More than 190 years ago, President Andrew Jackson won congressional approval of the Indian Removal Act which invalidated Indigenous peoples’ titles to their lands in the Southeast. The government forcibly expelled up to 100,000 members of the Cherokee, Muscogee (Creek), Seminole, Chickasaw and Choctaw tribes living between Michigan, Louisiana and Florida from their ancestral lands. Some 3,500 died on what became known as the Trail of Tears.

Some tribes are still seeking justice, including the Onondaga Nation. The U.S. government and courts have rejected their claim of sovereignty over their original 4,000-square-mile territory in what is now New York, instead of the 7,500 acres to which they were confined in 1788 after 3,125 square miles was sold without tribal agreement. The Onondaga have taken their case to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, an Organization of American States agency.

The Indigenous peoples had no international support in their struggle to hold on to their lands because such support did not exist and anyhow the major nations at the time were themselves busy invading, raping, plundering and colonizing other countries following their “discovery” by Christopher Columbus. In 1493, the Italian explorer wrote in a letter, “I sailed to the Indies with the fleet that the illustrious [Spanish] King and Queen, our sovereigns, gave me, where I discovered a great many islands, inhabited by numberless people. Of all, I have taken possession for their Highnesses.” Columbus had set sail for India in the east but ended up in the west, which is why the Indigenous peoples are called “Indians” and are so deemed by the 1924 Indian Citizenship Act which granted then full U.S. citizenship rights.

More than 100 years later and 6,617 miles away, history was repeating itself. The big powers, especially Britain, and the Lague of Nations – predecessor of the United Nations – colluded to create the state of Israel in 1948 as homeland for Jews. And, just as the United States itself was created in a country belonging to others, so, too, was Israel established in territory belonging to others: Palestine. About 700,000 Palestinians, or 85 percent of the population, fled or were expelled in their version of the Trail of Tears that they call the Nakba or the “Catastrophe.”

Israel quickly found itself fighting for survival against hostile neighboring Arab states. But Israel has had allies, notably the United States, which, between 1949 and 2021, provided it with $114.4 billion in military aid, $34 billion in economic assistance and $9.9 billion in missile defense, totaling 159 billion, according to the Congressional Research Service. James Bamford reports in his book “Spyfail” that Israeli agents smuggled out U.S. technology that resulted in the country’s becoming an undeclared nuclear power.

Israel is now the world’s 18th top military power, as ranked by Global Firepower index website, and has become the equivalent of the United States, with Palestinians the equivalent of the Indigenous peoples. Just as the United States defeated the native tribes, so too Israel has defeated its enemies at least eight times, neighboring Arab, mostly Muslim, nations outraged that a Jewish state was created in their midst.

For Israel, ongoing Arab enmity is indeed an existential threat so arming itself as much as possible is understandable but so, too, the enmity of its neighbors, especially over its treatment of Palestinians confined to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Some five million are forced to live in appalling conditions in the combined 2,400 square miles of those two territories. Israel’s policies towards them, including allowing the establishment of 144 settlements, so far, with about 600,000 settlers in occupied territory, has drawn severe criticism. And just as the United government protected European Americans as they seized tribal lands, so too is the Israeli government protecting settlers on Palestinian territory.

The human rights organization Amnesty International has accused Israel of “continuing oppressive and discriminatory system of governing Palestinians,” of practicing apartheid and perpetrating “apparent war crimes.” A land, air and sea blockade of the Gaza Strip “amounts to illegal collective punishment.” Israel also arbitrarily detains Palestinians, its military tortures and otherwise ill-treats them and suppresses freedom of association and expression, Amnesty International claims.

Israel also rejects the right of Palestinians displaced in the Nakba to return home and opposes the creation of a Palestinian state. No Israeli government would agree to granting Israeli citizenship to Palestinians, as the U.S. did for its Indigenous peoples, because doing so would make Jews the minority in Israel. The population comprises just over seven million Jews and two million Arabs. The combined five million population of the West Bank and Gaza, along with perhaps another million living abroad, totals eight million. That is why some critics are pushing instead for the creation of a separate Palestinian state.

Israel’s refusal to allow the Palestinians to have their own state, along with its harsh policies towards them, sparked the establishment of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement in 2005 that promotes “the simple principle that Palestinians are entitled to the same rights as the rest of humanity,” according to its website. BDS calls for boycotting Israel, divesting investments from the country and applying sanctions against it to force a change in policy.

Israel launched an international attack on BDS, especially in the United States, including accusing supporters of “antiSemitism” — prejudice against or hatred of Jews – even though BDS proponents insist that they are not attacking Jews but the policies of the Israeli government, drawing a distinction between religion and politics. Still, at least U.S. 35 states have enacted laws or issued executive orders, many with bipartisan support, to block the BDS campaign.

There can be little doubt that even 75 years after the Holocaust there is still worldwide sympathy for what the Jews endured, including the deaths of at least five million of them. But there is also disappointment that the country created for them as a sanctuary has become a state unwilling to let its experience of racial persecution inform its policies towards the Palestinians.

If there is any one person to blame, it is probably Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has led the country for some 20 years with a hardline policy towards the Palestinians, sort of Israel’s Andrew Jackson. Last December, he cobbled together the most extreme coalition in Israel’s history so he could remain in power. That government has now precipitated the country’s worst political crisis by forcing through the Knesset or parliament several bills which will scrap judicial oversight of governmental actions. Israel has no written constitution and the only check on official excesses is an existing law that empowers the Supreme Court to determine the “reasonableness” of bills passed by the Knesset. That law is the primary target of the proposed new legislation.

The move is being met with mass street protests which, The New York Times reported, three of every four Israelis oppose, citing the Israel Democracy Institute. Protesters include doctors and lawyers, “military reservists, women’s groups, students, teachers, young people, academics, anti-occupation activists, ‘religious Zionist democrats,’ high-tech workers and civil servants.”

The Times added, “If the various components of the judicial overhaul pass, Israeli democracy will be in peril. The courts will be powerless, a governmentappointed authority will be tasked with overseeing broadcast media, a parallel system will be set up for the ultra-Orthodox, who will be exempt from military conscription and whose children will receive only minimal education in core subjects such as math and science.”

That is certain to worsen the plight of the Palestinians, especially since some of the parties in the coalition have an even harder line against them than does Netanyahu, including establishment of more settlements. That is not the focus of the demonstrators, though; democracy is. They are suddenly having to deal with democracy and the experience should make them better understand the plight of the Palestinians for whom the freedoms Israelis have long enjoyed does not exist.