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March 16, 2022 1:01 pm
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US Jewish Lawmakers Press Amnesty International for Answers Over ‘Denial of Israel’s Right to Exist as Jewish State’

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avatar by Benjamin Kerstein

Amnesty International’s Secretary General Agnes Callamard, Middle East and North Africa Research and Advocacy Director Philip Luther and activist Orly Noy attend a press conference to announce the Amnesty International’s 211-page report named “Israel’s Apartheid Against Palestinians: Cruel System of Domination and Crime Against Humanity” at the St George Hotel, in eastern Jerusalem, February 1, 2022. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

A group of ten Jewish members of the US House of Representatives sent an open letter on Wednesday to the secretary-general of Amnesty International, denouncing comments by the head of the NGO’s US branch that rejected Israel’s right to exist, which the lawmakers described as symptomatic of Amnesty’s hostile attitude toward Israel.

“Amnesty International cannot credibly advance human rights around the globe while simultaneously denying the only Jewish state their right to self-determination,” the letter said.

Amnesty International USA’s Executive Director Paul O’Brien said at an event last Wednesday that the group was opposed to the idea that “Israel should be preserved as a state for the Jewish people,” as reported by Jewish Insider. Despite survey results to the contrary, O’Brien argued, he felt most American Jews merely wanted Israel to serve as a “sanctuary” for Jewish people, not a Jewish state.

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

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Wednesday’s letter, spearheaded by Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) and addressed to Amnesty’s Secretary General Agnès Callamard, was signed by Reps. Brad Schneider (D-IL), Kathy Manning (D-NC), Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ), Elaine Luria (D-VA), Kim Schrier (D-WA), Jake Auchincloss (D-MA), Brad Sherman (D-CA), Mike Levin (D-CA), Lois Frankel (D-FL), and Dean Phillips (D-MN).

The lawmakers said they were “deeply disturbed” by O’Brien’s rejection of Israel as a Jewish state, and noted that the full transcript of O’Brien’s comments revealed “even more troubling details.”

“Across centuries, others have denied the Jewish people agency and believed they knew what is best for the Jewish people,” the signatories wrote. “For two thousand years, Jews around the world suffered under arbitrary rulers — monarchs, czars, potentates, and dictators. Indeed, this week, Jews celebrate Purim which details the defeat of Haman who attempted to destroy them as a people over 2,500 years ago.”

“It was not until 1948 with the establishment of the one and only Jewish state of Israel that the Jewish people again could control their own destiny,” they noted — arguing that O’Brien’s statement and Amnesty’s recent “apartheid” report are “part of Amnesty International’s continued dangerous degree of bias and denial of Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state.”

“Amnesty International could work to strengthen Israel’s democracy for all Israeli citizens, Jewish and Arab, while also promoting self-determination for both people and progress towards a viable two-state solution,” the letter stated. “Sadly, Amnesty International’s recent report accusing Israel of apartheid and questioning the legitimacy of the state’s founding, and Mr. O’Brien’s more recent comments, only serve to reinforce entrenched positions.”

The signatories called on Amnesty to “clarify its position” in order to determine “whether or not it accepts Israel as a democratic, Jewish state.”

“Mr. O’Brien’s comments, if not denounced, lay bare the real purpose of Amnesty International’s report on Israel,” the members of Congress asserted. “It is not an attempt to give a fair analysis of Israel and its policies, nor an effort to support the aspirations of both the Arab and Jewish people. Rather, it is a tacit attempt to delegitimize and ultimately destroy Israel as the only Jewish state in the world.”

The Wednesday letter came after a previous statement made by all 25 Democratic Jewish House members that denounced O’Brien — saying he had  “added his name to the list of those who, across centuries, have tried to deny and usurp the Jewish people’s independent agency,” which they condemned as antisemitism.

Following earlier criticism, O’Brien claimed on Twitter that the event had been “misreported,” and said he had in fact told the outlet, “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 at the event, which included O’Brien’s comments as reported. The Amnesty official in fact made both the statement rejecting Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state and the more equivocal statement that he presented in his tweet.

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