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All 25 Jewish Congressional Democrats Decry Amnesty Director’s ‘Disturbing’ Remarks That Israel ‘Shouldn’t Exist as Jewish State’

avatar by Benjamin Kerstein

Amnesty International sign. Photo: Boso Tasche / Flickr

All 25 Democratic Jewish members of the US House of Representatives condemned the head of Amnesty International’s US branch on Monday, for arguing at an event last week that Israel “shouldn’t exist as a Jewish state.”

Amnesty International USA’s Executive Director Paul O’Brien said at an event last Wednesday that, contrary to survey results, American Jews want Israel to be merely a “sanctuary” for Jews, rather than a Jewish state.

“We are opposed to the idea — and this, I think, is an existential part of the debate — that Israel should be preserved as a state for the Jewish people,” O’Brien said, in remarks at a Women’s National Democratic Club event first reported by Jewish Insider.

The comments rekindled criticism of Amnesty International, which in a February report accused Israel of “apartheid” and practicing an “explicit policy of establishing and maintaining a Jewish demographic hegemony” since its founding in 1948.

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In the congressional letter sent Monday — which included leading House members like Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Adam Schiff (D-CA), and Ted Deutch (D-FL) — the Jewish Democrats decried the NGO official’s “disturbing” comments.

“On the heels of a recent Amnesty International report that a number of Members condemned as delegitimizing of the Jewish people’s right to self-determination and undermining of the prospects for a two-state solution, Amnesty International USA’s Executive Director Paul O’Brien has now taken a new, very disturbing step: purporting to speak for the entire Jewish community on Israel.”

“He claimed his ‘gut’ tells him ‘what Jewish people in this country want’ is that Israel ‘shouldn’t exist as a Jewish state.’”

“As Jewish Members of the House of Representatives, we represent diverse views on a number of issues relating to Israel,” the letter said. “However, we are in full agreement that Mr. O’Brien’s patronizing attempt to speak on behalf of the American Jewish community is alarming and deeply offensive.”

“He has added his name to the list of those who, across centuries, have tried to deny and usurp the Jewish people’s independent agency,” it continued. “We stand united in condemning this and any antisemitic attempt to deny the Jewish people control of their own destiny.”

O’Brien’s comments last week drew a outrage from Jewish leaders, Israeli officials and US lawmakers, who saw them as further evidence that Amnesty’s work on Israel has sought to reject the very notion of a Jewish state.

Dismissing a survey showing that most Jewish Americans identify as pro-Israel, O’Brien contended that US Jews “can be convinced over time that the key to sustainability is to adhere to what I see as core Jewish values, which are to be principled and fair and just in creating that space,” Jewish Insider reported.

Israel “shouldn’t exist as a Jewish state,” he said, even as he maintained that Amnesty “takes no political views on any question, including the right of the State of Israel to survive.”

Following criticism, O’Brien claimed on Twitter that the event had been “misreported,” and characterized his position as, “No I don’t believe that Israel should be preserved as a state in which one race is legally entitled to oppress another’ but yes I understand that the Jewish people have a legitimate concern about their existence being threatened and that needs to be part of the conversation.”

“I made clear repeatedly in the meeting that Amnesty supports the right of the Jewish people, and Palestinian people to self-determination,” he claimed.

Jewish Insider later published a transcript of O’Brien’s remarks last week, including those previously reported.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated

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