Amnesty International has released the latest report in a co-ordinated non-government organisation campaign to associate Israel with apartheid.
Following a process set down by Human Rights Watch, the report redefines apartheid to little resemble the crimes in South Africa and disfigures Jewish-Israelis into a familiar stereotype of greed, cruelty and bloodlust.
Apartheid is a system of legal segregation under which one ethnic group subjugates another, treating citizens of the same state differently based on their ethnicity. Exclusion from schools, professions and public office, segregated toilets and restaurants, and voting prohibition are the manifestations of this crime. Speak to any South African expatriate and they will regale you with the full indignity and inhumanity of the system that once gripped that country.
Stand on a street corner in Israel and make up your own mind. Observe the campuses in Haifa, where my family lives, and see Arab-Israeli students in hijabs socialising and studying alongside Jewish-Israeli peers. Forty-one per cent of Haifa University’s students are Arab-Israelis.
In a Harvard University poll, 77 per cent of Arab citizens said they preferred to live in Israel than in any other country. Israel has more than 400 mosques across the country. Ask Amnesty International how many synagogues remain in the Arab world.
Arab citizens of Israel have little interest in Amnesty’s vainglorious, deceitful pronouncements on Israel. They have productive lives to lead in every echelon of society, right up to the Islamist party that sits in Israel’s governing coalition. Amnesty knows all this. Why, then, does it invest enormous resources into publishing dangerous lies?
The answer is in the world view that guides its decision-making, its appointment of key researchers and its choice of targets.
In 2009, Robert Bernstein, who founded Human Rights Watch, published a piece in The New York Times that captured what was happening in the human rights community that Bernstein once ably led.
“We sought to draw a sharp line between the democratic and non-democratic worlds, in an effort to create clarity in human rights,” he wrote. “Now the organisation casts aside its important distinction between open and closed societies.”
Bernstein saw the focus was shifting to democratic states, soft targets such as Israel, while autocratic regimes were seen to fit with an anti-Western paradigm. His own organisation had “lost critical perspective on the conflict” to the point that “Israel, the repeated victim of aggression, faces the brunt of its criticism”.
Amnesty has played an outsized role in the decay of the human rights sector, representing all of the distorted morality Bernstein warned about. The head of Amnesty’s gender unit, Gita Sahgal, was forced out after she criticised Amnesty’s partnership with controversial British group Cage, whose director of outreach said the Taliban “should be given the right to celebrate” its conquest of Afghanistan and its director of research called the notorious Islamic State executioner known as Jihadi John a “beautiful young man” who “wouldn’t hurt a fly”. Why the head of Amnesty’s gender unit might feel uncomfortable over her organisation’s close ties with Taliban and Islamic State enthusiasts is painfully clear.
Sahgal spoke of an “atmosphere of terror” inside Amnesty in which debate was suppressed and staff were forced to accept the prevailing dogmas.
In 2015 Amnesty UK voted down a motion to campaign against antisemitism amid deadly acts against Jews in Europe. It claimed it did not “support campaigns with a single focus”, dubious indeed given its anti-Islamophobia campaigns and obsessive pursuit of Israel.
But it is the incestuous relationships and conflicts of interests running through Amnesty’s work that constitutes its greatest failing. The researchers Amnesty hires to write its reports rotate through anti-Western media outlets and activist groups before winding up at Amnesty writing reports against the people they protested against.
Amnesty hired Deborah Hyams as its Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories researcher despite Hyams acting as a human shield against Israeli soldiers. Another hire, Saleh Hijazi, previously worked for the Palestinian Authority and was the listed contact for a local NGO whose slogan is “We are Intifada!”. Amnesty researcher Hind Khoudary publicly declared she wanted Israel gone. Any of these associations should have disqualified these individuals from ever touching anything concerning Israel. Instead, Amnesty prizes them as assets.
These failings evade the attention of journalists who broadcast Amnesty reports as matters of fact, never probing their authors or the method and motives behind their predetermined, ideologically driven conclusions.
The apartheid slur notoriously was used by American activist Al Sharpton against the Jewish community in a speech credited with inciting the Crown Heights riots in Brooklyn in 1991. Three days of deadly rioting ensued. The Jewish people know what it means to be slandered; we understand the power of words to encourage despicable deeds. This is why Amnesty’s grave insult cannot be taken lightly.
Alex Ryvchin is co-chief executive of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry.