The ‘Human Rights’ Community’s War on Israel: A Catastrophic Moral Failure

'UN Human Rights Council,' reprinted with permission of Stichting VJ Movement Foundation, on behalf of the artist, Tjeerd Royaards.

Consider the story of a small ethnic minority exiled from its homeland of a thousand years by an imperial conqueror – with hundreds of thousands killed and most of the rest sold into slavery. For the next two millennia, a fragment of this conquered people maintains an unbroken presence in the homeland. The surviving exilees are persecuted across the diaspora, while still keeping the faith of their ancestral fathers. The exile story culminates in a hate-crazed dictator’s slaughter of six million, incinerating most into oblivion.

Miraculously, a sizeable remnant of this battered people return to the ancient homeland and build from virtually nothing a modern economy and a disciplined army. They repeatedly fight off neighboring tyrants seeking to complete their extermination. Throughout this precarious fight for survival amid a sea of brutal dictatorships, they fashion and maintain a multi-ethnic liberal democracy.

This indigenous people offers to share their reclaimed homeland with its more recent-centuries’ in-migrants, by embracing plans for two nations living side by side in peace. Over seven decades, they endorse at least seven such two-state initiatives. But to each offer the other people’s leaders say “No!” – demanding all for us, none for you – while launching and maintaining a non-stop terror and propaganda war against the returned exilees.

In our supposedly modern age of enlightenment, one would think that this people’s story would invite some measure of sympathy among those who claim to uphold the principles of human rights.  But alas – in this true story of Jewish survival against powerful exterminatory odds, such is not the case.

On the contrary: dismantling the world’s only Jewish state has become the single cause above all that unites the fractious pundits, policymakers, and NGOs of the absurdly misnamed “human rights community.” And what drives this cause is a pervasive but false narrative, one that turns Israel’s existential and highly ethical acts of self-defense into a manufactured narrative of apartheid and oppression. Consider these recent developments in that field:

Just last week, the United Nations’ “Special Rapporteur” for the Palestinian Territories, Michael Lynk, submitted a report declaring “that apartheid is being practiced by Israel in the occupied Palestinian territory and beyond . . . .” Relying on a classic anti-Semitic trope, Lynk described Israel in his report as “a covetous alien power” – a strange description for a country repeatedly trying to give away the territory in question through various rejected peace plans. And with the gratuitous epithet “alien,” this high UN official also erased the indigenous historical link between Israeli Jews and the land.

Two months ago, the prominent human rights NGO Amnesty International released a damning, 280-page report titled “Crime of Apartheid: The Government of Israel’s System of Oppression Against Palestinians.” A month later, Amnesty International’s U.S. director Paul O’Brien confirmed the group’s intent that Israel be dismantled, specifically stating: “we are opposed to the idea . . . that Israel should be preserved as a state for the Jewish people. . . . [It] shouldn’t exist as a Jewish state.” How Israel’s six million Jews would survive without a protective state amid the region’s several terror groups and rogue regimes that call for the Jews’ extermination, this eminent human rights mandarin declined to explain.

A year ago, in April 2021, Human Rights Watch (HRW) – the other major U.S. human rights NGO – issued a similar report, accusing Israel of “Crimes of Apartheid and Persecution” against the Palestinian people. This indictment was consistent with HRW’s staffers’ frequent denunciations of Israel’s right to exist and their expressed support for terrorist groups bent on Israel’s destruction.

These high profile indictments are just the leading edge of a tsunami of apartheid denunciations from academics across the fields of human rights and Middle East Studies. Last year, 160 professors from 21 countries petitioned the European Union to end all financial investment in Israeli university research, based on the same accusation. “Israel Apartheid Week” is now a standard feature of student activism across nearly all American college campuses. And just last week, America’s Middle East Studies Association – the organization of college professors who teach the next generation of Middle East scholars and policymakers – voted overwhelmingly to join the academic boycott of Israel.

And then there’s the absurdly misnamed United Nations “Human Rights Council” (HRC). In its 2021-2022 session, this international body adopted 14 resolutions condemning Israel for alleged human rights violations – while adopting just 5 other such resolutions for all other countries combined.

And who are these high moral arbiters on the HRC who condemn Israel’s liberal democracy as an apartheid state? Among its voting members are these models of human rights malpractice: Communist Cuba, which tortures dissidents in its gulag; China, which continues to wage a brutal genocide against the Muslim Uygher people; Pakistan, where the courts condemn female rape victims to be stoned to death for “adultery”; Venezuela, for which UN investigators found “serious human rights violations” committed by its security forces, “including arbitrary killings and the systematic use of torture . . . amount[ing] to crimes against humanity”; and the Russian Federation, which regularly poisons and murders regime opponents, and which now wantonly commits war crimes in its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, including intentionally bombing hospitals.

