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Op-ed

Amnesty’s ‘apartheid Israel’ calumny

The allegation is unjustified and malicious — deeply harmful to Israel for those who take it at face value; damaging to Amnesty’s credibility for those who know better

David Horovitz

David Horovitz is the founding editor of The Times of Israel. He is the author of "Still Life with Bombers" (2004) and "A Little Too Close to God" (2000), and co-author of "Shalom Friend: The Life and Legacy of Yitzhak Rabin" (1996). He previously edited The Jerusalem Post (2004-2011) and The Jerusalem Report (1998-2004).

Agnes Callamard, the secretary general of Amnesty International, speaks during a press conference in Jerusalem, on February 1, 2022. (Flash90)
Agnes Callamard, the secretary general of Amnesty International, speaks during a press conference in Jerusalem, on February 1, 2022. (Flash90)

An earlier version of this Editor’s Note was sent out Wednesday in ToI’s weekly update email to members of the Times of Israel Community. To receive these Editor’s Notes as they’re released, join the ToI Community here.

No, Amnesty International. Israel is not practicing apartheid against the Palestinians — not, as ridiculously alleged in Amnesty’s malicious new report, in Israel itself, not in Hamas-run Gaza, and not in the profoundly troubling reality of the West Bank either. (The report also accuses Israel of enforcing apartheid “outside” these territories as well; words fail.)

In fact, Israel’s own Arab minority — a little over a fifth of the population — enjoys full rights in the Middle East’s only democracy, including equality before the law, equal political representation, free press and freedom of speech.

The Palestinians of the Gaza Strip are ruled by a murderous, repressive terrorist organization that avowedly seeks Israel’s destruction; Israel has no military or civilian presence there, having withdrawn unilaterally to the pre-1967 lines in 2005, and the necessity of its security blockade is reinforced every time Hamas initiates cross-border conflict.

Israel for decades sought to negotiate an end to its occupation in the West Bank, itself a successor to Jordanian occupation, but was defeated by first the Arab world’s and then the Palestinian leadership’s refusal to countenance terms that would not have spelled Israel’s demise militarily and/or demographically. Mainstream Israeli readiness to “take risks for peace” in the West Bank has been inexorably weakened by decades of relentless terrorism and by the evidence, from Gaza and southern Lebanon, that relinquishing adjacent territory simply creates a vacuum that terrorist regimes rush to fill.

Even as Israel in recent years has moved dangerously away from a declared readiness in principle for a viable two-state solution to the conflict, it has not annexed the West Bank and formalized sovereign rule over the Palestinians there. Its West Bank presence and its policies are a complex function and consequence of security imperatives amid a decades-old clash of national claims founded on competing historical narratives. Few would dispute that there is racism in that mix as well, but to quote Yuval Shany, a senior fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute and a member of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem Faculty of Law, using the language of apartheid is “a bridge too far.” I consider that an understatement.

“Israel has many problems that must be solved, within the [pre-1967] Green Line and even more so in the occupied territories,” a prominent Israeli who knows a great deal about Israel, its conflict with the Palestinians, its history and its daily reality, tweeted on Tuesday. “But Israel is not an apartheid state.”

Palestinians gather near the border with Israel in Malaka east of Gaza City on March 30, 2019, on the first anniversary of Hamas-organized “March of Return” border protests. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)

Settlement expansion threatens to destroy any future prospect of the two-state solution — the only viable means of resolving the conflict; the IDF is proving unwilling or unable to confront and thwart extremist settlers’ violence against Palestinians; and the army is right now grappling with the shameful case of an elderly Palestinian-American who was left to die after being stopped and held by an IDF unit. Israel’s ongoing control of millions of Palestinians is patently corrosive and ultimately untenable — from Israel’s existential point of view, too, since it condemns us to eventually losing either our Jewish majority or our democracy, or both. But it has to be resolved under circumstances in which the creation of a Palestinian state does not cause or risk the destruction of our historic Jewish state.

Yet it is the destruction of Israel that Amnesty International transparently seeks and encourages — by demanding a “right of return” of potentially millions of Palestinians to Israel, rather than their inclusion in their own future state once they’ve come to terms with ours; by calling on the international community to deny Israel the arms it unfortunately requires to defend itself against the region’s aggressors; and by misrepresenting the reality on the ground here in a report designed to weaken international support for and identity with our small nation, surviving and flourishing against all odds.

Related: Amnesty to ToI: No double standard in accusing Israel, but not China, of apartheid

For those who make the effort to look deeply at our complex reality and its context, Tuesday’s report will only discredit Amnesty International. In those many quarters where people do not make that effort, unfortunately, the selection of Israel as only the second country, after Myanmar, to be branded by Amnesty International as a practitioner of apartheid will do great harm.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and colleagues host a Meretz party delegation including ministers Nitzan Horowitz (second-left) and Issawi Frej (third-right), on October 3, 2021 (Meretz)

Doubtless our critics won’t take his word for it, but it might give them pause were they to learn the identity of that prominent and knowledgeable Israeli whose tweet I quoted above, acknowledging our “many problems” but dismissing the apartheid calumny.

It was Issawi Frej, a Muslim Arab whose grandfather was killed in the Kafr Qasim massacre, and who currently serves as the minister of regional cooperation… in the government of the “apartheid” State of Israel.

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