Amnesty's Lies About Israel Only Hurt Its Own Credibility | Opinion

In May 2009, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had just spurned the latest Israeli offer of an independent Palestinian state on virtually the entire West Bank, an offer which, like past Israeli offers that had been similarly rejected, had one quid pro quo: peace at long last. In an interview with the Washington Post, Abbas said the quiet part out loud, acknowledging that, like his predecessor Yasser Arafat, he was in no hurry whatsoever for such a state. Rather than end the conflict, he preferred to sit tight and maintain the status quo indefinitely. "In the West Bank we have a good reality," Abbas told the Post. "The people are living a normal life."

Much better, in short, to rail about settlements, occupation and "apartheid" than to actually have the independent Palestinian state Abbas claimed to want. Then there was the little matter of Hamas, which occupied the Gaza Strip, and which not only rejected any state of Israel within any borders under any circumstances but also maintained a de facto state of civil war with Abbas' Palestinian authority, a civil war which continues to this day.

Abbas was content to do nothing, and permit the usual suspects to blame Israel for the absence of peace, a condition which, to the regret of Israelis, they are powerless to remediate.

Amnesty International has long been one of those usual suspects.

Now, most serious, sober observers of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including some who have served in high ranking positions in the Palestinian Authority, candidly acknowledge that the predicament that Israel and the Palestinians find themselves in would not exist but for poor decision-making by the Palestinian leadership over the past 80 years. The familiar and indisputable but oh-so-tiresome facts are that the Palestinian leadership has been repeatedly offered, and just as repeatedly rejected, a Palestinian state in return for simple peace. These offers would have meant no Israeli settlements, no occupation and no basis whatsoever for cries of "apartheid."

Amnesty International, however, is neither sober nor serious when it comes to Israel, a point which it illustrated once again this week by releasing a report with the measured, grounded title, "Israel's Apartheid Against Palestinians: Cruel System of Domination and Crimes Against Humanity."

Israelis, with a press that is not just free but truly rancorous, an independent judiciary and a diverse society that famously features three opinions for each of its 9.2 million citizens, have plenty of caustic debate about its dilemmas, of which it has no shortage, including the question of how to finally make peace with the Palestinians and how to have the Palestinians make peace with them. Any Israeli who wants to criticize its government can get a major league argument going between the time he orders a coffee in a cafe and the time it is brought to the table.

But the kind of glib, facile cries of "apartheid" by the likes of Amnesty International or Human Rights Watch, which fundraise off their bitter anti-Israelism, has gotten to be a bit much.

Amnesty's lies about Israel only hurt itself
Head of Israel's right-wing Yamina party Naftali Bennett (L) chats with Mansour Abbas, head of the conservative Islamic Raam party during a special session to vote on a new government at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on June 13, 2021. - Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faced the likely end of his 12-year rule as a fragile alliance of his political enemies hoped to oust him in a parliament vote and form a new government. EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP via Getty Images

It isn't only the determined refusal of these groups to acknowledge how Israel came to occupy the West Bank and Gaza, or the history of Israeli offers of the very Palestinian state that Palestinian representatives tell the press they are seeking, that has badly damaged their credibility. It is the persistent refusal to be straightforward about facts—facts that undermine the increasingly untethered rhetoric about Israel being to blame for the stalemate with the Palestinians. It simply isn't.

Amnesty points out that the security fence and checkpoints that Israel began constructing in July 2002 have caused hardship and humiliation for Palestinians. They surely have. But it requires only a small helping of honesty to acknowledge that the reason that Israel was obliged to do this was because for 20 months, beginning in September 2020 and continuing through 2004, its civilians were subjected to a bombing campaign that blew 1,100 Israelis to pieces and maimed 5,000 more. That is the rough equivalent of 40,000 Americans blown to pieces and 175,000 Americans maimed on American streets. Was this construction of a security fence to prevent Israelis from being shredded really a "crime against humanity?"

When Hamas used Gaza as a launching pad to fire thousands of rockets at Israeli civilians in 2009, 2012, 2014 and 2021 and Israel chose to try to stop the rockets rather than wait for Hamas to run out of them, was this really a "crime against humanity?"

General Martin Dempsey, then Chief of Staff under President Obama, sure didn't think so, praising the Israeli military for its humanity in seeking to protect Palestinians held hostage by Hamas. Israel, General Dempsey told the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs in 2014, after Israel had absorbed 5,000 Hamas missiles, "went to extraordinary lengths to limit collateral damage and civilian casualties. The Israel Defense Forces [are] not interested in creating civilian casualties. They're interested in stopping the shooting of rockets and missiles out of the Gaza Strip."

It is a mark of Amnesty's incredible shrinking credibility that the anti-Israel narrative it peddles, seeming to want to divert attention from the internal dissension that has recently come to light inside the organization, has less and less traction in the Middle East itself, where Amnesty appears to have "lost the room." In the last two years, a series of Arab nations have moved to normalize relations with Israel, among them the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco. More are close behind.

And it isn't only Israel's Arab neighbors who are telling Amnesty "No thanks." Last year, Israel's Arab party joined the most diverse government Israel has ever had, and is part of the coalition governing the country. "We have two hats," said the party's leader, Mansour Abbas. "On the one side we are Arab Palestinians. But we are also Arab citizens of Israel."

Mansour's significant role in leading the Middle East's only democracy, one which protects workers, women, members of the LGBT community and religious minorities, is unhelpful to Amnesty's line that Israel is an apartheid state. The same is true of the role that Israeli Arabs play on the country's Supreme Court, where an Arab justice presided over a trial adjudicating a national Israeli election.

Buffeted by an array of grave and downright existential challenges that no other country on the planet faces, beset by an over-abundance of complexity, Israel is no more perfect than the United States is. But the kind of over-the-top proclamations by agenda-driven organizations like Amnesty do less damage to Israel's reputation than to their own.

Abraham Foxman is the National Director Emeritus of the Anti-Defamation League. Jeff Robbins, at attorney in Boston, was a United States Delegate to the United Nations Human Rights Commission under President Clinton.

The views in this article are the writers' own.