Why the Amnesty ‘apartheid’ smear of Israel can’t be ignored

The anti-Semitic lies spewed by leftist “human-rights” groups are absurd. But this attack is part of a dangerous U.N. campaign against Zionism whose goal is to isolate the Jewish state.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan meets with PLO chairman Yasser Arafat during the U.N. Racism World Conference in Durban in 2001. Credit: U.N. Photo.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan meets with PLO chairman Yasser Arafat during the U.N. Racism World Conference in Durban in 2001. Credit: U.N. Photo.
Jonathan S. Tobin
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him @jonathans_tobin.

Say this for Amnesty International, its outrageous report alleging that Israel is an “apartheid state” has brought nearly all of the Jewish world together to condemn the organization. Groups from the Jewish right, left and center all agree that its claims are bogus and that its goal is not to criticize specific policies or push for it to withdraw from the 1967 borders. The purpose of the report is to brand Israel as not so much a rogue state as an illegitimate one. By damning modern-day Israel’s establishment in 1948 and calling for the results of the War of Independence to be reversed by instituting a “right of return” for descendants of the Arab refugees, Amnesty’s objective is to eliminate the one Jewish state on the planet. As such, there is no way to regard its efforts as anything but an act of anti-Semitism.

There is also no way to ignore the fact that this obsession with Israel on the part of Amnesty and other international groups that masquerade as advocates for “human rights” is a function of Jew-hatred, not an intellectual argument about Zionism or an effort to promote the interests of the Palestinian Arabs, let alone peace.

But there is a problem with the denunciations of Amnesty from across the Jewish spectrum—outside of the far left anti-Zionist groups like Jewish Voices for Peace or IfNotNow, who are themselves guilty of promoting anti-Semitic canards—and even from the State of Israel and the Biden administration. While it’s a good thing that liberals, centrists and conservatives all reject the “apartheid” lie, it’s not clear that Jerusalem, Washington or most Jewish groups fully understand the context of this assault and how dangerous it is.

The Amnesty report doesn’t come out of nowhere. It’s timed specifically to support the U.N. Human Rights Council’s open-ended inquiry into all alleged violations of international law in Israel, Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza. This has created what is in effect a new U.N. agency inside the UNHRC that will be a permanent institution whose sole purpose will be to demonize Israel and advance efforts to isolate it and label it as a pariah state. It builds on the despicable anti-Semitism that was seen on display at the U.N. Durban Conference in 2001 when the effort to use the racism charge first gained steam.

The potential damage that this permanent inquiry can do to Israel goes beyond merely making mischief. By insinuating it into the structure of the United Nations and the pretense that its bogus findings are an expression of international law, the stage is being set for a revival of the old Soviet “Zionism is racism” lie. More than that, by employing the imprimatur of the world body to bolster the BDS movement’s efforts to isolate Israel, it can breathe new life into an anti-Semitic campaign that hasn’t gotten as much traction on a global scale.

Moreover, it is vital to point out that, contrary to the claims of Israel’s critics, none of this stems from any legitimate criticism of policies or even the Jewish presence in the territories. Rather, it is an open assertion that a Jewish state is illegitimate, no matter what its policies are or where its borders are drawn.

Still, most of the Jewish world seems not overly alarmed by the U.N. inquiry much in the same way that they failed to understand the full significance of what happened in Durban and three more similarly named conferences that followed, even if they denounced them.

Observers of the Middle East have grown used to the drumbeat of anti-Israel incitement from groups like Amnesty and Human Rights Watch, as well as from leftist Israeli groups like B’Tselem, which routinely denounce its policies and even throw around the “apartheid” smear. The frequency of these attacks and their disconnect from the reality of life in Israel or, for that matter, in the West Bank makes it hard to take them seriously. As a result, most Israelis and supporters of Israel have grown numb to these assaults on Israel’s good name. The enthusiasm for the effort required to respond to their lies is often lacking.

The traditional Israeli attitude of self-reliance and dismissal of—if not indifference towards—hostile world opinion can also breed indifference to such threats. If the Zionist movement had listened to world opinion, it would have given up long before 1948.

Also acting to mute the response to such organizations is an outdated belief that those who call themselves human-rights activists may have good intentions.

Amnesty is also counting on observers and the press to respond to its activities as they would have done in the distant past, when it was seen as an apolitical group solely interested in opposing tyranny around the globe. Similarly, many Jewish liberals long saw B’Tselem as merely liberal Zionism in action, seeking to hold the Israeli government accountable for its behavior, and not as a group that is opposed to the state’s existence as its own recent “apartheid” accusation made clear.

Many also believe that worrying about this is unnecessary because it is contradicted by the willingness of Israeli Arabs—one of whose political parties now sits in Israel’s government as a partner—and of much of the Arab world to accept Israel in recent years. The Abraham Accords showed that Arab and Muslim nations now understand that allowing themselves to be held hostage by Palestinian intransigence wasn’t in their own interests. They recognize that the Jewish state is a valuable trading partner and an ally they can count on for support against aggression from Iran, and its terrorist allies and auxiliaries.

Many Jews and friends of the Jewish state think that in a world where Israel’s president is warmly greeted in an Arab capital, worrying about what leftist ideologues and U.N. bureaucrats say about Zionism is a waste of time.

They’re right if they think this isn’t 1939. Israel is strong, prosperous and here to stay. But they’re wrong if they think the Amnesty report and the U.N. inquiry can’t hurt Israel by using the blunt instrument of international law against it, even if its claims will be utterly false and flatly contradicted by any notion of justice.

That’s why the reaction to the Amnesty report can’t be just a series of press releases expressing outrage followed by the Jewish world moving on to other seemingly more important matters.

Pro-Israel groups must make opposition to the U.N. inquiry and associated efforts a top priority. That’s also true for liberal groups like the Jewish Council for Public Affairs and the Anti-Defamation League, which have denounced Amnesty but are far more interested in aiding the Biden administration’s domestic agenda and likely preparing to give cover to Washington’s Iran appeasement strategy in spite of how dangerous that is for Israel.

Israel’s government and the Biden administration also need to understand that the latest apartheid smear is a shot fired over their bows that must be answered. More than that, they must mount a full-scale offensive aimed at making clear to the United Nations that if the inquiry is allowed to go forward as currently planned, then it will call into question further American financial support, as well as leaving open the possibility of a complete withdrawal from the world body.

Granted, it’s hard to imagine a Biden State Department—filled with leftists and liberals who believe in diplomacy for its own sake and regard multilateralism as a far more important value than Israel’s legitimacy—acting with the urgency that is needed on this matter.

The point to be understood, however, is that the Amnesty apartheid propaganda is not just a terrible libel of Israel. It’s the beginning of a struggle at the United Nations that can undermine the Jewish state’s ability to function on the world stage. Those who underestimate the potential danger involved with this effort are unable to see the forest for the trees.

Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.

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