My Word: Gut feelings on Amnesty International

When it comes to the Jewish state, Amnesty International’s US director Paul O’Brien doesn’t have healthy gut feelings so much as hateful Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

 JEWS AND ARABS wait for a tram at a Jerusalem light rail stop.  (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
JEWS AND ARABS wait for a tram at a Jerusalem light rail stop.

In case anyone was wondering, there is more to Amnesty International’s recent report on Israel than meets the eye – as if the report itself wasn’t enough. Last month, with much fanfare, the organization published a dossier of more than 270 pages titled: “Israel’s Apartheid Against Palestinians: Cruel System of Domination and Crime Against Humanity.” The title didn’t leave room for misunderstanding. The report was not so much an investigation as one long condemnation of Israel, truth be damned.

“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. In other words, Amnesty International found what it was looking for: It found Israel guilty.

The report was disingenuous, full of distortions, lacking context and manipulated to try create a meaning of apartheid that could be applied to the State of Israel and suggest it was somehow similar to apartheid-era South Africa, where blacks were fully segregated and had no rights at all. 

I dedicated a column to it last month, writing: “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.”

 SECRETARY-GENERAL of Amnesty International Agnès Callamard speaks during a press conference in east Jerusalem on February 1.  (credit: FLASH90) SECRETARY-GENERAL of Amnesty International Agnès Callamard speaks during a press conference in east Jerusalem on February 1. (credit: FLASH90)

The Amnesty International report is an ongoing gift to Israel’s enemies. If the publication itself did away with the pretense that the conflict is about “settlements,” a comment by a senior official last week dropped the rest of the charade. 

In a story first published by Jewish Insider, Amnesty International’s US director Paul O’Brien was quoted from a talk last Wednesday, implying to a Women’s National Democratic Club audience that the majority of American Jews do not want Israel to be a Jewish state, but rather “a safe Jewish space” based on “core Jewish values.”

O’Brien reportedly said one of Amnesty’s goals in publishing the Israel apartheid dossier is to “collectively change the conversation” on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Repeating lies is a well-known – dangerous – way of collectively creating a new discourse. That’s the nature of a smear campaign. Throw the word “apartheid” around enough times and it sticks in the international public consciousness even without facts to back it. 

But O’Brien doesn’t need proof. He has something much better to go on: gut instincts. Rejecting a 2020 survey conducted by the Ruderman Family Foundation that found that eight in 10 Jewish Americans identify as “pro-Israel,” and two-thirds feel emotionally “attached” or “very attached” to the Jewish state, O’Brien, according to Jewish Insider, said: “I actually don’t believe that to be true.

“I believe 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.

“I think they can be convinced over time that the key to sustainability is to adhere to what I see as core Jewish values, which are to be principled and fair and just in creating that space.

“We are opposed to the idea – and this, I think, is an existential part of the debate – that Israel should be preserved as a state for the Jewish people,” O’Brien reportedly said at the luncheon talk.

It’s good that I wasn’t trying to eat lunch and digest O’Brien’s words at the same time. I’m not sure whether I would have choked or upchucked, but even now I find them hard to swallow. O’Brien’s gut instincts were a kick in the guts.

O’Brien, who is not Jewish, obviously knows better than me the nature of “core Jewish values.” I’m so unprogressive that I think they can be found in the Ten Commandments. The idea of tikkun olam, mending the world, is a later addition – although the more I hear people like O’Brien and Callamard, the more I think the world is in urgent need of being fixed.

The luncheon event was reportedly the first in a series hosted by the Women’s National Democratic Club that will explore “Palestine past, present and future.” The part about “Palestine’s past” could fit in during the appetizers – unless they intend hijacking Israel’s history for the narrative instead.

Israel’s ancient past, thriving present, and optimistic future as the Jewish state seems to be less interesting to the group. Maybe they’re afraid of biting off more than they can chew. More than they want to hear. Israel is a country with a population of more than nine million, of whom the vast majority, more than six million, are Jews. O’Brien should speak to a representative sample to discover what they think about the idea of dismantling the country they call home. 

Following the publication of the Amnesty International report, even Regional Cooperation Minister Esawi Frej, a Muslim 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.”

The Amnesty International official’s comments weren’t the only travesty that grabbed my attention last week. In a separate story, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency revealed that the environmental Sierra Club NGO has canceled its scheduled trips to Israel. This is in response to pressure from progressive and anti-Zionist groups, after activists alleged the organization was “greenwashing the conflict” and “providing legitimacy to the Israeli state, which is engaged in apartheid against the Palestinian people,” according to an email quoted by JTA.

There it is again: the apartheid libel and an attack on the legitimacy of the State of Israel. More than seven decades after its creation, Israel still has to defend itself not only from physical attacks, terrorism and threats from nearly-nuclear Iran, it still has to defend its right to exist. Alone among the countries formed following the end of World War II, Israel’s very being and sovereignty are still being questioned. 

The one Jewish state in the world – the one state based on the biblical “ingathering of exiles” – is subject to a campaign of delegitimization and double standards. Efforts to turn Israel into a pariah state follow on from where the physical wars failed. They are another means of trying to get rid of the Jewish state. 

While these delegitimization attempts succeed in harming Israel’s image, they do absolutely nothing to promote peace or help the Palestinians.

By criminalizing Israel while ignoring Palestinian anti-normalization and terrorism, these so-called human rights organizations and progressive activists encourage more rejectionism and more terror. The Palestinian leadership has no reason to make even basic gestures of peace as long as it believes it can erase Israel with progressive, western support. 

And the delegitimization and lies fuel further attacks, both on Israelis and on Jews and Jewish targets around the world. Antisemitism has simply morphed into anti-Zionism and attacks on Israel. Jerusalem Post columnist Gil Troy this week gave the phenomenon the name “twistory.”

Amnesty International’s report singled out Israel for investigation and found it guilty. O’Brien’s statements clarify Israel’s ultimate sin: It’s guilty of existing. When it comes to the Jewish state, O’Brien doesn’t have healthy gut feelings so much as hateful Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

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