Israel’s smears against Amnesty fail to hide apartheid

Amnesty International is just the latest rights group to describe Israel’s mistreatment of Palestinians as apartheid (Mamoun Wazwaz - Polaris)

Michael F. Brown

The Electronic Intifada  /  February 2, 2022

Mark Dubowitz, CEO of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a pro-Israel group, slammed Amnesty International’s new report on Israeli apartheid as “anti-Semitic.”

No surprise there: He was echoing the line pushed by the Israeli government and its lobby for days.

Dubowitz’s organization has worked closely with the Israeli government’s covert efforts to smear its critics around the world.

It’s worth highlighting that Dubowitz attempted to use the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s so-called definition of anti-Semitism to claim that fact-based criticism of Israeli policy equals anti-Jewish hatred.

Dubowitz tweeted on Tuesday that “Amnesty is anti-Semitic. Their slurs against the Jewish state meet the internationally recognized IHRA definition of anti-Semitism.”

He added, “Stop saying ‘Israel isn’t XXX.’ Start saying Amnesty is an organization run by anti-Semites.”

The IHRA definition, promoted by Israel and its lobby groups, conflates criticism of Israel and its state ideology Zionism, on the one hand, with anti-Jewish bigotry, on the other.

It has become one of the main tools of censorship in the handful of Western countries where it has been adopted.

Because Israel has no way to justify its crimes against Palestinians – and apartheid is one of the most serious crimes against humanity there is – smearing critics as Jew-haters is the last weapon in Israel’s propaganda arsenal.

Lara Friedman, president of the Foundation for Middle East Peace, critiqued Dubowitz’s framing.

“Amnesty’s new report is a great opportunity for opponents of criticism of Israel to illustrate that, indeed, delegitimizing factual criticism of Israel is, in fact, the real objective of the IHRA definition of antisemitism,” Friedman tweeted.

Israeli government officials led with a heavy-handed approach before Tuesday’s publication trying to get out ahead of the report. Their alarm is understandable.

Amnesty is perhaps the world’s best known human rights group. With chapters in dozens of countries, it has not merely launched a report about Israeli apartheid, but a global campaign to end it.

The group has put a lot of effort into presenting its findings in a clear and accessible way. Israel simply cannot overcome the mountain of evidence, so all it can do is attack the messenger.

Foreign minister Yair Lapid predictably called Amnesty’s report “false, biased and anti-Semitic” – a line that has been echoed by many other officials and lobby groups.

But in the end their false claims only served to further publicize Amnesty’s report and broaden the discussion about how Israel perpetrates apartheid.

US backs apartheid Israel

At the State Department’s press briefing on Tuesday, the AP’s Matt Lee called out spokesperson Ned Price for the US double standard of frequently accepting Amnesty’s positions on other human rights concerns, but rejecting the group’s analysis when it comes to Israel’s violations of Palestinian rights.

Price had earlier stated that “we reject the view that Israel’s actions constitute apartheid.”

Asked about Israeli officials terming the report anti-Semitic, Price did object, saying: “We certainly reject the label that has been attached to this.”

But in the next breath he reverted to IHRA language suggesting that criticizing Israel, which receives billions of dollars of weapons from Washington every year, could well constitute a double standard and therefore indicate bigotry.

He leaves Palestinians and equal rights for them out of the equation. Once more, anti-Palestinian racism is clear.

“We think that it is important as the world’s only Jewish state that the Jewish people must not be denied their right to self-determination, and we must ensure there isn’t a double standard being applied.”

Tom Nides, the US ambassador to Israel, didn’t try to weaponize the anti-Semitism charge. He attempted simply to dismiss the Amnesty report as if it were self-evidently ridiculous.

“Come on, this is absurd. That is not language that we have used and will not use,” he tweeted.

Nides said nothing about Amnesty becoming the third major rights group to release a report concluding that Israel commits the crime of apartheid, since the election of President Joe Biden.

Those groups and the many Palestinians who have for decades shown how Israel perpetrates apartheid are not voices the US ambassador is open to hearing.

But his colleague John Kerry, currently the US climate envoy, did raise Israeli apartheid – at least as a future possibility – back when he was US secretary of state during the Obama administration.

At the time, Philip Weiss asked, “How long are you allowed to issue dire predictions of future apartheid when there have been two sets of laws for different ethnicities under Israeli sovereignty for 47 years of the occupation (and different sets of laws inside Israel from the jump)?”

Three major reports later and US officials still refuse to grapple with the grim reality. There is no other conclusion than that anti-Palestinian racists head the Democratic – and Republican – political parties.

One month they laud Archbishop Desmond Tutu following his death and then the next they dismiss charges of Israeli apartheid as “absurd” and fail to take to heart Tutu’s own observations about Israel.

American politicians offered a variety of reactions, including one from congressional candidate Huwaida Arraf, a co-founder of the International Solidarity Movement.

Unsurprisingly, the deniers of the apartheid reality were also out in force.

And tennis superstar Martina Navratilova challenged Congresswoman Shontel Brown, a Democrat, over her denial of the apartheid reality.

Media silence

The New York Times, for its part, had simply ignored Amnesty’s report as of Wednesday – even though it has been widely discussed since Sunday.

The BBC website did carry an article about Amnesty’s report – giving Israeli foreign minister Lapid the last word to smear it.

But like The New York Times, the BBC’s flagship News at Ten program omitted mention of the Amnesty report, though it did have space for a story on Wordle – the viral internet puzzle.

Of course, APARTHEID doesn’t fit the five-letter limit on that word game. Nor does CENSOR.

The Washington Post, by contrast, ran quite a good piece.

And journalist Miriam Berger made sure to note that Palestinians have been making the case that this is apartheid for far longer than Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and Israeli human rights group B’Tselem.

“Palestinians have long used the language of apartheid to describe Israel’s system of governance since the country’s founding following the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, during which some 700,000 Palestinians fled or were expelled from their homes, and the military occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip in 1967,” Berger wrote.

Although Israel and its supporters are pushing back hard, their smears and deflections are failing to hide that Israel is an apartheid regime.

Michael F. Brown is an independent journalist