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February 7, 2022 11:45 am

From the ADL: Amnesty International’s False Cries of ‘Israeli Apartheid’ Harm Jews and Palestinians

avatar by Ken Jacobson


Illustration with the logo of Amnesty International on the vest of an observer of a demonstration in Paris, France, Paris, on Dec. 11, 2021. Photo: Xose Bouzas / Hans Lucas via Reuters Connect

In a world where criticism of the State of Israel and its policies is hardly unusual, the newly issued Amnesty International report stands out for its offensiveness and destructiveness.

Reaching even beyond problematic reports such as that of Human Rights Watch, which falsely characterized Israeli policy in the West Bank as “apartheid,” Amnesty International’s newest report went so far as to call Israel itself rotten to its core, and born in original sin.

All this is based on the proposition that a Jewish state is, by definition, illegitimate. All this nonsense ignores so much history and reality that it boggles the mind.

Israel came into being because there was recognition of the thousands of years of Jewish connection to the land of Israel, and because the murder of six million Jews in the Holocaust made clear in the most horrible way that Jews needed a home of their own. The United Nations resolution of 1947 recognized those Jewish connections and rights, and also recognized the rights of Palestinians living there as well.

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Therefore, the international community called for two states for two peoples — a decision which Israel accepted and the Palestinians and Arabs did not.

More than that, Israel, in its Declaration of Independence, recognized the complexity of a Jewish state with an Arab minority, so its language argued for both the Jewishness of the state and protection of democratic values for all its citizens. In other words, Israel’s founding, rather than born in sin, was seeking respect both for the state’s Jewish character and for its minorities.

Like all countries, Israel hasn’t always lived up to those ideals. There are many factors that go into that history, including the ambivalence of the Arab minority about living in a Jewish state — or, in some leadership cases, their unwillingness to accept its legitimacy. And the fact that for so much of its history, Israel has been at war with Arab states and that the Palestinians continue to reject Israel’s existence, complicates the situation within Israel.

None of this is an excuse for Israel not to do better for its Arab citizens, and, indeed, Israel is moving in that direction, providing large government funding for improved employment and educational opportunities for the Arab citizens of Israel.

Acknowledging some gaps in Israel’s pursuit of its ideals, however, is a far cry from demonizing those ideals themselves. To claim that Israel conducts an apartheid system toward its Arab citizens when there is no evidence to sustain that — Arabs in Israel have full rights: the right to vote, the right for representation, the right to be represented in the Knesset, the right to free speech, the right to follow their religious beliefs; Arabs serve in the Knesset, on the Supreme Court, and in absolutely every facet of public and private life — bespeaks a bias against the very idea of a Jewish state. Amnesty is basically saying that if there is a Jewish state at all, then it has to be racist.

Amnesty ignores the fact that Jewishness is not merely a religion, but a peoplehood — involving a collective history, a collective identity, a connection to a land, a language, and a narrative. In other words, a national identity not unlike those of any national people. And the responsibility of any nation, besides expressing the identity of that nation, is to protect the rights of all of its citizens, which Israel does.

In addition to its destructive distortion of history and reality, however, the Amnesty report also opens up potentially negative consequences for Jews living around the world, and the already stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

Using terms like apartheid and ethnic cleansing to describe Israel may well embolden those who seek to harm Jews to act upon their beliefs.

In May 2021, we saw how anger at Israel’s actions led directly to antisemitic attacks in the US and elsewhere. In the current environment, such an extreme portrayal of Israel could set others off. That alone is reason enough to condemn what Amnesty has done.

And one can’t help but contrast the hopes for a better region embodied in the Abraham Accords, to the old, tired attacks on the legitimacy of the Jewish state that the Amnesty report represents. One offers a better future for all parties in the region, including the Palestinians. The other offers stale and destructive accusations that hurt Israel in the realm of public image, but hurt the Palestinians far more in reinforcing their rejectionist philosophy that has contributed to so much suffering and sorrow.

Amnesty has ill-served the people of the Middle East and its own commitment to human rights.

Ken Jacobson is Deputy National Director of the ADL (Anti-Defamation League).

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