U.S. lawmakers attack Amnesty International’s report on Israeli apartheid

Michael Arria

Mondoweiss /  February 2, 2022

Politicians from both sides of the aisle are condemning Amnesty International’s recent report on Israeli apartheid.

The Biden administration, and congress members from both sides of the aisle, are condemning Amnesty International’s new report on Israel’s human rights abuses against Palestinians.

On Tuesday the human rights group published Israel’s Apartheid Against Palestinians: Cruel System of Domination and Crime Against Humanity. The 280-page report documents examples of unlawful killings, property theft, forcible transfer, and the denial of movement for Palestinians.

“Apartheid touches on the most intimate moments of a Palestinian’s life. It separates families and destroys homes. For decades, Palestinians, from Gaza to Hebron, from East Jerusalem to the Negev/Naqab, have been stripped of their rights,” said Executive Director of Amnesty International USA Paul O’Brien in a statement. “The Israeli government’s system of apartheid violated international law, and serious human rights violations committed to maintain the system constitute crimes against humanity. This system does not exist in a vacuum – foreign governments, including that of the United States, facilitate apartheid by supplying the Israeli government with arms and failing to hold Israeli authorities accountable for their systemic human rights violations.”

 “Come on, this is absurd,” tweeted US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides. “That is not language that we have used and will not use.”

This sentiment was echoed by State Department spokesman Ned Price, who rejected the idea that Israel is an apartheid state. “The department’s own reports have never used such terminology,” Price told reporters. “We are committed to promoting respect for human rights in Israel and the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. We have an enduring partnership with Israel, and we discuss a wide range of issues with our Israeli counterparts, including those related to human rights.”

In a follow-up question, the AP’s Matt Lee asked Price why the Biden administration is so dismissive of Amnesty’s report but often cites its human rights research on countries like Syria and China.

“Why is it that – without taking a stand or making a judgment about the findings of this particular report, why is it that all criticism of Israel is – from these groups is almost always rejected by the U.S., and yet accepted, welcomed, and endorsed when it comes – when it comes out, when the criticism is of other countries, notably countries with which you have significant policy differences?,” asked Lee.

“This is about our vehement disagreement with a certain finding in a report by an outside group,” Price told Lee.

Multiple members of congress also attacked the report, although not one of them engaged with Amnesty’s findings.

Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) called the apartheid charge an “outrageous accusation.”

“I am deeply disappointed that Amnesty is adding fuel to the disproportionate attention international organizations and institutions pay towards Israel,” said Menendez, who is Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “While countries around the world commit mass atrocities, starve and barrel bomb their own citizens and threaten war against their neighbors, the obsessive attention towards Israel is truly confounding.”

“Calling Israel an apartheid state, as Amnesty has done, is a lie,” tweeted Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-NY). “The hysterical demonization of Israel will do nothing to alleviate Palestinian suffering. It will only incite hatred for the world’s largest Jewish community amid violent Antisemitism.”

Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY) called on the Biden administration to return any campaign contributions from Amnesty International and called the group a “so-called ‘human rights organization’ that routinely hurls false accusations of oppression against Israel, ignores violent attacks on Israel from its hostile neighbors and fans the flames of antisemitism around the world.”

“Since the founding of the modern State of Israel, the world’s only Jewish state has faced no shortage of attacks,” tweeted Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL). “This report is full of the same mischaracterizations, false accusations, and biased language that have been hurled at Israel and its advocates for decades.”

Rep. Haley Stevens (D-MI) put out a statement in support of Israel. “I am deeply concerned by the persistent and growing effort to demonize Israel, the world’s only Jewish state and a close American ally, on the international stage,” it reads. “Whether through the chronic bias displayed by the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) or accusations put out by groups like Amnesty International, I stand opposed to efforts to unjustifiably brand Israel as an ‘apartheid state,’ and I will always work to mitigate the threat of delegitimization against our closest friends in the Middle East.”

Rep. Shontel Brown (D-OH), who was backed by multiple pro-Israel PACs in her 2021 race against progressive Nina Turner, also criticized the report on Twitter. “Let’s be clear: Israel is not an apartheid state,” she wrote. “Any mischaracterizations otherwise attempt to delegitimize Israel, a robust democracy, and will only serve to fuel rising antisemitism. I will always advocate for a strong U.S.-Israel relationship founded on our shared values.”

A group of nine Democratic House members (led by Florida congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz) put out a joint statement rejecting the report.

“With potential tragic consequence, Amnesty’s many baseless allegations are rooted in historic prejudices and false narratives,” it reads. “This report will only further fuel antisemitism and intolerance by those seeking to undermine the only Jewish nation in the world, and those working to undermine future prospects for peace between Palestinians and Israelis…Sadly, the biased report is steeped in antisemitism and is part of Amnesty’s broad, decades-long campaign to criminalize and delegitimize the world’s only Jewish state.”

The statement was signed by Reps. Brad Schneider (IL-10), Lois Frankel (FL-21), Elaine Luria (VA-02), Kathy Manning (NC-06), Josh Gottheimer (NJ-05), Dean Phillips (MN-3), Brad Sherman (CA-30) and Jake Auchincloss (MA-04).

The vast majority of politicians commenting on the report had nothing but harsh words, but there were some notable exceptions.

Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN), who is the sponsor of House bill that would end Israel’s detention of Palestinian children, said that “Congress can no longer ignore or excuse Israel’s occupation & system of oppression.”

Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) response was succinct: “U.S. foreign aid shouldn’t go to apartheid governments, period.”

Michael Arria is the U.S. correspondent for Mondoweiss