Apartheid slander is latest verbal weapon against Israel - opinion

Two reports, one by Amnesty International and the other by Human Rights Watch add to the slander accusing Israel of apartheid.

 COPIES OF Amnesty International’s report named ‘Israel’s Apartheid Against Palestinians’ are put on display at a news conference in Jerusalem last year.  (photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN / REUTERS)
COPIES OF Amnesty International’s report named ‘Israel’s Apartheid Against Palestinians’ are put on display at a news conference in Jerusalem last year.
(photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN / REUTERS)

The word “apartheid,” used in reference to Israel, is now an accepted part of the progressive and anti-Zionist vernacular. We hear it everywhere from college campuses to the halls of Congress. Two recent reports, one by Amnesty International and the other by Human Rights Watch add to this slander.

Both purport to make the case that Israel has crossed a line and become an apartheid state, as defined in international law. But Amnesty and HRW have now received pushback in a report by B’nai B’rith International, the world’s oldest Jewish humanitarian and human rights organization.

Titled “The Apartheid Slander Against Israel and the Ideological Distortion of Human Rights,” the report consists of two essays, each written by a noted law professor. In the first, Eugene Kontorovich argues that the apartheid accusation is the latest iteration of the “Zionism is racism” charge from the seventies.

And so, for Amnesty and HRW, the very idea of a Jewish state is a human rights violation. They do not criticize Israel’s policy so much as deny its right to exist. Indeed, after Amnesty published its report, its USA director, Paul O’Brien, said in a speech: “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.” Leaving no doubt about his position, at another point, O’Brien said flatly that Israel “shouldn’t exist as a Jewish state.”

In fact, according to O’Brien, Amnesty takes no position on the question of whether Israel has a right to survive at all. (O’Brien later claimed his remarks were “misreported,” but an audio recording refutes that.) Therefore, Kontorovich says, “The significance of the apartheid label goes beyond particular policies and invites efforts at regime change.”

 AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL secretary-general Agnes Callamard announces the organization’s 211-page report, ‘Israel’s Apartheid Against Palestinians: Cruel System of Domination and Crime Against Humanity,’ in east Jerusalem, February 1. (credit: RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS) AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL secretary-general Agnes Callamard announces the organization’s 211-page report, ‘Israel’s Apartheid Against Palestinians: Cruel System of Domination and Crime Against Humanity,’ in east Jerusalem, February 1. (credit: RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS)

Thane Rosenbaum continues with this theme in the B’nai B’rith report’s second essay, calling Israel “the only nation where self-determination and statehood are believed to be provisional.” He goes on to argue that what we are now seeing is a continuation of the decades-long war against Israel’s existence: “The wars that Arab nations and Palestinian terrorists have been unable to win against Israel have opened up into a new theater: a war of defamatory words, antisemitic semantics, the semiotics of Palestinian suffering.” The apartheid slander is a major weapon in that war.

Amnesty and HRW expose the deficiencies of their own reports. For example, Rosenbaum notes, they acknowledge that in Israel there is no “systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over” another, as required under the 1998 Rome Statute. They try to cure that problem by claiming “that the separate identity of Palestinians, and their feelings of marginalization and inequality, are sufficient to establish Israel’s domination for apartheid purposes.”

As Amnesty and HRW would have it, “The absence of a racial component is but a minor detail. Inequality is enough.” Legal definitions don’t matter. Thus, Rosenbaum shows, the only way these groups can accuse Israel of apartheid is by making that term sound meaningless.

The apartheid simply isn't there

In any event, the apartheid-style inequality these groups claim to rely on simply isn’t there. As Kontorovich points out, “The very essence of apartheid was the physical separation – apartness – of people based on a legislated racial hierarchy.” But Israeli Arabs and Jews mix freely. Moreover, Israeli Arabs are full participants in Israeli society. They sit in the Knesset and on the Supreme Court. And they are proportionately represented in the professions.

The authors of the Amnesty and HRW reports know all this. But they are determined to deny the legitimacy of Israel and tell millions of Diaspora Jews that a central part of their identity is unacceptable. That’s not human rights advocacy. It’s antisemitism.

The apartheid slander is just the latest weapon in the war of words against the Jewish state. But as Rosenbaum notes, “Israel has no Iron Dome for transmissible lies, no cover for modern-day blood libels.” And that’s exactly what makes the B’nai B’rith report so important.

The writer is an attorney, and member of the board of directors of the American Jewish International Relations Institute (AJIRI), an affiliate of B’nai B’rith International.