On the evening of Thursday, May 5, the State of Israel will mark 74 years of independence. Israelis will come together to celebrate their country’s vibrant and diverse society, thriving democracy and leadership and innovation in science and technology. More than all this, they will celebrate Israel as the embodiment of self-determination for the Jewish people.
Others will observe the Palestinians’ annual Nakba Day, mourning the “catastrophe” that they view as intrinsic to the founding of the Jewish state.
The dichotomy between the two observances could not be starker. While the former looks forward and works toward the future, the latter clings to a revisionist version of history, preserving an ethos of victimhood in a desperate attempt to change the present.
This in itself is not new. In recent years, however, the “catastrophe” rhetoric has migrated from Palestinian discourse to influential Western institutions and organizations as part of a larger campaign to delegitimize and isolate the State of Israel.
The most glaring example is the repeated allegations of the crime of apartheid leveled at Israel by powerful human rights organizations. At the beginning of 2021, the influential NGOs Human Rights Watch (HRW) and B’Tselem published reports alleging that Israel is responsible for, and Israeli officials guilty of, committing apartheid—a crime against humanity. And in February of this year, Amnesty International published a similar report, alleging that Israel has been racist and illegitimate since its inception.
In their campaigns to label Israel an apartheid state, these NGOs resort to historical distortions, legally unsubstantiated definitions and false interpretations of existing Israeli policies and laws. They erase the broader context entirely, ignoring the ongoing conflict, terror attacks, Palestinian rejection of any type of normalization with Israel and internationally binding agreements signed between the two parties. They do so with a single purpose—to deny Jews, and only Jews, the right to a sovereign state.
The NGOs that present apartheid discourse as mere “criticism” of Israeli policy should be dismissed on the spot. The simple truth is that the “apartheid” slander is used to declare Israel’s very existence illegitimate. As such, by portraying Israel as an inherently racist endeavor, these campaigns constitute text-book antisemitism, meeting the criteria set out in the IHRA working definition of antisemitism that has been adopted and endorsed by 34 countries.
NGOs have also played an influential role in lobbying the UN Human Rights Council to create a commission of inquiry to examine the charge of apartheid. The inquiry, set to convene in June, is made up of members with long-documented anti-Israel biases and extensive connections to politicized NGOs. The NGOs hope that UN involvement will create legal and political precedent for applying the “apartheid” label and reinforce NGO lobbying of the International Criminal Court to follow suit.
Most disturbingly, as shown in research by NGO Monitor, these campaigns are often financed by multiple European governments, including Switzerland, Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands. Since 2014, 13 NGOs promoting the apartheid label have received $50 million through various European governmental programs, including six NGOs affiliated with Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine that Israel designated as terror fronts in late 2021.
Delegitimization, antisemitic rhetoric and terror are all tools that have long been a part of the anti-Israel arsenal. Yet, they have failed miserably. Israel in 2022 is a diverse, thriving and prosperous society. In practical terms, the BDS movement has failed to gain significant traction outside of fringe political movements. And in contrast to tired narratives of international isolation, Israel continues to form new alliances and important regional partnerships that were unimaginable only a few short years ago.
Perhaps it is time for HRW, Amnesty and their ilk to recalibrate. The future of Israel will not be shaped in offices in New York or London. Rather, it is being written in forums such as last month’s Negev Summit with signatories to the Abraham Accords; the corridors of Tel Aviv startups; and the Knesset, which houses the country’s most diverse government to date, with Jews and Arabs working together to make Israel a better society for all.
Ahead of Israel’s Independence Day, Israel’s NGO detractors should reflect on whether their rhetoric is helping to facilitate a better future, or whether they are perpetuating a narrative that has long belonged to the past.
Olga Deutsch is the Vice President of NGO Monitor.