What was the gravest human-rights crisis of 2021? Was it the Chinese government’s ongoing genocide of Uyghur Muslims, or the return of the repressive and brutal Taliban rule in Afghanistan?
According to human-rights “stalwarts” Human Rights Watch (HRW) and B’Tselem, Israel’s supposed oppression of the Palestinians surpassed them all.
In late December, HRW executive director Ken Roth tweeted that the “top human-rights news” in 2021 was “Israel’s apartheid.” It was also what the organization said was its most widely seen video.
Likewise, during a year-end roundup, B’Tselem chose not to highlight the more than 4,000 indiscriminate rockets fired at Israeli population centers during Israel’s 11-day conflict with Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip last May. Instead, they boasted that their report denouncing Israel’s “Regime of Jewish Supremacy” helped formulate a new anti-Israel “consensus in the human-rights community.”
As Israel’s Foreign Minister Yair Lapid noted, such venomous distortions have consequences in the international arena. In 2022, multiple U.N. bodies will devote millions of dollars to investigate Israel and, inevitably, to lobby accusations of apartheid. In sharp contrast, the devastating 11-year Syrian civil war received far less in the way of U.N. resources and attention.
Why is this the case? What drives the disproportionate production of content accusing Israel of “apartheid,” while actual human-rights atrocities receive considerably less attention?
The answer largely rests on how these non-governmental organizations (NGOs) politicize international law and redefine key terms. Along with HRW and B’Tselem, a network of Palestinian organizations—funded by European states in the amount of 35 million euros (nearly $40 million) annually—have been leading this destructive campaign for two decades. Applied in tandem, these tactics coalesce into the NGOs’ overarching goal of eroding Israel’s legitimacy.
Most importantly, the NGOs’ allegation that Israel practices apartheid “from the river to the sea”—an institutionalized regime of oppression and domination over a racial group—is a lie. Israel has enshrined equality in its declaration of independence and basic laws, the latter of which hold constitutional status. Arab and other minority citizens serve at the highest levels of the country’s parliament, government, military and judiciary.
Furthermore, in a thorough legal analysis of apartheid’s status as a crime against humanity, UK Barrister Joshua Kern and Anne Herzberg, NGO Monitor’s legal adviser, trace the evolution of the “apartheid” canard. They explain that it is merely the latest in a longstanding campaign to delegitimize Israel, dating back to 1960s Soviet propaganda that delegitimized Zionism—the Jewish right to self-determination. For the past 20 years, NGOs have been recycling this approach, highlighted by the infamous Durban conference of 2001, in which the NGO Forum’s Final Declaration labeled Israel an “apartheid state,” and called for its “complete and total isolation.”
According to Kern and Herzberg, the current attacks cite the U.N.’s 1973 Apartheid Convention and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC). Yet the NGOs fail to convincingly demonstrate that Israel’s treatment of Palestinians meets any of the existing definitions of the crime.
These well-established facts, however, make no impression on the leaders of HRW, B’Tselem and the other NGOs. They are well aware that the definition of apartheid is incompatible with reality, including decades of conflict and Palestinian terror. So instead, they invent legal standards to support their attacks against Israel.
As if this legal manipulation and wordplay were not enough, HRW, in particular, exhibits an excessive hyper-focus on Israel, which HRW founder Robert Bernstein noted in a 2009 New York Times op-ed. Since the April 2021 launch of the bogus Israel apartheid campaign, Ken Roth has tweeted accusations of Israeli apartheid more than 160 times. This outsized attention leads the public to conclude that Israel stands at the pinnacle of evil regimes and is the most pressing human-rights issue of our time.
In a familiar cycle, the apartheid claims promulgated by these NGOs drive a narrative that is reflexively embraced by the media, and promoted by some politicians and government officials. B’Tselem’s report was even mentioned on comedian John Oliver’s late-night talk show. This NGO-media-political complex creates a mutually reinforcing and overwhelming echo chamber that coaxes people to blindly join the chorus of critics decrying “Israeli apartheid.”
And that is precisely why the ostensibly most pressing human-rights story of 2021 is a non-story. And unless the leaders of these NGOs, their funders and other allies change course in 2022, the assault on the universal moral principles they claim to promote will only continue.
Eitan Fischberger is the communications and content associate for NGO Monitor. Follow him on Twitter @EFischberger.