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Amnesty International describes Israel as an apartheid state in new report

Amnesty International, a widely respected human rights group, plans to release a report on Tuesday accusing Israel of committing apartheid and describing its existence as a Jewish state as a deprivation of Palestinians’ basic rights. Israeli officials on Sunday denounced the report as “antisemitism.”

In a 211-page report set for publication on Tuesday and obtained by the Forward, Amnesty alleges that Israel is involved in a “widespread attack directed” against Palestinians that amounts to “the crime against humanity of apartheid.”

Amnesty, which won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1977, has previously condemned Israeli policies in the occupied West Bank and accused it of committing war crimes during the 2014 conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. But this report is the first time the group is officially using the term “apartheid” to describe it.

The Amnesty report follows a similar report from Human Rights Watch last April; that report came after two leading Israeli human-rights groups began using the term apartheid.

Human Rights Watch, which won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997, issued its own lengthy report detailing its rationale for using the term “apartheid” to describe Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians in a report about Israel. The Israeli group Yesh Din had begun using the term in 2020 and B’Tselem, another Israeli group, had adopted it in January 2021.

But while the HRW report accused Israel of discriminating against Palestinians in all areas under its control but of practicing apartheid only in the areas beyond its original 1948 borders, the Amnesty report applies the term “apartheid” to the state’s internal operations as well.

“Since its establishment in 1948, Israel has pursued an explicit policy of establishing and maintaining a Jewish demographic hegemony,” the report states, “and maximizing its control over land to benefit Jewish Israelis while minimizing the number of Palestinians and restricting their rights and obstructing their ability to challenge this dispossession.”

It also argues that “almost all of Israel’s civilian administration and military authorities” are involved “in the enforcement of the system of apartheid against Palestinians across Israel” and in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, as well as “against Palestinian refugees and their descendants outside the territory.”

A spokesperson for Israel’s foreign ministry called the report “pure antisemitism” that “legitimizes attacks against Jews” and accused Amnesty International of a double standard.

“The purpose of this report is to eliminate the State of Israel as a nation-state of the Jewish people and the solution they give is for Israel to cease to exist,” said the spokesperson, Lior Haiat.

Major Jewish American groups condemned the report, calling it baseless and one-sided.

“The report commits a double injustice: It fuels those antisemites around the world who seek to undermine the only Jewish country on earth, while simultaneously cheapening and downplaying the horrific suffering that was a result of apartheid in South Africa,” the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations said in a joint statement with the Anti-Defamation League, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the Jewish Federations of North America and other groups.

But while they labeled it an “ideologically-driven polemic” document, the pro-Israel groups refrained from describing the report as antisemitic. An AIPAC spokesperson demurred when asked if the lobby group agreed with Israel’s foreign ministry’s conclusion, saying their “views are represented” in the joint statement they issued on Sunday.

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Haiat said the current makeup of the Israeli coalition government, which for the first time includes an Arab Islamist party, reflects the diversity of Israeli society and its respect for Israel’s citizens no matter their religion or cultural background.

How the report came together

Amnesty said the report is the result of four years of research on Israeli law, zoning plans, government, military directives and statements by Israeli diplomatic and evidence of violations of international human rights over past decades. It said it also engaged with Israeli and Palestinian non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and sought legal advice from experts on international law. Requests to meet with Israel’s Foreign Minister Yair Lapid last year were not answered, according to the report.

This is not the first time Amnesty has concluded a state is practicing apartheid. In 2017 it released a report that said Myanmar’s treatment of the Rohingya minority “amounts to apartheid.”

The report alleges that since Israel’s 1948 founding, its efforts to grow its Jewish population and expand control over land trampled Palestinian rights. It posits that while South Africa’s fallen apartheid regime — in which white citizens enjoyed legal protections withheld from non-whites — is not comparable to Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, “the framework of apartheid allows a comprehensive understanding, grounded in international law, of a situation of segregation, oppression and domination by one racial group over another.”

The report also holds that Arab citizens of Israel — about 20 percent of Israel’s population — are denied a nationality and face a limited ability to “participate in the political and social life of Israel.” The 120-member Knesset currently includes 14 Arab lawmakers and the cabinet includes two Arab ministers.

The report comes at a time of rising antisemitism globally, and ahead of a report expected in June from a United Nations Human Rights Council Commission of Inquiry into Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.

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