By: Jeff Mendelsohn
February 28, 2022, The Times of Israel
Israel is home to a vibrant free press, a diversity of human rights organizations, a robust judicial system, and the only thriving multi-party democratic government in the Middle East that offers all its citizens full political and civil rights. Arab citizens in Israel sit in the Knesset, either in their own parties or as part of larger parties, are judges on the Supreme Court, are diplomats in the Foreign Ministry, and serve in the Israel Defense Forces. An Arab party now forms part of the governing coalition. Arab students attend universities and colleges in growing numbers. Is it perfect? Like other multi-ethnic democracies, Israel has work to do – and its robust civil society is working to achieve greater participation and equality. But is it “apartheid”? No way.
The recent Amnesty International report falsely accuses the Jewish state of “committing the crime of apartheid” based on misleading, conclusory and false accusations. This diatribe is part of a disturbing, concerted and deliberate effort to delegitimize the very idea of Israel as a Jewish state and homeland for the Jewish people. Amnesty’s outrageous ‘apartheid’ libel is false, and another thinly veiled attempt to demonize the Jewish state and turn Israel into a pariah state.
Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle have strongly condemned and pushed back against this dangerous, purposeful misuse of the term “apartheid.” As Congressman Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), chair of the Democratic Caucus, stated, “Israel is a democracy. It is not an apartheid state. Any conclusion to the contrary is demonstrably false, dangerous and designed to isolate Israel in one of the toughest neighborhoods in the world.” Similarly, Congressman Andy Barr (R-KY), a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, remarked, “Israel is a shining light of democracy and freedom in the Middle East. Labeling Israel an ‘apartheid state’ as Amnesty International did, is a disgrace.” While a select few anti-Israel members of Congress immediately jumped at the opportunity to exploit the Amnesty’s report’s false narrative, joining the likes of Hamas and other Palestinian groups who welcomed the report, the vast majority of those in Congress on both sides of the aisle understand that the United States and Israel are both forces for good in the world.
Amnesty’s clearly biased report ignores history and completely lacks context. By referring to Israel’s founding in 1948 as “ethnic cleansing,” the report again uses an inflammatory term falsely. The events of 1948-49 have been researched and debated, but to call what happened ethnic cleansing undermines the meaning of the term, slanders the Jewish state and absolves the Palestinians and the Arab states for their role in the conflict – they turned down offers of peace and co-existence and instead chose violence and war in an attempt to snuff out the nascent Jewish state. It’s particularly odd to accuse the Jews of ethnic cleansing in a war of defense against those who announced that their goal was in fact the ethnic cleansing of Jews.
The report ignores the terrorism and rejectionism of Hamas, which the United Nations, the United States and several European countries recognize as a terrorist organization. Instead, the report talks about Hamas as the de facto government in Gaza and says it maintains security and law enforcement forces, providing a shiny veneer of legitimacy on a group that terrorizes Israelis and its own people. The report fails to credit Hamas with the thousands of rockets that have been launched from Gaza to Israel, stating instead that “Palestinian armed groups” fired rockets indiscriminately at Israel. Even more unbalanced, it describes Israel’s defense of its citizens as a “military campaign,” suggesting that it was an offensive military operation rather than a defensive response to stop Hamas and allied group attacks on Israel.
Repeatedly, the report intentionally distorts the facts and misleads readers in a nefarious effort to slander the Jewish state, while giving cover for antisemitic agendas that would eliminate Israel’s existence and embolden terrorists. But beyond the biased language and false claims, Amnesty wades into dangerous territory trying to assert that Israel’s very existence as a Jewish state makes it an “apartheid state.” It resurrects the “Zionism is racism” canard that has been so thoroughly discredited that the United Nations ultimately voted to rescind that designation. Amnesty International reintroduces this dangerous idea – one that further singles out Israel and only Israel – and denies the Jewish people the right like any other people to self-determination.
None of this is new or surprising, given Amnesty’s sympathies with far-left anti-Israel organizations that advocate for policies not grounded in reality. Just like the Human Rights Watch report released last year that also accused Israel of “committing crimes against humanity of apartheid” – authored by Omar Shakir, who was notably denied entry into Israel due to his vocal promotion of and collaboration with the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement – the Amnesty document fails to note Hamas’s stated intention to wipe Israel off the map or Israel’s need to defend itself against a constant barrage of terrorist attacks from next door. As in 1948, that’s the very definition of ethnic cleansing.
Last year Human Rights Watch’s similarly lopsided report became so egregious that the organization’s founder Robert Bernstein forcefully criticized the HRW’s activities. As Bernstein wrote in a 2009 New York Times column: “I must do something that I never anticipated: I must publicly join the group’s [HRW] critics…Human Rights Watch has lost critical perspective on a conflict in which Israel has been repeatedly attacked by Hamas and Hezbollah, organizations that go after Israeli citizens and use their own people as human shields.”
Similarly, the head of Amnesty International Israel, Molly Malekar, acknowledged that the Amnesty report lacks nuance, ignores the positive efforts and progress on the ground, and undermines humanitarian and peace efforts. She also highlighted how the report paints Arab Israelis as “perpetual, passive victims of apartheid…[turning] them into victims, into an object. This is neither true nor helpful.” She noted, and no one denies, that while Arab Israelis face de facto discrimination, they are making progress to close the gaps: “they have rights, some in key positions; they’re campaigning and influencing…”
One only has to look at what is actually happening on the ground in Israel to swiftly counter all the false narratives presented in Amnesty & HRW’s reports. Israel’s new unity government formed last summer includes an Islamist party sitting at the coalition table. And the leader of that party, Mansour Abbas, publicly agreed that he would “not use the term apartheid” to label the Jewish state. Arabs regularly hold seats in the Knesset. And Amnesty report’s release in early February coincided with the first ever trip by an Israeli head of state to the United Arab Emirates – another significant step that Israel and Arab states are taking to forge peace and prosperity for all in the Middle East.
Most Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza live under Palestinian rule. The fact that one government, Hamas, is a terror organization, and that the other, the Palestinian Authority has been vilified for its corruption and support for terrorists, is nowhere mentioned in the report. Palestinians deserve better, but it is brutally unfair to cast all the blame on Israel. Palestinians have repeatedly rejected proposed two-state solutions through diplomacy and instead, have continued to prefer using violence and terrorism as political tools. Israel is constantly under attack from terrorists who routinely use both Israeli and Palestinian women, children, and other innocent civilians as targets and shields. An arms embargo on Israel – as the report recommends – would cripple Israel’s ability to defend itself and only embolden the hostile terrorists who seek to end the Jewish state and replace Israel’s vibrant democracy with yet another Arab state.
Israel must be able to defend itself, by itself, and efforts to undermine Israel’s ability to do so seek to weaken and ultimately threaten Israel’s existence. The recent surge in global antisemitism reminds us that the need for a Jewish homeland is more important than ever. Dedicated to democracy and its own survival, Israel has built an incredible beacon of democracy, humanitarianism, and stability in a region where those qualities are often not found.