Amnesty cracks the wall of apartheid denial

Israel has escaped accountability for apartheid because its friends have wielded the antisemitism charge against critics. But the Amnesty International report is a sharp blow to that strategy.

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Recently, Amnesty International has joined its voice to Human Rights Watch and several Israeli NGOs to conclude that Israel has been committing the crime of apartheid. The conclusion is based on over two hundred pages of evidence, and it concerns the treatment of Palestinians, both in Israel proper and in the territories occupied by Israel since 1967.


The reaction from the government of Israel and its many supporters around the world was condemnation of … Amnesty International. The Amnesty report was called antisemitic, the standard accusation meant to deflect criticism of the Zionist state. It was Abba Eban, Israel’s veteran foreign minister, who proposed this deflection strategy in the early 1970s. Conflation of criticism of Israel with antisemitism ensures Israel’s impunity, which is open for all to see. This expansive use of the specter of antisemitism stands in guard for Israel and frightens those who hesitate to call a spade a spade. The career of a politician or a journalist who dare do so may abruptly come to an end.


Israel lobbies active around the world are well-organized, motivated and financed. They rely on millions of Christian Zionists who see the state of Israel as an embodiment of their messianic hopes and on the substantially more modest numbers of Jews for whom Israel has become the center of their identity. Israel also enjoys solid support from right-wing political movements who admire Israel as a model of unabashed exclusive nationalism.


Another trend that favors Israel is that colonialism, the root cause of apartheid, has been reacquiring respectability in the ruling circles of many a Western country. Some, including Tony Blair and Emmanuel Macron, have praised the contributions their nations made to their former colonies. This is part of the ongoing political shift to the right in many countries. Israel not only mistreats the Palestinians. It has been a major supplier of arms, surveillance equipment and knowhow – routinely tested on Palestinians, for a number of oppressive regimes, from Colombia to Saudi Arabia. All this makes the question of Israel particularly poignant. This small piece of land in West Asia is an important focus of the world struggle against systemic discrimination and injustice.


It remains to be seen if the report of Amnesty International will move public opinion against Israeli apartheid, at a time where many other worries take first seat. On the other hand, many see something in common between, on the one hand, the plight of the Palestinians and, on the other, the Black Lives Matter movement’s grievances, official acknowledgement of cultural genocide of the aboriginal people in Canada and growing anticolonial sentiment in countries born of colonial settlements. Surveys have consistently shown that the pro-Israel stance of Canada and many Western countries suffer from a democratic deficit since most people in those countries sympathize with the Palestinians. Under the circumstances civil society is likely to become the major factor of change.


Zionists in and outside of Israel are well aware of this danger. The current chief rabbi of South Africa writing in the Jerusalem Post warns that “the intention behind this Amnesty International report, like all those who falsely accuse Israel of apartheid, is to destroy the Jewish state by breaking the resolve of its brave citizens by making them ashamed of their country, reluctant to serve in its army or pay its taxes; instead looking to emigrate to avoid the disgrace and pain of sanctions and international ostracism.” He speaks from the experience of his country and is quite right to worry about the Zionist nature of the Israeli state that underpins discrimination.


Leonard Cohen wisely observed that “there is crack in everything; that’s how the light gets in”. The Amnesty report cracks the wall of apartheid denial and sheds light on the everyday oppression practiced in Israel. It should help free both the oppressed and the oppressors from the curse of apartheid.

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