Amnesty’s apartheid slur is an attack on Jewish self-determination

Amnesty International
Amnesty International

Amnesty International’s new report labelling Israel as “apartheid” inside both pre-1967 Israel and the West Bank is not a helpful contribution to building peace and bringing about a solution to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. It even undermines the prospects of the specific criticisms it has of Israeli actions and policies being addressed, by framing them as a part of an overarching “apartheid” system that can only be addressed by the abolition of Israel as a Jewish state in any meaningful sense.

Amnesty’s argument for using the term “apartheid” hinges on alleging that Israel has an “intention to maintain …a system of oppression and domination.” Israel’s intentions are not “oppression and domination” but securing and preserving the national self-determination and freedom of the Jewish people, and protecting the lives of its citizens, Jewish and Arab, from military and terrorist threats.

Israel’s intentions were set out in its Declaration of Independence in 1948:

“The State of Israel will be open for Jewish immigration and for the Ingathering of the Exiles; it will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.”

“We appeal – in the very midst of the onslaught launched against us now for months – to the Arab inhabitants of the State of Israel to preserve peace and participate in the upbuilding of the State on the basis of full and equal citizenship and due representation in all its provisional and permanent institutions.”

The use of the term “apartheid” is absurd and immediately open to ridicule as soon as one considers the presence in the Israeli Knesset (parliament) of 14 Arab MKs from six different parties, and the presence in the government coalition of Ra’am, a Muslim Arab party, making its leader Mansour Abbas one of the most influential politicians in Israel. Israel within the 1967 Green Line is a society where the Arab minority are citizens with voting rights, who play a full role in society and use the same universities, hospitals, parks, beaches and shops as their Jewish counterparts. Whilst inequalities and discrimination exist and need to be tackled, they look nothing like “Apartheid”, a system which in South Africa involved the majority black population being denied all civil and political rights and segregated into second class or non-existent amenities and services.

The situation in the West Bank is one driven not by an Israeli desire to “oppress and dominate” the Palestinians but by the existential security threats that Israel has faced. Israel is only present in the West Bank because of the war of national survival it fought in 1967. Its security forces operate there because of terrorism. Settlements were built to make a conventional military attack through the West Bank more difficult. The security barrier was built to stop the wave of suicide bombings in the Second Intifada. Peace and national self-determination for the Palestinians as part of a Two State Solution will come when a deal is negotiated that gives Israel security and peace in return for Palestinian statehood. That deal cannot be imposed from outside by Amnesty International or anyone else berating and condemning Israel.

The apartheid allegation has its roots in Soviet propaganda during the Cold War designed to deny that Zionism was the Jewish movement for national self-determination and liberation after suffering millennia of racism culminating in the Holocaust, and instead turn reality on its head and frame Zionism as a racist, colonialist and imperialist ideology, and Israel as an illegitimate state.

Amnesty calls for Israel, a state threatened by terrorist organisations like Hamas and Hezbollah, and by aggressive states expressing genocidal intentions like Iran, to be the subject of a “comprehensive arms embargo” that would weaken its ability to protect its civilians. It calls for the “right to return to millions of Palestinian refugees”, not to a new Palestinian state but to Israel itself, which would mean that instead of a Jewish state and a Palestinian state, with self-determination for both peoples, there would be two majority-Palestinian states. It attacks Israel for making its Arab citizens exempt from military service, when in fact this exemption is a privilege and Arabs can and do volunteer to serve in the IDF if they want to.

The delegitimisation of Israel as “apartheid” won’t succeed because it is so far from the truth.

Amnesty International has a legitimate role in holding all governments and powers to account for human rights violations. It doesn’t have a legitimate role in deciding that the Jewish people are not entitled to national self-determination and a state where they are the majority, when the existence of such a state is the Jewish people’s only guaranteed shield against pogroms and genocide.

About the Author
Luke Akehurst has been the Director of We Believe in Israel since 2011. We Believe in Israel is a broad coalition of over 19,000 supporters of Israel. Outside of work he was a Councillor in Hackney in East London for 12 years, has stood for Parliament twice and serves on the Labour Party National Executive Committee. He was previously an award-winning Director at global PR company Weber Shandwick.