Vilifying Israel is now a dangerous publicity stunt -opinion

Amnesty’s apartheid social media, merch sale and street renaming could be dismissed as just a attention-seeking campaign, only it speaks to a broader effort to mainstream the vilification of Israel.

 COPIES OF Amnesty International’s report titled ‘Israel’s apartheid against Palestinians’ are placed on display at a press conference at a hotel in east Jerusalem, earlier this year (photo credit: REUTERS)
COPIES OF Amnesty International’s report titled ‘Israel’s apartheid against Palestinians’ are placed on display at a press conference at a hotel in east Jerusalem, earlier this year
(photo credit: REUTERS)

If you visit Amnesty International’s website, you might expect to find lots of reports and information about human rights issues around the world, including analysis about the war in Ukraine, the situation of the Uighurs in China and how Syrians are faring amid civil war.

What you might not expect, though, are Amnesty-branded T-shirts that falsely and maliciously label Israel as an apartheid state. Yet that is exactly what you can expect in the coming weeks from Amnesty’s UK branch, whose campaigns manager recently tweeted about the sale of new T-shirts and merch “to support the #EndIsraeliApartheid global campaign.”

This gimmick from Amnesty should perhaps not come as a complete surprise. Since February, the once-venerated human rights organization has engaged in a targeted campaign to demonize and delegitimize Israel’s existence as a Jewish state. 

Its report on “Israel’s apartheid against Palestinians” argued that Israel’s very creation was illegitimate, immoral and irreversibly flawed, and that the so-called apartheid crimes of the Jewish state go back to the sin of its creation in 1948.

Amnesty’s report employed false and incendiary language to attack Israel – including labeling it an apartheid state and accusing it of ethnic cleansing and of committing war crimes – and called for a right of return of all Palestinian refugees, which would mean in effect, the end of Israel’s existence as a Jewish state.

PR stunt

That report was then followed with a PR stunt involving Amnesty UK “renaming” the London street housing the Israeli Embassy, “Apartheid Avenue” with the tagline “No Palestinians Allowed.”

And just last week, timed to US President Joe Biden’s visit to Israel, Amnesty tweeted “Apartheid is deprivation. Apartheid is segregation. Apartheid is fragmentation. Apartheid is dispossession. Israel’s apartheid over Palestinians is a crime against humanity.”

Amnesty’s apartheid merch sale, street renaming and social media posts could easily be dismissed as just a silly attention-seeking campaign if it didn’t speak to a broader, concerted effort by anti-Israel NGOs and activists to mainstream the vilification of Israel, through normalizing labels like apartheid, ethnic cleansing, genocide and others.

Campaign spread

This campaign is spreading across the US, penetrating into university settings like the City University of New York (CUNY), where a group of students and staff signed a pledge to establish programs to “unlearn Zionism,” while claiming that Israel is “settler-colonial regime” that practices “ethnic cleansing” and “genocide” against Palestinians, and “funds Nazi militia groups.”

It has infiltrated some of the largest Christian denominational groups in the US, including the Presbyterian Church (PCUSA), whose General Assembly passed a resolution labeling Israel an apartheid state and comparing Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians to the Holocaust. 

And it has found its way into Congress where a small, but vocal, group of Democrats repeatedly vilifies Israel, including referring to it as an apartheid state.

Thankfully though, there are important figures standing up to these anti-Israel voices – most notably Biden, who unequivocally stated “I think they are wrong. I think they are making a mistake. Israel is a democracy. Israel is our ally. Israel is a friend... and I make no apologies.”

The plain truth is that these anti-Israel vilification campaigns are, of course, disconnected from the reality that is playing out in Israel. Israel is far from perfect. Its government and society have their fair share of challenges, including issues of discrimination, much like those that exist in the US and other democracies across the world. But the fact remains that Israel is simply not an apartheid state.

An obvious counter to the apartheid charge was the amazingly diverse Israeli coalition government that, despite its recent collapse, outlasted every pundit’s projected time-frame. It was made up of Jews, Muslims, Arabs and Druze, and included peacenik and pro-settlement political parties and everything in between – Israelis of all stripes.

Imagine Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand sitting in the same government as Rep. Marco Rubio and Sen. Lindsey Graham. That is the equivalent of what happened in Israel.

No matter. So far as Amnesty, the CUNY group, PCUSA and their fellow apartheid-travelers are concerned, Israel is uniquely evil. Which begs the question – what is the true goal of those applying apartheid and other demonizing labels? Is it rooted in seeking common ground, finding compromise and working toward peace? Or do they have a more nefarious end-goal in mind, one that envisions a Middle East devoid of a Jewish state?

I can’t speak to what is in their hearts and can only infer from their actions. Sadly though, it seems that their websites, pledges, resolutions, tweets and statements all point to the latter. 

And at ADL, we have a term for that: antisemitism.

The writer is director of Israel Affairs at the ADL (Anti-Defamation League).