A new campaign by Amnesty International calls for governments to legislate to prevent businesses from trading in Israeli settlements and demands that digital tourism companies, including Booking.com, Expedia, Airbnb, and Trip Advisor, delist properties held by Israelis living in the West Bank.
While framed as a compassionate call to action grounded in international law and human rights, the campaign is merely the latest blow in a long war waged by Amnesty and other once respectable human rights organizations intent on turning public opinion against Israel and bringing about its economic and political isolation.
The origins of this lie in the NGO forum of the UN World Conference against Racism held in Durban, South Africa, in September 2001. The conference is notorious for the appalling racism that marred an event convened for the very purpose of combating such conduct. Posters displayed Jewish caricatures, placards celebrated Hitler, participants circulated copies of the antisemitic fabrication, the Secret Protocols of the Elders of Zion. US Congressman Tom Lantos called it “the most sickening display of hate for Jews since the Nazi period.” The UN’s human rights commissioner, Mary Robinson, told the BBC “there was a horrible antisemitism present.”
Against this backdrop, the conference of more than 1,500 representatives of international non-governmental organizations adopted a resolution that defined Israel as a “racist, apartheid state,” and called for the launch of a “global solidarity campaign” targeting governments, UN agencies, civil society to achieve the “complete and total isolation of Israel.”
Almost immediately after the adoption of the Durban Conference declaration, activists began launching boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaigns on campus, trade unions, government and civil society.
BDS became the vehicle, the popular movement, through which new generations of thought leaders would be exposed to the myth of Israeli “apartheid” and the characterization of the Jewish state as a uniquely wicked, unjust project that had to be unwound for the good of humanity. To its shame, Amnesty was a key player in the Durban Conference and in the adoption of the resolution, and has been at the forefront of the campaign ever since.
IN 2002, following an Israeli military operation in Jenin in response to the Passover Massacre in Netanya, in which a Palestinian suicide bomber murdered 30 civilians during a celebratory feast, Amnesty accused Israel of carrying out war crimes and massacres of Palestinian civilians. The allegations, promptly picked up by the BBC and other major outlets, placed the Palestinian civilian death toll at more than 500. Once the dust settled, it was revealed that 52 Palestinians died, the majority of them combatants, along with 23 Israeli soldiers, in fierce urban combat. A UN report belatedly found that the claim of 500 dead “had not been substantiated.”
False allegations of a massacre made by Amnesty lubricated the machinery of the political campaign against Israel, leading to street protests, campus hearings, reams of condemnations and anti-Israel resolutions across civil society and government.
In 2015, Amnesty was forced into an embarrassing admission that it had lobbied the Australian government to accept Man Haron Monis, who carried out the Lindt Café terrorist attack in Sydney, as a genuine refugee from Iran in 2001.
In April 2018, Amnesty’s secretary-general called Israel’s democratically-elected government “rogue.”
In 2010, the head of its Finland branch called Israel a “scum state.”
Amnesty’s UK campaign manager has likened Israel to ISIS and has been condemned for his attacks on Jewish members of Parliament.
Perhaps as revealing as Amnesty’s fixation on Jews living on the “wrong” side of a long-defunct armistice line, has been its relative silence on the disturbing trend of rising antisemitism. In April 2015, Amnesty- UK rejected an initiative to “Campaign against antisemitism in the UK,” as well as “Lobby the UK Government to tackle the rise in antisemitic attacks in Britain” and “monitor antisemitism closely.” It was the only proposed resolution at its annual general meeting that was not adopted.
The skewed morality revealed by Amnesty’s obsession with Israel reflects a broader decline in the non-governmental sector. Whereas groups like Amnesty and Human Rights Watch once led the struggle against Soviet tyranny and actively defended the rights of political prisoners, today they serve an increasingly narrow political agenda, one aligned with anti-Western, anti-capitalist forces. Amnesty’s apparent contempt for Israel, its ho-hum attitude to antisemitism, and its disproportionate condemnations of democracies, all stem from this malaise.
To be sure, Israeli settlements are a point of conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. Indeed, the parties identified settlements as a final status issue in the historic Oslo Accords signed between the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and Israel in 1993. It was agreed that the questions of which settlements will be annexed to Israel, which will be dismantled or transferred to Palestinian sovereignty, are to be resolved in direct negotiations in the context of a final peace agreement.
But the pursuit of peace is not aided by Amnesty’s political maneuvers and attempts to isolate Israel, which merely perpetuate conflict by other means.
The writer is the author of The Anti-Israel Agenda – Inside the Political War on the Jewish State (Gefen Publishing, 2018) and co-chief executive officer of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry.