Amnesty USA chief to lawmakers: ‘I regret’ speaking for US Jews about Israel

Paul O’Brien told a reporter that Amnesty did not believe Israel should exist as a Jewish state.

 Amnesty International holds a press conference to announce its 211-page report named "Israel's Apartheid Against Palestinians: Cruel System of Domination and Crime Against Humanity" in East Jerusalem (photo credit: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun)
Amnesty International holds a press conference to announce its 211-page report named "Israel's Apartheid Against Palestinians: Cruel System of Domination and Crime Against Humanity" in East Jerusalem
(photo credit: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun)

The director of Amnesty International’s US branch apologized to Jewish lawmakers for claiming to speak on behalf of American Jews.

“I regret representing the views of the Jewish people,” Paul O’Brien said in a March 25 letter, first reported by Jewish Insider, to all 25 Jewish Democrats in the US House of Representatives, who had joined to condemn his remarks at a Washington DC luncheon in which he rejected polling that showed the vast majority of US Jews are pro-Israel.

“What I should have said,” he added, “is that my understanding from having visited Israel often and listened to many Jewish American and Israeli human rights activists is that I share a commitment to human rights and social justice for all with Jewish Americans and Israelis.”

The Jewish Democrats, in a rare show of unity on Israel, last month rebuked O’Brien for his comments about Israel in which he said, “My gut tells me that what Jewish people in this country want is to know that there’s a sanctuary that is a safe and sustainable place that the Jews, the Jewish people can call home.”

O’Brien told a reporter at the luncheon that Amnesty did not believe Israel should exist as a Jewish state. In the letter, he clarified that Amnesty was not taking a position on Israel’s Jewish status, but was referring to its 2018 Nation-State law, which he said “explicitly denies the right of self-determination to a part of Israel’s citizenry.”

 The logo of Amnesty International is seen next to director of Mujeres En Linea Luisa Kislinger, during a news conference to announce the results of an investigation into humans rights abuses committed in Venezuela during protests against President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas, Venezuela February 20, 2 (credit: REUTERS/CARLOS JASSO) The logo of Amnesty International is seen next to director of Mujeres En Linea Luisa Kislinger, during a news conference to announce the results of an investigation into humans rights abuses committed in Venezuela during protests against President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas, Venezuela February 20, 2 (credit: REUTERS/CARLOS JASSO)

The human rights group’s international secretary-general, Agnès Callamard, wrote separately to another 11 Jewish Democrats who had raised concerns about O’Brien’s remarks, saying that Amnesty had no objections to Israel’s self-definition as a Jewish state.

“There is nothing under international law to prevent the state of Israel from identifying itself as Jewish, as long as the government does not discriminate between its citizens on the grounds of religion or race,” she said in her March 25 letter.

O’Brien’s remarks came after Amnesty in a report said it determined that Israel’s treatment of Palestinians in the West Bank amounted to apartheid.