Israel’s attacks on Amnesty weaponise anti-semitism

Israel’s attacks on Amnesty weaponise anti-semitism

Free Palestine — A report from Amnesty says that Israel’s apartheid against Palestine is a crime against humanity. The attempts to undermine the organisation’s findings must be resisted, writes Yael Shafritz.

Today (1 February), Amnesty International released a report detailing how Israel’s treatment of Palestinians amounted to the crime of apartheid. It shouldn’t take a report from a mainstream institution like Amnesty for us to believe these claims. Palestinian activists, analysis and writers have been saying for decades that Israel’s actions amount to apartheid, as well as other egregious forms of collective punishment and domination. But symbolically, the growing consensus among the international community that Israel is perpetuating the crime of apartheid does perhaps reflect a turning of the tide, in which such positions are not only the frontier of the radical left, but rather mainstreamed within public and political discourse.

The report was, unsurprisingly, met with attacks on Amnesty’s integrity as an organisation. The day before its publication, Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid released a video condemning the human rights organisation for failing to call out other human rights abuses in Syria, and saying that the “only conclusion” he could draw about their report into apartheid is because Israeli is the world’s only Jewish state. 

Both of these accusations are frankly ludicrous. Amnesty publishes numerous reports about human rights across the globe and also published a report about Myanmar in 2017 arguing that the crime of Apartheid was also being committed there. 

The report reflects what numerous Palestinian and Israeli human rights organisations such as B’tselem have already concluded: “The Israeli regime, which controls all the territory between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, seeks to advance and cement Jewish supremacy throughout the entire area.” The insistence by Lapid that Amnesty could only be motivated by some sinister desire to attack Jews is not only disingenuous, but utterly morally bankrupt. Doing so will only prolong Israel’s ability to continue to violate the human rights of millions of Palestinians, and ultimately lead to a disbelief in antisemitism as a real and present danger. 

It is important to understand that there is a clear strategy by the right to weaponise antisemitism as a cover for their ongoing willingness to defend and uphold Israel’s actions, no matter how indefensible. It is a tired and unjustifiable approach, and intentionally muddies the waters of people’s understanding of antisemitism as a way to shut down further scrutiny of Israel treatment of Palestinians.

This strategy has picked up steam in the last few years, especially as Israel’s standing as a liberal democracy has seen a sharp decline, with growing public understanding of Palestinian life under Israeli occupation. And it’s a strategy that is working too, primarily due to the increase of lawfare tactics to shut down any meaningful action that would attempt to hold Israel accountable, namely sanctions or divestment. 

The mainstreaming of Palestinian solidarity in progressive spaces has also resulted in a growing public understanding of the connections between anti-Israeli occupation work with broader liberation struggles. Conversely, Israel-advocacy organisations have gone into overdrive to frame any kind of criticism of Israel as an attack on Jewish people. We have seen this in the UK through the proliferation of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition on antisemitism, and through a global rise in anti-BDS legislation being pushed through different parliaments in Europe and the US. 

These tactics are both myopic and immoral. They intentionally (and effectively) shift attention away from Israel’s ongoing and systematic oppression of Palestinians to relitigate arguments about antisemitism and Zionism, which often shuts out and erases Palestinian voices from the forefront. 

That politicians such as Lapid should use antisemitism in this manner should also raise alarm bells for diaspora Jews, particularly at a time when antisemitism is on the rise – both nationally and globally. The fuelling of the idea that the actions of a state entity are inherently interchangeable with Jews living in the UK is deeply dangerous. It suggests that Jews are synonymous, and therefore responsible, for the actions of the Israeli government. If Israel committed war crimes, Jews must support the committing of said war crimes. This is of course not true, and we must urgently and clearly oppose these attempts to generate such a conflation – including by the government of Israel itself. A poor public understanding of antisemitism can only lead to a rise in antisemitism.  

It is frankly exhausting to constantly see political figures and embarrassingly, my own community organisations, choose time and again to defend Israel’s occupation and apartheid in the name of ‘protecting Jews’.  It is shameful that so many failed to speak out on Israel’s ongoing aggression towards Palestinians all over Israel and Occupied Territories – from the Niqab/Negev, to Sheikh Jarrah,  to the South Hebron Hills – yet felt compelled to immediately condemn Amnesty’s report. The ongoing denial of the systemic oppression of Palestinians by Israel is nothing more than a form of racism which must be rooted out. 

While many diaspora Jews may find Amnesty’s findings unsettling, they are not antisemitic, and we must actively call out the weaponisation of antisemitism in this manner. An aspect of this work is to ensure a better collective understanding of what antisemitism is and how it operates in our society. We must also turn our attention to the myriad examples of Jewish-Palestinian solidarity both on the ground and abroad that are working together to ensure a future in Palestine-Israel that is based in equality and freedom for all. From the Center for Jewish Nonviolence, to Tzedek Collective in Australia, to Jewish Voice for Peace, to IfNotNow and Na’amod, these organisations are examples of what it means to think about a future in this land. A future that is not only free from apartheid, but reflects the importance and interconnectedness of the struggles for Palestinian and Jewish liberation.

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