Q: Why have there been several recent headlines about activists levelling the ‘apartheid’ slur at Israel?
A: Beginning early last year, successive reports by anti-Israel organizations have attacked Israel as allegedly being guilty of “apartheid.” The Israeli organization B’tselem levelled the accusation in January 2021, followed by Human Rights Watch three months later, Amnesty International in February 2022, and a UN “Special Rapporteur” in March 2022.
And yet, despite the suddenness of this sequence of reports, the organizations don’t argue that any change in the political or civil rights of Arab-Israelis or Palestinians justify their new allegations. Indeed, nothing new over the past years or even decades would have changed Israel from a “free country,” as the NGO Freedom House designates the Jewish state, to a supposed apartheid state.
What has changed over those years, rather, is that a stand-alone Arab political party has joined the government coalition for the first time; Israel has withdrawn from hostile territories, including the Gaza Strip; Israeli governments have made clear their willingness to further withdraw from virtually all of the West Bank as part of proposed peace plans with the Palestinians; Israel has survived and defended itself from waves of Palestinian violence marked by suicide bombings from the West Bank and indiscriminate rocket barrages from Gaza, both grave violations of international law; and even after such waves of violence, Israel had again offered a Palestinian state in exchange for peace.
Palestinian leaders, however, walked away from peace offers by Ehud Barak, Bill Clinton, and Ehud Olmert — with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas proclaiming that they don’t need to compromise with Israel because “in the West Bank we have a good reality … the people are living a normal life.”
That despite this, four bodies in quick sequence suddenly charge Israel with the crime of apartheid, which seems to suggest an organized campaign to delegitimize the Jewish state.
See more on the context of the current delegitimization here.
Q: But aren’t these reports written by credible defenders of human rights?
A: Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International are well-known NGOs, but their reputation was established in different eras, under different leadership.
Indeed, even the founder of Human Rights Watch sharply criticized the organization and questioned its continued credibility. In a New York Times Op-Ed, Robert Bernstein famously faulted the organization he created, announcing, “I must publicly join the group’s critics.” Bernstein charged HRW with “helping those who wish to turn Israel into a pariah state,” and pointed to its seeming obsession with Israel. Despite the atrocious human rights records of countries across the Middle East, HRW “has written far more condemnations of Israel for violations of international law than of any other country in the region,” and “has lost critical perspective” on Israel’s conflict with extremist enemies like Hamas and Hezbollah.
The bias might not come as a surprise in light of the anti-Israel radicals in senior positions at the organization, including Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa Joe Stork, Omar Shakir, and others.
Amnesty International’s anti-Israel turn in the years after it was founded, meanwhile, led to sharp rebuke and even resignations by own top officials. In 1970, Mark Beneson, Amnesty’s US chairman, publicly slammed the organization for reporting on Israel that “reveals the zeal of the prosecutor, convinced of the defendant’s guilt,” and that “omits material which would help the defense.” Gidon Gottlieb, Amnesty’s representative to the UN, resigned in 1972, citing his colleagues’ “moral obtuseness” and the organization’s “climate of tolerance from inhuman acts by ‘the underdog.’”
Since then, Amnesty International has found staffers less likely to dissent. Its Secretary General, Agnès Callamard, has falsely and absurdly claimed that Israeli leader Shimon Peres confessed to the “murder” of Yasser Arafat. She never apologized or retracted. Saleh Hijazi, Amnesty’s Deputy Regional Directory for the Middle East and North Africa, is a former Public Relations officer for the Palestinian government and for a pro-violence NGO that has used as a rallying cry “Intifada,” the name of a campaign of Palestinian violence in which hundreds of Israeli civilians were slaughtered.
Phillip Luther, Amnesty’s Research and Advocacy Director, recently showed a propensity for “conspiratorial magical thinking” in an incoherent defense of his organization.
Orly Noy was hired after her opposition to the existence of any Jewish state was already clear. And Amnesty USA’s director, Paul O’Brien, was recently slammed by American Jewish organizations, and by all 25 Democratic Jewish members of the House of Representatives, for likewise insisting the Jewish state should be wiped from the map.
B’tselem, too, has a history: Of misrepresenting armed Palestinian militants as civilians. Of staging footage. Of even relying on Holocaust deniers for research. (The group was forced to admit having employed a Holocaust denier after initially standing by the employee.)
Q: A United Nations “Special Rapporteur” has also levelled the apartheid slur. So what about the UN? Surely, they’re credible?
A: The United Nations is a complex, multi-faceted system, and does not speak with one voice. Secretaries General of the UN, for example, have criticized the UN’s so-called Human Rights Council for its anti-Israel bias.
The same UN body has likewise been slammed as biased by US officials, diplomats, and politicians from across the political spectrum. And it is that body which selects the “Special Rapporteur on the situation of Human Rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967,” now Michael Lynk, who is responsible for the most recent anti-Israel charge.
The Human Rights Council membership regularly includes significant numbers of repressive, authoritarian states that flagrantly violate of human rights. Currently, the Council includes Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Eritrea, Qatar, Cuba and Venezuela.
Lynk, the rapporteur behind the apartheid slur, was a known, strident opponent of Israel before being chosen for the role. And he was formally recommended by a Human Rights Council subgroup comprised of Albania, Brazil, Egypt, France, and Thailand — two of which are ranked “Not Free” and one of which is ranked “partially free” by the NGO Freedom House.
