On Feb. 1, Amnesty International, one of the biggest and most prestigious human rights groups in the world, published a 280-page report titled Israel’s Apartheid Against Palestinians: Cruel System of Domination and Crime Against Humanity. The group accurately lays out how, “Human rights have long been side-lined by the international community when dealing with the decades-long struggle and suffering of Palestinians.”
The report prompted an immediate backlash from the Israeli government, which even tried to stop its publication. The U.S. government and other Israeli allies internationally also condemned the report. Mainstream media in the United States, if covering the report at all, did so in a hostile manner. The New York Times censored the report from its pages, not covering it at all.
‘Why has the world accepted Israeli apartheid?‘
It took decades for Amnesty to recognize what has long been known. Amnesty is not the first organization to make this condemnation. Israeli human rights group B’Tselem and New York-based Human Rights Watch both implicated Israel in crimes of apartheid within the past year. There are shortcomings in Amnesty’s report, but it is a major step forward that a group, which claims a movement of over 10 million people covering a wide range of human rights issues, is now asking the question: “Why has the world accepted apartheid against Palestinians when it is not acceptable anywhere in the world?”
While the report does not frame the Israeli government’s actions within a settler-colonial, Zionist context, it lays out accurately that Israel has always been an apartheid state since its inception, rather than simply saying that the apartheid regime developed in recent years. This is further than other mainstream organizations have gone. “Since the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, successive governments have created and maintained a system of laws, policies, and practices designed to oppress and dominate Palestinians.”
Amnesty also announced that it was starting a global campaign “calling for Israel to end the international wrong, and crime, of apartheid, by dismantling measures of fragmentation, segregation, discrimination, and deprivation, currently in place against the Palestinian population.”
Backlash to the report
The Israeli government reacted with fury. A few days before the report was published, the Israeli government called on Amnesty International not to release it, saying that the conclusions were “false, biased, and antisemitic.” Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said the report “echoes the same lies shared by terrorist organizations.” Anti-Semitism is real and harmful. However, wrongly equating criticism of the Israeli government and its reactionary policies with anti-Semitism is an attempt to deflect support from the just Palestinian struggle.
The U.S. and German governments both denounced the report. Amnesty’s own chapters in Germany and the United States distanced themselves from the report.
Nine Democratic Party members of the U.S. House of Representatives vehemently rejected the report’s conclusions in a joint statement calling it a “biased report … steeped in antisemitism and part of Amnesty’s broad, decades long campaign to criminalize and delegitimize the world’s only Jewish state.”
When covering the report, major U.S. news outlets have given Israeli spokespeople the headlines and some have condemned the report outright. The New York Times has remained glaringly silent on the topic and has not made any mention of the report as of this writing, more than week after it was released, suppressing the news. Times journalists frequently refer to Amnesty reports on human rights violations in other areas. In January, for example, the paper mentioned Amnesty in seven different articles.
Israel’s frantic response to the report, including its attempt to stop the report’s publication, shows that it has no arguments to justify its indefensible actions, and that Israel’s apartheid is more and more transparent to the international community.
For example, senior Israeli officials are now concerned that the UN Human Rights Council, which has established a permanent commission of inquiry in violation of Palestinian human rights, will adopt what they call the “apartheid narrative.” The commission was opposed by Israel and the United States, which moved to cut its funding by 25%.
Amnesty report reflects steadfastness of Palestinian struggle
The Amnesty report is in indication that support for the Palestinian struggle is reaching broader layers and becoming more mainstream. But Palestinians have never waited for mainstream attention, for decades they have been resisting and broadcasting Israeli oppression. Today, more than ever, young activists are fighting for liberation despite mainstream platforms’ attempts at silencing them. It is this steadfastness of the Palestinian people since 1948, never giving up the struggle to regain their land and national rights, that is the reason that groups like Amnesty International have spoken out.
According to Ali Abunimah, founder of the Electronic Intifada: “The most well known and respected human rights organizations can no longer avoid the conclusion of the reality that Palestinians themselves of course have been describing accurately for many decades.”