Amnesty Settles It: It's Time for U.S. Accountability on Israel | Opinion

Amnesty International, the world's largest human rights organization, has just issued an extensive report titled "Israel's apartheid against Palestinians." As the report documents, "Israel has imposed a system of oppression and domination over Palestinians wherever it exercises control over the enjoyment of their rights." The report further found that Israel's policies are part of a "systematic as well as widespread attack directed against the Palestinian population, and that the inhuman or inhumane acts committed within the context of this attack have been committed with the intention to maintain this system and amount to the crime against humanity of apartheid."

Palestinians have been saying this for decades, and in recent years, even some leading Israeli human rights organizations have started using the word apartheid to describe their government's systems of oppression. Last year, Human Rights Watch, one of the best-known American human rights organizations, similarly accused Israel of apartheid. Amnesty International following suit this week has solidified the human rights community's emerging consensus on Israeli apartheid.

The most important consequence of this consensus is that it lays to rest the false but popular notion of an "Israeli-Palestinian conflict" between two equal sides. The new consensus instead frames the issue more accurately as a struggle between an oppressor and an oppressed people. In the same way that Apartheid in South Africa and Jim Crow segregation in the American South denied people the ability to live in freedom with their full rights simply because of who they are, Israel also denies freedom and many basic rights to Palestinians just because they are Palestinians.

Like the Human Rights Watch report before it, what's remarkable about the new Amnesty report is how extensive and detailed it is. Amnesty did its due diligence and made sure that its central claims are backed by a mountain of evidence, meticulously documenting unlawful killings, forced displacement and systemic discrimination on a massive scale. Unsurprisingly, the devastating and irreproachable nature of this report triggered a meltdown among Israel's apologists.

Unable to argue with the substance of the Amnesty report, pro-Israel groups have resorted either to blindly asserting—as AIPAC did—that Amnesty was lying, or baselessly claiming—as the ADL did—that the report would spark antisemitic attacks.

Israeli soldiers
Israeli soldiers evict settlers from a Palestinian land as villagers plant olive trees near a settlement outpost west of the Palestinians village of Salfit on February 3, 2022 in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. JAAFAR ASHTIYEH/AFP via Getty Images

The latter is nothing short of a cynical weaponization of antisemitism—which, in fact, is a serious and rising scourge in America and across the world—unscrupulously exploited in order to silence criticism of Israeli government policy.

We cannot have the open debate we need in a free society if speaking honestly about Israeli policy results in smears of bigotry. By misusing the charge of antisemitism in this fashion, Israel's apologists aren't just harming the human rights defenders being smeared by it; they're also harming the real effort to eliminate antisemitism—a goal that we all have a moral obligation to come together and accomplish.

What this Amnesty report should have done is serve as a wake-up call to an American political establishment that prioritizes pandering over sensible policy, and that has turned a blind eye to a grave injustice for far too long. After all, it is U.S. military funding, to the unrivaled tune of $3.8 billion per year, which enables the Israeli military to maintain its suffocating grip on the occupied Palestinian population, and it is U.S. diplomatic protection, through more than 40 vetoes at the UN Security Council and beyond, that shields Israel from accountability for its crimes.

And yet, despite repeatedly claiming to prioritize human rights in its foreign policy, the Biden administration's reaction to this report was utterly disappointing. The administration rejected it out of hand.

The Amnesty report bemoans the fact that, "for over seven decades, the international community has stood by as Israel has been given free rein to dispossess, segregate, control, oppress and dominate Palestinians." It criticizes countries like ours that have "actively supported Israel's violations by supplying it with arms, equipment and other tools to perpetrate crimes under international law and by providing diplomatic cover, including at the UN Security Council, to shield it from accountability." The report also reiterated its call for "states to immediately suspend the direct and indirect supply, sale or transfer of all weapons, munitions and other military and security equipment."

But the Biden administration seems content to stick its head in the sand, anachronistically rambling about the long-dead "peace talks" —a meaningless charade to begin with.

Even if the Biden administration were serious about pursuing a diplomatic effort toward peace, that doesn't change America's moral obligation to cease funding oppression right now. Arming and supporting Israel in its current state is the opposite of peace; it's a guarantee for an emboldened Israeli government to remain committed to the same track of intransigence, oppression and violence.

The time for debate is over. The Biden administration now has a simple decision to make: Either side with the human rights community that's fighting for a world free of oppression and remove this moral stain from our national conscience by ending U.S. support for Israel's government, or carry on with "politics as usual" in maintaining an immoral foreign policy that history will not judge kindly. As our democracy remains at least semi-functioning at this stage, it's up to all of us to make sure our government does the right thing.

Omar Baddar is a political analyst and the former director of the Arab American Institute.

The views in this article are the writer's own.