A report by Amnesty International accusing the Israeli government of practicing the international crime of “apartheid” in its treatment of Palestinians drew fierce criticism even before its publication Tuesday.
The more than 200-page report by the London-based NGO concludes that Israel has “perpetrated the international wrong of apartheid, as a human rights violation and a violation of public international law,” regarding the treatment of Palestinians both within Israel and Palestinian territories.
“There is no possible justification for a system built around the institutionalized and prolonged racist oppression of millions of people,” said Agnès Callamard, secretary-general of Amnesty International, in a statement.
Sacha Deshmukh, CEO of Amnesty International UK, called on London to rethink its foreign policy regarding Israel, citing the report’s findings.
“For too long the UK has tried to sit on the fence when it comes to Israel’s shameful human rights record – effectively turning a blind eye to the systematic discrimination against Palestinians amounting to a system of apartheid,” Deshmukh said, adding that British ministers ought to use the country’s “close diplomatic ties with Israel to hold it to account for its crushing system of apartheid.”
The report received condemnation even before its release from Jewish organizations and Israeli officials, who called on Amnesty not to publish it. Amnesty International “is just another radical organization that echoes propaganda with no serious examination,” Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said Monday. “Instead of seeking facts, Amnesty quotes lies spread by terrorist organizations.”
Lapid also alleged that the report was likely motivated by anti-Semitism. “I hate to use the argument that if Israel were not a Jewish state, nobody in Amnesty would dare argue against it, but in this case, there is no other possibility,” he said.
Similar reports accusing Israel of the international crime of apartheid by Israeli human rights group B’Tselem and the New York-based Human Rights Watch have also drawn backlash over the past year.
Amnesty International’s own German branch posted a press release on the findings of the report, but also added a disclaimer stating that due to the history of the Holocaust and rising anti-Semitic attacks in Germany, “the German Amnesty section will not plan or carry out any activities ”based on the report,“ in order to counteract the risk of the report being instrumentalized or misinterpreted. ”
Fierce criticism of the report also came from overseas.
“The gist of the report is the outrageous accusation that Israel, the lone democracy in the Middle East, practices apartheid,” said David Harris, CEO of the American Jewish Committee, on Sunday, well before the publication of the report. “This has to be rejected unequivocally.”
Harris also pushed back against comparisons to the system of institutionalized racial segregation in South Africa from 1948 to 1994, arguing that Arab Israelis are well represented across various sectors in Israel and in the country’s political system: In June, the United Arab List became part of the Israeli government.
“The fragile governing coalition that runs [Israel] is entirely dependent on an Arab political party, ”Harris said, adding that like all countries, Israel has social shortcomings. “But to equate those shortcomings with the system of apartheid in South Africa is nothing short of a canard.”
Israeli Foreign Minister Lapid also pointed to other countries that he argued Amnesty should scrutinize instead of Israel.
“Amnesty does not call Syria an ‘apartheid state’ – a country whose government murdered half a million of its own citizens – nor Iran or any other corrupt and murderous regime in Africa or Latin America,” he said.