Yet behind all the “Israel apartheid” sound and fury, there lies one fundamental problem: it is manifestly false. “Apartheid” refers to the former South African system of “sanctioning racial segregation and political and economic discrimination against nonwhites.” Black South Africans were required by harshly enforced laws to live in separate areas, attend separate schools, use separate public facilities, were denied the right to vote, and suffered tremendous discrimination in employment and economic opportunities.

That scenario utterly fails to describe Israel’s laws and society; and it also fails to reflect Israel’s complex relationship with the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza.

As for Israel’s internal laws and practices, the inaccuracy of the apartheid charge is immediately apparent. As summed up by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations:

“Israel’s robust democracy grants its Arab citizens full rights and equality, includes an Arab Muslim nationalist party in Israel’s governing coalition, as well as a history of senior Israeli Arab governmental officials, including Supreme Court justices, government ministers, high-level diplomats, military officers and members of Knesset.”

The absurdity of the apartheid charge is highlighted by the fact that in April 2010, Israel’s former President Moshe Katsav was tried and convicted of rape and sexual harassment by a three-judge panel headed by an Israeli Arab judge. The charges were upheld by a three-judge panel of Israel’s Supreme Court that included another Israeli Arab judge. Katsav served five years in prison for this conviction.

The apartheid label is similarly false regarding Israel’s relations with the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Since the signing of the Oslo peace accords in 1993, both territories have been governed not by Israel, but by Palestinian power holders (all of whom relentlessly indoctrinate their people to hate Jews, emulate suicide bombers, and annihilate Israel). And unlike multi-ethnic Israel, which is home to over 1.8 million Arab citizens, Palestinian Authority law holds that any sale of land to a Jew is an act of treason punishable by death – perhaps a more fitting target for those on the hunt for apartheid.

True, in the post-Oslo years Israel erected separation barriers to tighten border security with the Palestinian territories – but this was necessitated by waves of terror attacks from those territories that killed and maimed thousands of Israelis. In fact, the annual Israeli death rate from Palestinian terror attacks doubled after the signing of the Oslo Accords. And border security is just that – not apartheid.

Notably, had the Palestinian leadership accepted any of Israel’s several statehood offers, and thereby ended its century-old terror and propaganda war against a sovereign Jewish homeland, the fictitious question of apartheid would have long since been taken off the table.

These realities, along with many others that could easily be cited, expose the utter emptiness of the Israel apartheid charge. Nonetheless, some still press the charge based on Israel’s formal status, enshrined in its declaration of independence, as “a Jewish state . . . open for Jewish immigration and for the Ingathering of the Exiles.”

But if that actually sufficed to prove apartheid, then the world’s human rights “jails” would be filled to overflowing: 27 countries formally enshrine Islam as their state religion, and 13 countries (including nine European nations) formally enshrine Christianity as their state religion – with an additional 28 countries giving preferential treatment to Christian churches. But the distinguished leaders of the global human rights community have no problem with those other 68 countries favoring one religion: only the world’s sole Jewish state deserves punishment – in fact, complete dismantlement – for doing so.

This blatant hypocrisy among our human rights elites reveals the true agenda of the apartheid label. Neither historical accuracy nor jurisprudential consistency is in play here. Rather, we are witnessing a massive campaign of narrative warfare – that is, the targeted use of false narrative to delegitimize Israel, and thereby pave the pathway to its eventual dismantlement.

Few have said it better than Israeli Professor Gideon Shimoni, namely: “The accusation that Israel is an apartheid state is an insidious tool in the hands of those who deny the entitlement of Jews to a viable national home.”

That the so-called global human rights community has taken the lead in this false narrative war whose goal is to dismantle Israel – and only Israel – is a moral failure of immense proportions. That they have done so amid the most intense rise in anti-Semitic propaganda and violence since before World War II is unconscionable.

Like Samuel Beckett’s characters waiting and waiting for Godot, it appears we shall have a rather long wait for a human rights community that is truly worthy of that label.

In the meantime, the best we can do is follow the late Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s sage advice, and “Live not by lies.” And robustly expose those who do – no matter how large their numbers, how long their list of credentials, or how high their appointed positions.

About the Author
Henry Kopel is a former U.S. federal prosecutor and the author of the book “War on Hate: How to Stop Genocide, Fight Terrorism, and Defend Freedom.” Kopel is a graduate of Brandeis University, Oxford University, and the University of Pennsylvania Law School, and is an annual guest lecturer on prosecuting hate crimes at the University of Connecticut Law School. He serves on the global advisory board for the Abraham Global Peace Initiative.
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