them of electricity, water, schools and access to roads, while nearby Jewish settlers enjoy all of these benefits. The State Department’s own 2013 human rights report finds that Palestinian citizens of Israel face “institutional and societal discrimination,” in addition to an extensive list of human rights abuses suffered by Palestinians under Israeli military occupation.

According to Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, Israel restricts and prohibits Palestinian travel along certain roads in the West Bank based on the principle of separation through discrimination, which “bears striking similarities to the racist apartheid regime that existed in South Africa.”

Nevertheless, Turner asserts in his column that “Kerry’s anti-Semitic description doesn’t remotely fit Israel.” Only if Americans like Carter and Kerry refuse to be silenced by false charges of hatred and bigotry can there be free and open debate on U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. And only then can this country contribute toward a just and lasting solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as an honest broker in peace negotiations between the two sides.

Greg Slabodkin, of Buffalo, is a former opposition researcher for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in Washington.