The publication of Amnesty International UK’s report this week alleging that Israel is an apartheid state is a disturbing example of how history can be manipulated and distorted for political ends.
More problematic still is the fact that not only do extreme and warped reports such as this not achieve the goals of increasing diplomatic pressure on Israel, they actually have a deleterious effect on the cause of peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
To start with, the accusation in Amnesty’s report that Israel’s multi-ethnic democracy is akin to the racial segregation and discrimination of apartheid South Africa is so ludicrous that it is almost inconceivable that anyone would need to explain why this is so.
In Israel, members of the country’s Arab minority serve as government ministers, as Supreme Court justices, and as members of Knesset, while the current governing coalition in which I serve includes an Arab party, Ra’am.
Arabs and all other minorities in the country work in every field of the economy and labor force, participate in all aspects of public life, and enjoy the same civil rights as every other Israeli.
This reality is so far divorced from the institutionalized racism of the apartheid system in South Africa that one can only conclude that the allegation is politically motivated.
But Amnesty’s report goes further. It first seeks to blur the lines between the legal realities in Israel and those in the West Bank and Gaza, despite the vastly different situations in those territories in terms of international law.
And finally, it tries to twist what is and always has been a national conflict between Israel and the Palestinians into an alleged effort by Israel to establish racial superiority, without addressing the political reality of the conflict or Palestinian violence.
So what explains the libelous claims in Amnesty’s report that Israeli policy since its founding has been based on effort to establish racial domination over a particular ethnicity?
In reality, Amnesty’s report is part of an ideological campaign going back decades to demonize and delegitimize the Jewish state.
This campaign has two goals. The first is to continuously pressure Israel into making concessions to Palestinian maximalist demands, while ignoring concessions Israel has already made such as the withdrawal from Gaza in 2005, as well as any responsibility the Palestinians might have for the ongoing failure to resolve the conflict.
The use of the apartheid allegation has particular potency in advancing this goal, because it very readily conjures up visceral images of brutal oppression and injustice by a powerful bully against a helpless victim.
In today’s era of 30-second attention spans when explaining something like a decades-old conflict is extremely challenging, using inflammatory rhetoric such as apartheid is a simple tactic to help paint your target as irredeemably evil.
If that is the case, then galvanizing international pressure against Israel becomes that much easier.
THE SECOND goal of the campaign is more insidious but cannot be ignored, and that is to undermine Israel’s very right to exist as the nation state of the Jewish people.
From the 1975 UN General Assembly resolution declaring that Zionism is racism to the infamous 2001 Durban conference and its follow-up conferences, and at many junctures in between and since, this campaign has been waged by an array of groups with deep-seated antipathy to the reality of a Jewish nation state.
In fact, Amnesty’s latest report lays bare this ambition through its repeated call for Israel to allow some 5.5 million Palestinian refugees and their descendants, (today overwhelmingly we are talking about the descendants of refugees) to gain citizenship in Israel.
Such a step would negate Israel’s character and status as a Jewish homeland, which Amnesty well knows.
It is important to emphasize that Israel, like almost every other state in the world, is an imperfect country.
And moreover, when things go wrong we have an obligation to speak out and to address the problems we see.
The recent incident in which Omar Assad, a 78-year old Palestinian-American, died of a stress-induced heart attack after IDF soldiers bound and gagged him at a West Bank checkpoint is a particularly disturbing example of what can go wrong here.
The treatment suffered by Assad was appalling and must be condemned in the harshest terms.
But at the same time, Israel, as a country which respects the rule of law swiftly investigated the incident and removed the commanders of the IDF company responsible for the incident from their positions.
In this and other concerns, Israel has demonstrated that it has the necessary mechanisms in place to address serious failures when they arise.
But reports such as Amnesty’s which simply delegitimize the Jewish state do nothing to actually build a constructive dialogue which might help advance the cause of peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
Instead, the extreme rhetoric in Amnesty’s document and its willful distortion of reality in the service of the organization’s ideological agenda make it harder for the millions of Israelis who are eager for an equitable resolution of the conflict to advance this cause.
If prominent international organizations like Amnesty International and others engage in such demonization, convincing other Israelis that their goal is merely to end the conflict with the Palestinians becomes a great deal harder.
Indeed, polling data from the beginning of this century demonstrates that Israeli popular support for a two-state solution was much higher before the international campaign waged by Amnesty and others got underway.
If Amnesty, Human Rights Watch, and the myriad other groups and agencies which have taken part in this campaign over the last two decades truly wish to have a positive impact on the Israel-Palestinian conflict, they must abandon this pernicious strategy of demonization and delegitimization.
Trying to convince Israelis of the importance of separating from the Palestinians is ill-served by falsely accusing them of being racist white supremacists.
Advocating for the destruction of Israel’s Jewish character and national identity will not persuade Israelis that the true goal of these organizations is the fulfillment of the two-state vision.
As a member of the Labor party and a long-time advocate for such a resolution, I will continue to work toward the goal of two states living alongside each other in peace.
What I ask from Amnesty and others is not to harm this objective with their extremist, manipulative and hateful propaganda.
The writer is Israel’s minister of Diaspora Affairs.