Whoopi and Amnesty International

Just a few days ago, it was a big story when Whoopi Goldberg said on live TV that the Holocaust was not about race, because the Nazis and the Jews they murdered were “two white groups of people.” (She later apologized, but has now been suspended as a host of The View.) Today, the buzz relates to Amnesty International’s finding that, in its treatment of Palestinians, Israel is committing apartheid, which consists of a serious violation of human rights perpetrated by “an institutionalised regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over another.”

So, let’s see if we can make some sense out of a very mixed bag that includes Nazis, the Holocaust, racial groups, and apartheid.

First, Nazis and the Holocaust. As her apology acknowledged, Whoopi overlooked the fact that, although Hitler and his followers had completely unscientific, virulently false beliefs about race, they nevertheless did (mistakenly) believe that Jews constitute a specific race. So, from the Nazi perspective, the Holocaust was indeed about race. Of course, Sammy Davis, Jr. was just as much a Jew as Elie Wiesel, so Whoopi should have realized right off the bat that Jews certainly are not just a group of white people. In sum: (1) the Nazis falsely and murderously believed Jews to be a distinct race, and (2) there are Jews of every different race. That should clear up the Whoopi kerfuffle.

Amnesty International (“A.I.”), which bills itself as “a global movement of more than 10 million people in over 150 countries and territories who campaign to end abuses of human rights,” is a much different story. Whoopi Goldberg was unaware that Nazis viewed Jews as a distinct racial group. In contrast, A.I. embraces the idea that Jews are a distinct racial group, at least when Israeli Jews are juxtaposed with Palestinians.

A.I. asserts: “Apartheid can best be understood as a system of prolonged and cruel discriminatory treatment by one racial group of members of another with the intention to control the second racial group.” But which racial group is oppressing and dominating which second racial group? Clearly, it can only be the Jewish Israelis who are oppressing and dominating the Palestinians. So, in A.I.’s view, Jewish Israelis and Palestinians constitute two different racial groups. The Nazis certainly would have agreed; Hitler’s friendly contacts with the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem provide confirmation.

What reason is there to believe that Jewish Israelis and Palestinians belong to different racial groups? Answer: None. First, Jewish Israelis could not conceivably constitute a single racial group, because Jews in Israel display every conceivable skin color. Moreover, precisely because Israeli Jews do not constitute a single racial group, they could not conceivably be a different racial group from the Palestinians.  Particularly among Sephardic Jews, there are people who are indistinguishable, in observable racial characteristics, from Palestinians. They practice different religions, but they are not of different races.

A.I.’s position regarding racial groups is this: “[W]e consider the modern conception of race under international criminal law as primarily a subjective one, dependant on the perception of the groups but especially that of the alleged perpetrators.”  (A.I. Report, p. 72.) So, in A.I.’s view, a person or group’s “race” is a subjective, not objective, matter. If A.I. decides that Jewish Israelis and Palestinians—some of them, most of them, or every single one of them?—subjectively believe they respectively are two distinct races, that settles that. No more usual, more objective criteria—skin color, genetic inheritance—need apply.

The foregoing is nonsense. Every reasonable person knows that Jewish Israelis are not a distinct racial group. But A.I. must deem them to be such if the nasty epithet “apartheid” is to be applicable to Israel. So, A.I. gleefully jams a square peg into a round hole.

What Jewish Israelis are and have been historically is a group of people who have created a state that, like many other states, has a favored, established religion. The most salient instance of favoritism is found in Israel’s Law of Return, which gives Jews the right to relocate to Israel and acquire Israeli citizenship. Israel is, however, very far from being the only country with a favored religion. In Saudi Arabia, public worship in any form other than Islam is forbidden, and in Iran the Supreme Leader must be an Islamic Jurist. In the United Kingdom, the monarch must be a member in good standing of the Church of England. There are literally dozens of countries that, to one degree or another, favor some particular religion.

Here A.I. would no doubt interject: But those other countries, unlike Israel, are not committing serous human rights violations. Israel is. Therefore, Israel, unlike all those other countries with established religions, is committing apartheid.

This rejoinder has two fatal flaws. First, Jewish Israelis and Palestinians are not two distinct racial groups. So, even if Jewish Israelis are systematically violating Palestinian human rights, they are not perpetrating apartheid, which by definition requires one racial group oppressing another. Secondly, and even more importantly, it is simply false that Jewish Israelis are systematically violating Palestinian human rights.

Palestinian terrorism makes necessary the great majority of Israeli actions and policies that A.I. falsely characterizes as human rights violations. It’s not a human rights violation to use force to defend civilians from violent attacks. It’s not a human rights violation to build a barrier to keep non-citizens out, if a dangerously large percentage of those non-citizens would blow themselves up in a crowded pizzeria in Tel Aviv or on a bus in Jerusalem.

It is impossible, in this space, to fully analyze A.I.’s 278-page Report. But it contains a glossary with over one hundred entries. Neither “Hamas” nor “terrorism” is included. The entry for intifada says: “Palestinian uprising against Israel’s military rule”—no reference to the deadly violence that frequently accompanies such uprisings. Seventeen (17) entries designate agencies of the United Nations, which signals the great reliance placed on sources notoriously biased against Israel (even then-U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon conceded that bias).

The report is entitled: “Israel’s Apartheid Against Palestinians”. More truthful would be: “Amnesty International’s Slander Against Israel”.

About the Author
David E. Weisberg is a semi-retired attorney and a member of the N.Y. Bar; he also has a Ph.D. in Philosophy from The University of Michigan (1971). He now lives in Cary, NC. His scholarly papers on U.S. constitutional law can be read on the Social Science Research Network at:
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