Amnesty refuses to reconsider anti-Israel activist speech

Journalist Ben White to discuss his new book ‘Palestinians in Israel: segregation, discrimination and democracy’ at London event.

LONDON – Human rights organization Amnesty International refused to heed a request from a Jewish community organization to withdraw a platform it is giving to an anti-Israel activist.
Last week the UK’s Zionist Federation wrote to Amnesty International UK director Kate Allen asking her to reconsider an event with Ben White, a journalist and anti-Israel activist who once stated that he understood why some people are anti-Semitic.
The event is a launch for White’s new book, titled Palestinians in Israel: segregation, discrimination and democracy, and will take place at Amnesty’s headquarters in north London on January 26.
On its website, Amnesty says that White will talk about his book and have a question-andanswer session. It is also providing a drinks reception and opportunity to buy signed copies of the book.
In the letter, sent on January 12, ZF chairman Harvey Rose said that while the organization supports the freedom of speech and right of people to criticize Israeli government policies, White’s whole approach towards Israel “goes beyond the bounds of acceptable behavior.”
Asking why Amnesty is giving White a platform “to propagate his abhorrent and mendacious views unchallenged,” Rose asked Amnesty to reconsider its support for the event.
“Alternatively, you could postpone it in order to put on a revised event that would enable a genuine debate to take place with a speaker who holds a different view, for example, [Jerusalem Post] journalist Khaled Abu Toameh who lives in Israel,” Rose suggests.
According to the letter, White has defended alleged anti- Semitic remarks made by the former German politician Jurgen Mullemann, who compared Israeli government action to those of the Nazi regime.
“Pity the Palestinians, who, in the name of a social-democratic experiment, had to endure massacres, death marches and ethnic cleansing,” he said in a 2007 article.
The ZF also questioned White’s “dubious sources” and motivations, saying that he is motivated not by “true concern” for the Palestinians but an issue he has with Jewish sovereignty.
“White’s actions are motivated not by a true concern for the Palestinians but rather an irrational obsession with and hatred of Israel. If he were truly concerned with the rights of underprivileged people, why, in all the time that he spent living in Brazil, have we been unable to find any articles by him on the terrible discrimination and persecution suffered by those in the Favelas and by the native peoples in the Amazon region?” the letter asks.
The letter also questions White’s allegiance to Sheikh Raed Salah, head of the Islamic Movement’s northern branch – “a racist and anti-Semite” – and London-based Hamas supporter Azzam Tamimi, an advocate of suicide bombing.
Professor Gerald Steinberg, president of the Jerusalem-based NGO Monitor, said that the close cooperation that Amnesty International has developed with Ben White has contributed to moral degradation of this once principled organization.
“White’s intense hatred directed at Israel, which is the embodiment of Jewish sovereign equality in the world, is entirely inconsistent with the universal values that Amnesty claims to promote. If Amnesty seeks to restore its tarnished moral credentials, it must end this cooperation, and join in denouncing White’s anti-Israel campaigns,” he told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday.
Historian and Post blogger Petra Marquardt-Bigman has also questioned White’s work.
“Among the issues that have been repeatedly raised by critics of White’s work are questions about his expertise and his apparent unwillingness to acknowledge that the sources he relies on are anything but uncontroversial and have been shown to contain numerous distortions and misrepresentations,” she wrote.
She concluded that he is “a passionate ideologue who has little regard for facts that don’t fit his agenda – and his agenda arguably doesn’t reflect primarily a concern for the Palestinian plight, but rather a fierce determination to demonize Israel.”
In reference to his new book, Marquardt-Bigman said in a recent blog that White seems to offer a message that is not all that different from the one Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has propagated.
“While he ostensibly focuses on ‘Palestinians in Israel’ (and the apartheid-like oppression they suffer), his purpose has remained the same – and Amnesty UK is fully aware of it, since the organization announces on its website the title of White’s previous Israeli apartheid: a beginner’s guide,” she said.
Comment is Free Watch, an organization that monitors the Guardian’s blog Comment is Free, where White blogs, said that he regularly attributes the malicious slurs of colonization, racism and apartheid to Israel, acts as an apologist for Islamist violence against the Jewish state, draws parallels between Nazi Germany and Zionism and flirtation with Holocaust denial.
A spokesperson for Amnesty International UK said that the event is part of its work.
“Amnesty’s work on human rights in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories includes raising important issues about discrimination."
This event is part of that work.
“Ben White’s book talks of a ‘fresh vision of justice and peace for Jews and Palestinians,’ expressing the author’s support for ‘a future based on a genuine co-existence of equals’ and a ‘solution that protects the rights of both the Palestinian people and Jewish Israelis’ [White is an advocate of a onestate solution].
“These are important issues and the event is an opportunity to explore them,” the spokesman added.