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Rejecting Congressional panning of apartheid claim, Amnesty urges US to press Israel

Following bipartisan criticism of new report, rights group calls for US lawmakers to leverage ties with Israel to end alleged rights abuses, dismisses claims of antisemitism

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

Clouds pass over the Capitol dome on December 31, 2020, in Washington, DC. (Joshua Roberts/Getty Images/AFP)
Clouds pass over the Capitol dome on December 31, 2020, in Washington, DC. (Joshua Roberts/Getty Images/AFP)

Amnesty International on Wednesday pushed back against widespread criticism by US lawmakers of a report accusing Israel of practicing apartheid, rejecting accusations of antisemitism and urging Congress to use its influence to end alleged Israeli human rights violations.

Amnesty alleged in a major report released Tuesday that Israel has maintained “a system of oppression and domination” over the Palestinians going all the way back to the establishment of the state in 1948, a system the group said meets the international definition of apartheid.

The Biden administration, as well as US lawmakers from both sides of the aisle, were quick to harangue the 278-page report.

Among the Republican critics were Senator Jim Risch of Oklahoma, Senator Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, Senator James Lankford of Oklahoma, Representative Lee Zeldin of New York, Representative Elise Stefanik of New York, Representative Joe Wilson of South Carolina, Representative Jason Smith of Missouri, Representative Fred Upton of Michigan, Representative David Kustoff of Tennessee, Representative Tim Walberg of Michigan and Representative Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida.

Democrats who sounded off against Amnesty included Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey, Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, Representative Brad Schneider of Illinois, Representative Lois Frankel of Florida, Representative Elaine Luria of Virginia, Representative Kathy Manning of North Carolina, Representative Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey, Representative Dean Phillips of Minnesota, Representative Brad Sherman of California, Representative Jake Auchincloss of Massachusetts and Representative Ritchie Torres of New York.

Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., speaks during a Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee hearing on the CARES Act on Capitol Hill, Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2021 in Washington. (Kevin Dietsch/Pool via AP)

“By identifying Israel’s very establishment as the foundation for this accusation, Amnesty International has joined a growing chorus of vicious voices intent on denying Israel’s right to exist through slander, misinformation, and ignoring that both Israelis and Palestinians are responsible for their own fates,” said Menendez, who heads the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.

Agnes Callamard, the Secretary General of Amnesty International (C) holds a press conference together with Middle East and North Africa Research and Advocacy Director Philip Luther (L) and activist Orly Noy (R) in Jerusalem, on February 1, 2022. Amnesty International labelled Israel an “apartheid” state that treats Palestinians as “an inferior racial group.” (RONALDO SCHEMIDT / AFP)

“Instead of focusing on actual human rights violations from countries like China—Amnesty International instead has decided to go after Israel on claims they can’t even back up,” tweeted Lankford, the Republican senator from Oklahoma.

Following the denunciations from Congress members, which were more muted among progressive Democrats, Amnesty issued a statement in apparent response to the criticism.

Copies of Amnesty International’s report ‘Israel’s Apartheid Against Palestinians,’ at a press conference in Jerusalem, Tuesday, Feb. 1, 2022. (AP/Maya Alleruzzo)

“Our sole mandate is to document and expose human rights violations wherever we find them and to issue recommendations that will remedy and end them,” the organization’s US chapter said. “We have issued reports on crimes against humanity committed by authorities in countries around the world, from China to Sudan to Saudi Arabia. In 2017, Amnesty International released conclusive evidence that authorities in Myanmar are committing apartheid against the Rohingya.”

The group went on to urge members of Congress to leverage America’s close ties with Israel “meaningfully pressure Israeli authorities to repeal discriminatory laws and policies, issue reparations where appropriate, and uphold its obligations under international human rights and humanitarian law.”

Amnesty said US lawmakers should conduct a “thorough review” of US security assistance to Israel to determine whether Jerusalem has violated the conditions for the aid by using it to carry out rights abuses against Palestinians.

The group concluded by addressing accusations of antisemitism, saying its work is “focused on the actions of the Israeli government,” not the Jewish people.

“Furthermore, we condemn anyone who would cynically cite our research as justification for committing antisemitic acts of hatred and violence. Amnesty International condemns antisemitism in the strongest possible terms,” the organization said.

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