Last week, Amnesty International released a report entitled “Israel’s Apartheid against Palestinians: Cruel System of Domination and Crime against Humanity.” The predictable firestorm followed. For those who believe and preach that Israel can do no right, the AI report was undoubtedly a “we told you so” moment. And to those for whom Israel can do no wrong, the hateful report is further proof of the antisemitic bias of Amnesty International and Israel’s enemies.
Given the accusatory focus of the AI report and its mind-bending hyperbolic name-calling, it is no surprise that the 300-page report was denounced by Jewish groups left, right and center. What was interesting was the volume of organizational denunciations that were issued before the report was even released. The pre-release announcement of the incendiary title was enough to trigger the well-deserved (yet predictable) responses and reactions.
So how do we move the discussion from accusations and name-calling and change the dynamic of the debate? Perhaps most importantly, those who seek to delegitimize Israel need to understand that nothing will be gained by tossing bombshells and accusing Israel of outrageous “crimes against humanity,” or of a wholly inapposite accusation of “apartheid.” Those aren’t the real problems presented by the increasingly intractable Palestinian situation. And those on the pro-Israel side need to accept the fact that there are serious issues and problems to resolve, even if “apartheid” is not one of them.
As noted by Michael Kaplow of the Israel Policy Forum in a recent piece about the AI report: “The apartheid charge … rests squarely on the concept of racial domination….The glaringly obvious problem with this is that … this is not a racial conflict, but a national conflict. It is not about racial control, but about territorial control.” Koplow goes on to explain how different groups of Palestinians under Israeli control are treated differently, “depending on the status of Israel’s control over the territory on which they live.” Koplow points to the differing treatment of full-citizen Palestinians within the Green Line all the way to those under the Palestinian Authority or military rule in the West Bank and still different rules for those in Gaza, and argues that “If Israel were exercising a system of domination and oppression based on racial classification, none of these distinctions would exist or make any sense.” He’s right. But removing the issue doesn’t solve the Palestinian puzzle.
Further, it is not antisemitic to point out, as AI does, that Israel weakened its argument for equality when it passed the Nation State law in 2018. Not only did that law denigrate Israel’s Arab citizens and their culture, it also ignored the national aspirations of the Palestinian people.
So, there is serious work to be done on both sides. And in pursuing that path, those leading the effort will undoubtedly be better served by seeking to recognize and address one another’s legitimate aspirations than focusing upon much less productive accusations.