In a world where criticism of the State of Israel and its policies is hardly unusual, the newly issued Amnesty International report stands out for its offensiveness and destructiveness.
Reaching even beyond problematic reports such as that of Human Rights Watch, which falsely characterized Israeli policy in the West Bank as “apartheid,” Amnesty International in a report issued Tuesday went so far as to call Israel itself rotten to its core and born in original sin.
All this is based on the proposition that a Jewish state is, by definition, illegitimate. All of which ignores so much history and reality that it boggles the mind.
Israel came into being because there was recognition of the thousands of years of Jewish connection to the land of Israel and because the murder of six million Jews in the Holocaust made clear in the most horrible way that Jews needed a home of their own. The United Nations resolution of 1947 recognized those Jewish connections and rights and also recognized the rights of Palestinians living there as well.
Therefore, it called for two states for two peoples, a decision which Israel accepted and the Palestinians and Arabs did not.
More than that, Israel, in its Declaration of Independence, recognized the complexity of a Jewish state with an Arab minority, so its language argued for both the Jewishness of the state and protection of democratic values for all its citizens. In other words, Israel’s founding, rather than born in sin, was seeking respect both for the state’s Jewish character and for its minorities.
Like all countries, Israel hasn’t always lived up to those ideals. There are many factors that go into that history, including the ambivalence of the Arab minority about living in a Jewish state or, in some leadership cases, their unwillingness to accept its legitimacy. And the fact that for so much of its history, Israel has been at war with Arab states and the Palestinians continue to reject Israel’s existence complicates the situation within Israel.
None of which is an excuse for Israel not to do better for its Arab citizens, and, indeed, Israel is moving in that direction, providing large government funding for improved employment and educational opportunities for the Arab citizens of Israel.
Acknowledging gaps in Israel’s pursuit of its ideals, however, is a far cry from demonizing those ideals themselves. To claim that Israel conducts an apartheid system toward its Arab citizens when there is no evidence to sustain that— Arabs in Israel have full rights: the right to vote, the right for representation, the right to be represented in the Knesset, the right to free speech, the right to follow their religious beliefs and live by their own religious rules— bespeaks a bias against the very idea of a Jewish state. It is as if Amnesty is saying, if there is a Jewish state at all, then it has to be racist.
Amnesty ignores the fact that Jewishness is not merely a religion but peoplehood involving a collective history, a collective identity, a connection to a land, a language, and a narrative. In other words, a national identity not unlike those of any national people. And the responsibility of any nation, besides expressing the identity of that nation, is to protect the rights of all of its citizens, which Israel does.
In addition to its destructive distortion of history and reality, however, the Amnesty report opens up potentially negative consequences for Jews living around the world and for chances to advance the already stalled hopes for Israeli-Palestinian peace.
Using terms like apartheid and ethnic cleansing to describe Israel may well embolden those who seek to harm Jews to act upon their beliefs. In May 2021 we saw how anger at Israel’s actions led directly to antisemitic attacks in the U.S. and elsewhere. In the current environment, such an extreme portrayal of Israel could set others off. That alone is reason enough to condemn what Amnesty has done here.
And one can’t help but contrast the hopes for a better region embodied in the Abraham Accords to the old, tired attacks on the legitimacy of the Jewish state that the Amnesty report represents. One offers a better future for all parties in the region, including the Palestinians. The other offers stale and destructive accusations that hurt Israel in the realm of public image, but hurt the Palestinians far more in reinforcing their rejectionist philosophy that has contributed to so much suffering and sorrow.
Amnesty has ill-served the people of the Middle East and its own commitment to human rights.