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When ‘human rights’ activists fear dissent

A conference on “apartheid” becomes a biased anti-Israel hate fest.

A Human Rights Watch-sponsored panel on “Racism and the Crime of Apartheid in International Law,” held in New York City on Oct. 22, 2022. Photo: courtesy
A Human Rights Watch-sponsored panel on “Racism and the Crime of Apartheid in International Law,” held in New York City on Oct. 22, 2022. Photo: courtesy
David M. Litman
David M. Litman
David M. Litman is a media and education research analyst at the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis (CAMERA).  

For all their high-minded rhetoric about free speech, some “human rights” activists and lawyers are zealously opposed to debate. This is particularly true of those who libel the Jewish state with empty accusations of “apartheid” and “racism.” However, after efforts by the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis (CAMERA) and others, purveyors of these libels—and their sponsors—now know they will not be left unchallenged.

As CAMERA exposed, the NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW) recently organized a panel on “Racism and the Crime of Apartheid in International Law.” The panel took place under the imprimatur of the American Branch of the International Law Association (ABILA)’s annual International Law Weekend. It was held on Oct. 22 in New York City and featured four anti-Israel partisans, all on record accusing Israel of “apartheid.” There was one opposing panelist, Barrister Josh Kern, who was a last-minute addition. Despite expressions of concern, no additional effort was made by the organizers to foster a more balanced discussion.

Another late addition was the moderator, law professor Milena Sterio. This was ironic, as Sterio’s background includes writing favorably of the infamous 2009 Goldstone Report, which baselessly accused Israel of various atrocities.

As luck would have it, Richard Goldstone—the former South African judge who chaired the commission that authored the report—participated in the conference as a keynote speaker. In addition to disowning his own report, which Sterio nonetheless described as an “invaluable contribution,” Goldstone has openly rejected what he calls the “apartheid slander” against Israel. Had HRW or ABILA President Leila Sadat been interested in balance, they could have invited Goldstone to stick around for another hour.

The Panel

As expected, Israel was the major focus of the panel. The United States and Myanmar were the only other countries discussed. China’s horrifying treatment of the Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims had to be raised by an audience member before the panel would address it. Issues like modern-day slavery in Mauritania and Iran’s continued repression of minority groups were left unmentioned.

Panelist Mia Swart, whose presence, Leila Sadat claimed, was intended to “assuage” concerns of one-sidedness, lamented that South Africa hasn’t pursued “strategic litigation” on apartheid to “help the Palestinians.” Swart also emphasized that Nelson Mandela once visited with the late PLO head and arch-terrorist Yasser Arafat. Given Arafat’s prolific role in murdering Jews of any nationality and his regular use of anti-Semitic rhetoric, he hardly seems an ideal figure to cite at a panel on racism.

Notwithstanding that she was at a law conference, United Nations “expert” E. Tendayi Achiume largely avoided framing her comments in the context of the law. She did claim, however, that apartheid is a “technology of settler-colonial domination” used by Israel.

HRW’s Omar Shakir claimed that the debate over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is “mired in myth of two warring sides and ethnicities” and “peace processes and political solutions.” In fact, he claimed, the only relevant question is “structural violence and structural oppression.” This is a fancy way of criticizing Israel for having survived repeated invasions and blaming it for the Palestinians’ repeated rejections of peace.

The existence of even a single opposing viewpoint was still too much for some. One audience member angrily insisted during the Q&A session that Israelis are “settler-colonialists.” When Kern tried to respond, the audience member repeatedly interrupted, insisting that Israeli Jews are “aliens,” notwithstanding the Jews’ indigeneity and millennia-old uninterrupted presence in the Land of Israel.

What better way to conclude such a panel than with an anti-Semitic rant denying Jews their history and identity?

The Lesson

Though only one opposing panelist was added to the lineup, a message was delivered to the organizers after one of the main sponsors, the law firm White & Case, issued a sharply critical statement disowning the panel.

The statement was a response to repeated media inquiries and a sustained campaign by CAMERA, its supporters and others. White & Case said: “We expect the viewpoints presented at any event we support to be within a range that is non-extremist and overall balanced. We believe the panel being presented this Saturday titled ‘Racism and the Crime of Apartheid in International Law’ did not meet these criteria, and we have shared this view with the event organizers.”

HRW and ABILA must now bear this public repudiation.

Furthermore, though outnumbered, Kern did expose one of the main reasons HRW and Leila Sadat are so terrified of any challenge to their narrative. In his conclusion, Kern argued that much of the “Israeli apartheid” rhetoric “points to a discourse that is intended to return” to the 1967 Khartoum Resolution: “No peace with Israel. No recognition of Israel. No negotiations with Israel.”

Kern is right. Underneath these “human rights” activists’ shallow narrative of Palestinian victimization and Israeli malfeasance lies a morally corrupt, zero-sum vision in which Jewish rights to self-determination and life itself are irrelevant. The real reason these activists hate and fear open debate is that it would reveal the truth: Their narrative isn’t about lifting Palestinians up, but tearing Jews down.

David M. Litman is a media and education research analyst at the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis (CAMERA).

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.

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