Secretary Blinken and the State Department’s Empty Promises to Jews
A year ago, in March 2021, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken wrote that the “Biden administration enthusiastically embraces the 2016 International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of antisemitism.” It is therefore perplexing that in March 2022, Secretary Blinken is seemingly disregarding this definition.
On Wednesday, the Secretary of State uncritically amplified two organizations that have recently exemplified the exact kind of antisemitism the State Department’s definition includes as contemporary examples of the scourge. Posting on Twitter, he wrote:
Spoke today with @HRW’s @KenRoth and @Amnesty’s @AgnesCallamard on human rights challenges, including in Ukraine, Russia, China, and the Middle East. Human rights are central to US foreign policy. We support the important work of human rights defenders.
First, consider the State Department’s definition. Among the list of contemporary examples of antisemitism it provides are: “Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor;” and, “Applying double standards by requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.”
Then, consider some of the recent statements and behavior of Amnesty and Human Rights Watch.
Just last week Amnesty USA’s Director Paul O’Brien told the Woman’s National Democratic Club: “It is not Amnesty’s position, in fact 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.” He would repeat this point a second time, that he thinks Israel “shouldn’t exist as a Jewish state.”
O’Brien might as well have just read off the State Department’s list of contemporary examples of antisemitism.
He isn’t alone at Amnesty. In a now infamous interview given by Amnesty Secretary General Agnes Callamard and regional director Philip Luther to the Times of Israel, Callamard made the same suggestion, only in a slightly more complex way:
If you look at the most recent adoption of the [Israeli 2018 nation-state] law that distinguishes between citizenship and nationality, I do not know how you can rule out the support for that law, and not see the inherent discrimination in it.
As CAMERA pointed out in the context of critiquing Amnesty’s “human rights course” on alleged Israeli “apartheid,” Amnesty’s deceptive and manipulative argument regarding the Nation-State Law boils down to the argument “that self-determination in the form of a nation-state is discriminatory [only] when it is for the Jewish people.”
Many states have national identity provisions in their constitutions, including numerous European democracies, which also refer separately to citizenship and nationality. Yet Amnesty only seems concerned with one instance: the Jewish instance. Regardless, such a distinction has no inherent effect on the rights of citizens of such countries, regardless of which national group they may belong to, and in Israel the protections for the collective rights of minority groups surpass international norms.
In other words, O’Brien, Callamard, and Amnesty are very clearly “denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.”
Meanwhile, Ken Roth of Human Rights Watch is notorious for employing double standards and antisemitic rhetoric toward the Jewish state. He enjoys engaging in Holocaust inversion, using antisemitic slurs to cast Judaism and Israel as “primitive,” and characterizing concern over antisemitism as a political ploy to silence criticism of Israel. His seeming love for trolling Jews over antisemitism is a pattern. For example, just last July, in a now-deleted tweet, Ken Roth victim-blamed Jews, writing, “Antisemitism is always wrong and it long preceded the creation of Israel, but…” before blaming Israel for antisemitism.
Key HRW staff have epitomized the antisemitic double standard employed by the organization. For example, while Sarah Leah Whitson was Director of HRW’s Middle East and North Africa Division, the organization was constantly attacking Israel for settlements in Judea and Samaria. Simultaneously, Whitson was an active supporter of Armenian settlements in Nagorno-Karabakh.
This pattern of behavior from these organizations and their leadership clearly runs afoul of the State Department’s own understanding of antisemitism. So why is Secretary Blinken promoting them?
It is one thing to support genuine “human rights defenders.” It is another to support bigots masquerading as “human rights supporters.” Even the United Nations learned this the hard way, when it published a report referring to a monstrous antisemite, Manal Tamimi, as a “human rights defender” — notwithstanding that her very public history of statements would make even the most seasoned antisemitism watchers’ jaws drop.
The UN — not usually known for feeling embarrassed over antisemitism — eventually took action following the justified outrage, and removed Tamimi from the report.
The ball is now in Secretary Blinken’s court. Does the US Department of State take the issue of antisemitism less seriously than even the United Nations? Is the State Department’s commitment to combating antisemitism mere lip service?
David M. Litman is a Research Analyst at the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis (CAMERA).