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Amnesty’s Wrong Report

Cognitive dissonance is used to describe the mental discomfort that results from holding two conflicting beliefs, values, or attitudes. This came to mind with last week’s release of the Amnesty International report on Israel. How can a purported human rights organization be so focused on the only democracy in the Middle East, whose human rights record (while not perfect) is far superior to the entire region, and indeed the vast majority of the world’s nations?

Following the publication of Amnesty International’s report accusing Israel of practicing “apartheid,” Agnès Callamard, the organization’s Secretary-General, and Philip Luther, its Middle East and North Africa Research and Advocacy Director, sat down for an interview with the Times of Israel’s Lazar Berman. Away from the rapture the report received in many quarters, in this case, they actually had to face critical scrutiny for what they had written.

They did not respond well to the challenge. The report comes across as old wine in a new bottle: distorting the complex reality, ignoring the historical context, and placing the entirety of the blame for the ongoing conflict on Israel, without considering the role the Palestinians have played in getting us to this juncture. As the Israeli commentator Shany Mor put it, the report “casts the entire existence of Israel as a tainted enterprise…touched by evil. The very basis of Israeli society is a putative crime.”

The timing of this report is extremely sinister. There have been a number of encouraging developments over the past couple of years in the field of Jewish-Arab relations, including the signing of the Abraham Accords and the United Arab List – an Islamist party – becoming part of Israel’s ruling coalition. Furthermore, nothing has substantially changed, in terms of the country’s political arrangements, since the signing of the Oslo Agreements, other than the Israeli unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in 2005 in the interests of peace. So why now? One can only conclude that a desire for publicity (and funding?) has pushed Amnesty to jump on the libelous apartheid bandwagon that has been harnessed in recent years by other like-minded organizations.

Critics will point out that the Oslo arrangements were supposed to be temporary, the start of a process that was meant to lead to a negotiated Israeli withdrawal from the territories captured in 1967 and the formation of a Palestinian state. The main reason this has not happened, a fact that is always whitewashed out of history whenever this discussion comes up, is that the Palestinian leadership repeatedly said no to any form of agreement with Israel; most notably during Camp David with President Bill Clinton and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s unprecedented offer in 2008. Palestinian rejectionism has not changed from its pre-state days, nor has its leadership’s attitude towards those who murder Israelis, reflected in the notorious ‘pay for slay’ policy – a stipend for those who kill Jews in terrorist attacks.

This time, though, Amnesty has gone one step further. The report claims that it’s not merely Israel’s West Bank/Gaza policy that they take issue with, but its policies in sovereign pre-1967 Israeli territory as well. This is clearly absurd. Israeli-Arabs make up 20 percent of the country’s population and are full citizens in every sense. Israel has Arab cabinet ministers, judges, lawyers, doctors, successful CEOs, and even the captain of the national soccer team. While Israel has problems with racism – like every democracy around the world – it is sincerely trying to address the problem. In fact, the recent budget, passed by a government which, again, includes an Islamist party, has committed unprecedented investment in Arab communities.

Amnesty’s report even traces this absurd libel all the way back to Israel’s founding in 1948. The report argues that Israel must now allow millions of descendants of Palestinian refugees from the war (far more than are actually left) into Israel. This ignores the fact that they became refugees in a war of survival initiated by the Palestinians, with the full support of neighbouring Arab states. The local Arab leadership then, as today, were unwilling to accept any form of Jewish sovereignty in the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.

In short, Amnesty’s solution to this conflict is not to try to broker a peace agreement between the two sides, but for Israel to voluntarily agree to allow itself to be replaced by a Palestinian-Arab state, the so-called “one-state solution.” It’s asking Israel to self-dismantle.

But this should come as no surprise. As Luther proudly alludes to in his interview: Out of the 193 member states of the UN; including the theocratic states where you are imprisoned for blasphemy and stoned for being gay; including the dictatorial states of central Asia and much of Africa, including China and their concentration camps; including half the world’s completely undemocratic nations, Amnesty International has reserved the term ‘Apartheid’ only for a brutal military dictatorship in Myanmar…and the only democracy in the Middle East.

This isn’t cognitive dissonance; it’s just wrong.