Lynk is hardly the first extremist Rapporteur. He was appointed to the position two years after the tenure of Richard Falk, a 9/11 “truther” who signed a petition charging that the US “deliberately allowed” the September 11 attacks to occur. Most alarmingly, and most tellingly, Falk has warmly endorsed an antisemitic book by Holocaust denier and rabid antisemite Gilad Atzmon. This is the type of person who gets selected as “Special Rapporteur on the situation of Human Rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967.”
See also UN Watch.
Q: But even extreme and partisan sources can write accurate reports.
These reports are not accurate or serious.
Foremost, they seek to bury the fundamental, relevant facts under an avalanche of grievances, some legitimate and many not. Israel is a democracy with a large Arab minority that enjoys equal rights under the law. Israel’s Arab citizens vote, including for Arab parties that are harshly critical of the state. An Arab party is currently part of the ruling government coalition. Arab parliamentarians have served as government ministers. Arab jurists serve on the Supreme Court. Arab doctors work alongside Jewish doctors in Israeli hospitals. Arab students study alongside Jews at Israel’s universities. Arab revelers sit alongside Jews in beaches and parks and restaurants.
That discrimination exists in Israel, as in any country, and that there is a conflict and territorial dispute with the Palestinians, and that the country’s Jewish majority allows it to serve a mission of being a refuge for one of the world’s most historically oppressed peoples, does not change the democratic nature of Israel’s system.
Not only is the avalanche of grievances meant to bury the fundamental fact that Israel is a free society for all its citizens. Not only does it act as a filibuster to keep contradictory information at bay. But then the rap sheet — facts, falsehoods, and all — is sent for “analysis” to radicals hired after their enthusiasm for the apartheid libel and desire for a world without Israel was clear. (HRW’s Omar Shakir, for example, already made clear about himself in college.)
These anti-Israel activists arbitrarily glue, staple, and tie together the various accusations to obscure the lack of any foundation. As international law professor Eugene Kontorovich has noted of the Human Rights Watch report, there is an absence of “any objective or measurable standard” for what practices amount to apartheid. “Rather, the methodology of the report is simply to describe what Israel is doing (or in some cases had done decades ago, or in some cases has never done) and equate it with apartheid, without a need to bother with precedent or objective measurement. HRW throws its darts and then draws the target around them.”
Importantly, the reports are also riddled with substantive errors of commission, omission, and interpretation, as made clear in the following analyses:
“Understanding B’tselem’s Apartheid Libel.” (CAMERA)
“Amnesty International’s Big Lie About Israel.” (CAMERA)
“The Apartheid Accusation Against Israel is Baseless – and Agenda-Driven.” (Eugene Kontorovich at EJIL:Talk!)
Q: Then why are they doing this? What’s the goal of this anti-Israel campaign?
A: As CAMERA has explained elsewhere, there is nothing new in these attempts to delegitimize Israel’s very existence:
If in the 1920s, Arab opposition to Jewish immigration, emancipation, and empowerment could take the form of murderous riots and chants that “Palestine is our land and the Jews are our dogs,” today’s lawfare targeting Israel’s continued survival seems mild in comparison.
But the goal of eliminating the Jewish state remains the same, as is clear from the anti-Israel reports.
The implication of Amnesty’s demand that the international community impose an arms embargo against Israel, a tiny country surrounded by enemy states and various well-armed terror organizations should be clear — as should the morality of Amnesty’s attempt to shift the military balance of the region in a way that harms Israel relative to Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran, Islamic Jihad, and other antisemitic groups.
Even more clear is the implication of Amnesty’s demand for a so-called “right of return” into Israel for the descendants of Palestinian refugees from the 1948 war. For the past seventy years, those sworn to Israel’s destruction have been clear about the purpose of this demand. “If the Arabs return to Israel, Israel will cease to exist,” an Egyptian president explained. “To put it quite clearly, the intention is the extermination of Israel,” an Egyptian foreign minister said about the demand. “To us, the refugees issue is the winning card which means the end of the Israeli state,” a Palestinian official noted more recently.
But there’s no need to extrapolate from the policy demands to their obvious end. While discussing and defending his organization’s report, Paul O’Brien, the director of Amnesty International USA, plainly argued that Israel “shouldn’t exist” as a Jewish state. Amnesty is “opposed to the idea” that Israel “should be preserved as a state for the Jewish people,” he told his audience.
(Remarkably, this same Paul O’Brien was, prior to his joining Amnesty, employed as an advisor for the “Islamic Republic” of Afghanistan, when its constitution barred non-Muslims from running for president, barred political parties from contravening the principles of Islam, and characterized “We the people of Afghanistan” as “adhering to the Holy religion of Islam.”)
Lynk, the UN Rapporteur, has likewise made clear that he wants Israel wiped off the map. “He used to think the critical date in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict was 1967, the start of the occupation,” notes a summary of comments made by Lynk several years before he was selected as Rapporteur. “Now he thinks the solution to the problem must go back to 1948,” the date of Israel’s independence.
The descent of these organizations to radical and effectively anti-Jewish politics couldn’t be clearer. They seek to undo the tiny Jewish state. They seek to eliminate only the Jewish state, though it is surrounded by the “Arab Republic of Egypt,” the “Syrian Arab Republic,” the constitutionally defined “Arab state” of Jordan, the legally defined “Arab Islamic State” of Saudi Arabia, the constitutionally defined “Arab, Islamic” Republic of Yemen, and the “Islamic Republic of Iran.”
They seek to engineer away the one country with a Jewish majority, a majority meant to ensure the country’s continued commitment to the rescue and absorption of Jews, one of history’s most oppressed peoples, who in living memory saw millennia of antisemitism culminate in the genocide of six million Jews, and whose population still today hasn’t numerically recovered to pre-Holocaust levels.