Amnesty International’s New Take on Israel

Lily M., editor-in-chief

On Feb. 5, the human rights group Amnesty International released a 280-page report accusing the state of Israel of apartheid. The report drew both ire and praise from commentators in publications ranging from Al Jazeera to the Wall Street Journal, with many emphasizing Amnesty’s use of the term ‘apartheid’. The history of the word, most notoriously used in reference to South Africa in the 1990s, has generated significant debate over Amnesty’s decision to use it within the context of the Israel-Palestine conflict.

The main focus of the report is the treatment of Palestinians, both within the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) and Israel. Amnesty has argued that the Israeli state has crafted a system that ensures the systemic oppression of all Palestinians and that this system has been incorporated into key institutions within Israel. As evidence of the crime of apartheid, the report emphasizes the frequent displacement of Palestinians, arbitrary arrests, and the violent reaction of the IDF to peaceful Palestinian protesters. Apartheid is considered a crime against humanity and is thus illegal under international human rights law, as specified in the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

Critics say that the report focuses unfairly on human rights violations on the part of Israel, ignoring similar violations by the Palestinian Authority and the militant group Hamas, which has been known to fire rockets randomly into Israeli settlements and has a history of repression of its own people. Amnesty International has previously reported on and condemned such actions but notes that these are “not the subject of this report”.

Some have also accused Amnesty of endorsing regime change. Prior to the release of the report, Israel called on Amnesty not to release it, with the Foreign Ministry publicly saying that the work “denies the state of Israel’s right to exist” and that it “consolidates… lies… that originate from well-known anti-Israel hate organizations”. As a nonprofit organization, Amnesty is legally obligated to remain apolitical and cannot argue for or against the existence of the state of Israel. The group says it recognizes the right to self-determination of both the Jewish and Palestinian people and argues that it is merely calling on Israel to conform with international law.

The decision to accuse Israel of the crime of apartheid has sparked international outrage. Within the Amnesty International organization, the chief of the Israel branch has criticized the choice, telling the site Zman Yisrael that the report paints Arab citizens of Israel as “perpetual, passive victims” and that the use of the term itself was a “punch to the gut”. Many criticisms of the report conflate it with antisemitism and some, including Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, have questioned the timing of the report’s release given the recent rise in antisemitic attacks.

Amnesty International has fought back against the accusations, saying that “antisemitism is… a crisis we must work to end” and that condemnation of the state of Israel is not condemnation of the Jewish people. The organization also noted that it has not used the term ‘apartheid’ exclusively in reference to Israel; it also accused the government of Myanmar of the same crime in 2017 after repeated violent persecution of the Rohingya people.

Amnesty International is not the first human rights organization to accuse Israel of apartheid. In April of 2021, Human Rights Watch issued a similar report detailing numerous human rights abuses. Israeli human rights groups B’Tselem and Yesh Din have come to the same conclusion independently.

The report includes several recommendations to both the Israeli and U.S. governments. It asks that the state of Israel dismantle “measures of discrimination, segregation and oppression currently in place against the Palestinian population” and end all official conduct that violates international law. It also recommends that the U.S., one of Israel’s most ardent supports, cease the provision of military aid to the state and publicly call on Israel to end its alleged system of apartheid. Israel, along with Palestine, is already under investigation for possible war crimes by the International Criminal Court but has publicly refused to cooperate with the investigation.

Photo: Amnesty International USA.

Note: GWUOHS has its own Amnesty International club! If you’re interested in hearing more about this report and this issue, feel free to check out one our upcoming meetings if you see it on your Class Connect schedule. We are looking forward to holding an open conversation about this report and its implications and want to to hear from anyone who interested! Reach out to our sponsors Mr. Mendler and Mrs. Wyatt with any questions about our meetings.

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