I’m not a racist, you’re a racist !

Definitely not apartheid (Wisam Hashlamoun - APA Images)

Omar Karmi

The Electronic Intifada  /  February 11, 2022

Israel’s preemptive strike against Amnesty International last week seemed revealing.

Even before the report that would accuse Israel of practicing the crime of apartheid against the Palestinian people had been released, Israeli officialdom accused Amnesty of anti-Semitism.

And since the report’s release last week, those accusations, in Israel, or from Israel’s supporters around the world, have only grown more febrile.

Amnesty has been labeled a “hate group” whose report is “blatantly irresponsible” and a “preposterous slur” that “denies Israel’s right to exist.”

Of course, the charge of anti-Semitism was the most common.

It has, after all, proven so effective in the past. Just ask the Anti-Defamation League, though, to be fair, this time the ADL contented itself with accusing Amnesty International merely of being out to “demonize Israel.”

The Israeli government is now proposing to revoke tax exempt status from Amnesty’s Israel office as a punitive measure.

In the UK, where Amnesty is based, some politicians have also called for a review of Amnesty’s charitable status, including Conservative parliamentarian Michael Fabricant, who has form.

Quite some fall for Amnesty then, which was founded 61 years ago on a pledge that “only when … the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a reality for the world’s people, will our work be done.”

Or is it?

Ad hominem

While critics were rather creative in slandering Amnesty, what they did less well was engage with the substance of the report.

In fact, substance was entirely avoided in these histrionic reactions, which amounted to an “I’m not a racist, you’re a racist!” playground debate style.

The ADL were aghast that Amnesty in its report traced Israel’s crimes “to the sin of its creation in 1948,” calling the report as a whole “a hateful characterization” that “creates fertile ground for a hostile and at times antisemitic [sic] discourse.”

What they didn’t do is spell out how else one would characterize the premeditated expulsion of more than two-thirds of the Palestinian people from their homes and land, and the subsequent establishment of a legal framework to prevent their return starting with the 1950 Absentees’ Property Law.

The right of return, after all, is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The only way you can oppose it – as the ADL indeed does: “we reject altogether the report’s call for a right of return of all Palestinian refugees” – is if you think that Palestinians somehow have less rights than others or you oppose the universal declaration.

As for the Israeli government, engaging with the nitty-gritty is clearly entirely beneath it.

Rather than any detailed rebuttal, the foreign ministry simply asserted that Amnesty’s report “consolidates and recycles lies, inconsistencies and unfounded assertions that originate from well-known anti-Israeli hate organizations, all with the aim of reselling damaged goods in new packaging.”

What are these lies? Inconsistencies? Damaged goods? Apparently there is no need to point them out.

I’m not a racist, you’re a racist.

Instead, the Israeli government assures that: “The State of Israel is a strong and vibrant democracy that grants all its citizens equal rights, regardless of religious [sic] or race.”

Equal rights … unless it comes to whom you can marry. Or how you commemorate the past. Or whether your town has room for growth.

Or indeed, if you want to “exercise the right to self-determination.” Then you have to be Jewish.

That’s not to mention how Israel treats the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, who all ultimately live under Israeli military rule, unlike Jewish settlers in occupied territory, who live under Israeli civil law.

Different laws for different peoples? Hmm. What does that remind us of?

Progress ?

Indeed, when defenders of Israel are pushed, any pretense that Israel upholds any sort of equally applied democratic values often slips.

Thus, when David “from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea” Friedman, former US ambassador to Israel, was asked point blank whether or not Palestinians and Jews in the West Bank should have equal rights, there was no attempt to pretend that they had such equality at present.

Rather, equality was “aspirational.”

Thank you, Louie. Nice to know you believe “all people are created equal,” etc., and so on.

But is this faux moral outrage a sign of progress toward better global understanding of what is going on?

Was Israel’s early and angry reaction a sign of fear that the scales are finally falling from eyes everywhere?

Or a sign of hubris, perhaps, that Israel feels it doesn’t even need to answer its critics anymore, it only needs to counter with accusations of anti-Semitism: I’m not a racist, you’re a racist.

Perhaps simply complacency, from a country that feels it does not need to fear criticism.

After all, in the deeply divided US Congress, leaping to the defense of Israel is the one thing that unites all sides.

The UK, meanwhile, generally lost at sea, has been busy putting the finishing touches on a free trade agreement with Israel.

As long as western politicians in particular continue to protect Israel, Israel will continue behaving the way it does. Why wouldn’t it?

That said, with growing consensus in the human rights community across the world, Israel’s arguments are ringing increasingly and transparently thin and shrill.

That will have an effect. An inflexion point has not quite been reached yet. But when it is, things may happen fast.

Until then…

Omar Karmi is an independent journalist and former Jerusalem and Washington, DC, correspondent for The National newspaper