I had planned to write a different column this week: Something starting with the Chinese New Year and China’s ongoing threats on Taiwan along with North Korea’s missile testing in Asia; the Russia-Ukraine conflict in Europe; the resurgence of ISIS in the Middle East; turmoil in Afghanistan; unrest in Sudan and elsewhere in Africa and Iran’s nuclear plans and support of terrorism which overshadow much of the world. I was going to connect the dots on the global map.
I scrapped my plans when I learned of the latest plans to scrap my country. This was not another threat from Iran to wipe Israel off the map or more Palestinian missiles from Gaza. This was war by different means. Amnesty International on Tuesday released a report more than 270 pages-long titled: “Israel’s Apartheid Against Palestinians: Cruel System of Domination and Crime Against Humanity.” The editor in me feels compelled to write “sic” regarding the wording; the Israeli in me feels obligated to write “sick” regarding the contents.
“We found that Israel’s cruel policies of segregation, dispossession and exclusion across all territories under its control clearly amount to apartheid,” Amnesty International Secretary-General Agnès Callamard declared at a press conference in Jerusalem.
The only good thing I can say about Amnesty’s report is that it does away with the pretense that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is about the “settlements” and 1967 borders. Relating to all Israel, “the Occupied Palestinian Territory,” (i.e. the West Bank or Judea and Samaria) and Gaza, this clearly refers to pre-1948 boundaries. It even calls the Negev “Naqab,” using its Arabic name. It is an attempt to erase Israel as the Jewish state. To add injury to insult, the report calls for the “return of Palestinian refugees” – not to Palestinian Authority areas or Gaza, and not to Jordan, where Palestinians are in the majority, but to Israel itself. The obvious aim is to make Israel another Muslim-majority country instead of the world’s only Jewish state.
We have become used to the terms warfare and lawfare. It’s time to coin a new term for the type of war being launched on Israel by ostensible human rights groups. Perhaps “NGO combat” fits the bill. Civil society, it ain’t.
Amnesty is not alone. Both Human Rights Watch and B’Tselem last year accused Israel of “apartheid” and it has become the favorite label and libel of those who want to see Israel disappear through delegitimization. Jewish Voice for Peace was quick to issue a statement welcoming the report “documenting the brutal reality of Israel’s apartheid regime.”
I didn’t yet read the whole report (I need more time and an empty stomach), but I looked at its highlights and found some of its low points: “Palestinian citizens of Israel are denied a nationality,” for example, and the complaint that: “Because they are ‘exempt’ from Israeli military service, they are denied access to a host of associated benefits, including housing support and educational grants.”
The quote marks around “exempt” jumped out at me and briefly I had fun imagining what Amnesty would say were Israel to forcibly conscript Arab citizens. There are, of course, brave Arabs serving in the IDF, and last year more than 19% of all students entering higher education in Israel were Arabs, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics. Arabs, it should be noted, make up some 20% of the overall population of 9 million.
Starting with the “Executive Summary,” the report begins: “On 18 May 2021, Palestinians across cities and villages in Israel and the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip closed their offices, shops, restaurants and schools, abandoned construction sites, and refused to report to work for the whole day. In a display of unity not seen for decades, they defied the territorial fragmentation and segregation they face in their daily lives and observed a general strike to protest their shared repression by Israel.”
In addition to the use of the words “territorial fragmentation and segregation” – setting the tone for the rest of the report – it was telling that the study started with the Palestinian strike in the workplace, rather than the thousands of Palestinian rockets striking Israel from Gaza in the mini-war that was taking place at the same time. There is no context. No recognition of a complex security situation.
The report was broadly condemned in Israel. Even Regional Cooperation Minister Esawi Frej, an Arab member of the left-wing Meretz party, declared: “Israel has many problems that must be solved, inside the Green Line and certainly in the occupied territories, but Israel is not an apartheid state.”
Amnesty did several contortions to come up with a description of apartheid that it could stick on Israel quoting the Rome Statute and Apartheid Convention.
The report, Amnesty said, was the result of decades of research. That’s no excuse for deliberately ignoring the current situation when for the first time an Arab party is a member of the coalition and a NIS 30 billion budget has just been dedicated to the Arab community.
Incidentally, the report was issued the week that the country announced its first female Muslim District Court judge, Osaila Abu Assad, one of several Arab judges and jurists appointed to prominent positions in the latest round of appointments. (There have been Israeli Arab judges in the Supreme Court for years.)
The timing of the publication of the report this week contained an even bigger irony. On Sunday, President Isaac Herzog and his wife began a two-day visit of the United Arab Emirates. The trip went well, despite the fact that Iranian-backed Houthis in Yemen fired a rocket on the UAE during the president’s stay. It was another reminder of the regional threats that I was originally going to write about. It also served, however, to remind the region of the reason why the Abraham Accords from 2020 are so important. Ditto the visit by Defense Minister Benny Gantz to Bahrain on Wednesday.
When it comes to cynical exploitation of the Palestinians, Amnesty beats Israel. It seems the more Israel expands its peaceful ties, with regional agreements to boost health, education, technology, tourism and, yes, defense, the more upset Amnesty et al become. And the harder they work to prevent a situation in which peace can be reached with the Palestinians in the future.
As my colleague Seth J. Frantzman noted this week, “Amnesty focuses on ‘fragmentation’ of the Palestinian areas as evidence of ‘apartheid.’ Yet this fragmentation was created by the United Nations in the partition plan of 1947...
“The goal here is to make peace impossible by cementing an accusation and creating terms and definitions that mean even if Israel leaves the West Bank it still ‘controls’ it and that by leaving it, it then ‘fragments’ it.”
The same charge of “fragmentation” is leveled against Israel for having fully withdrawn from Gaza in 2005.
This is not a report, but a narrative: a warped rewriting of history. Calling Israel an apartheid state not only besmirches Israel, it belittles what black South Africans suffered under the apartheid system in which they had no rights or representation and were subjected to complete segregation.
While the human rights groups focus on Israel’s crime of existence, around the world regimes are literally getting away with murder.
Laughably Callamard said at the Amnesty press conference, “We recognize the existence of the Jewish State of Israel. We oppose and denounce antisemitism and antisemitic acts the world over.” Of course Amnesty recognizes the existence of the Jewish state, it has spent decades obsessing over its existence. And while it pretends to promote peace, it excels in promoting the tropes and stereotypes that encourage terrorism and violence.
Amnesty’s study is not so much damning report as a report in which truth be damned.