The problem with vilifying Israel: It doesn’t work

JCRC Scene
Matt Goldberg

This past month, Amnesty International, a historically reputable human rights organization, released a report falsely accusing Israel of being an apartheid state.
The Feb. 1 report, titled Israel’s Apartheid Against Palestinians: Cruel System of Domination and Crime Against Humanity, claims, according to an Amnesty statement, “human rights violations – including seizures of Palestinian land and property, unlawful killings, forcible transfer, drastic movement restrictions, and the denial of nationality and citizenship to Palestinians – that together constitute a system of apartheid under international law.”
This report is so cartoonishly one-sided that it is not taken seriously by anyone with pro-Israel sentiments. Most Jewish organizations have already condemned it. The United States, Canada and many countries in Europe have refuted its main finding. Even Mansour Abbas, the head of an Arab party in the Israeli government has rejected its claim that Israel is an apartheid country.
I am not going to challenge every claim in this report; there are many such refutations to be found online. My concern is that it pushes any possibility for a peace deal between Palestinians and Israelis further away, and two issues serve as examples.
First, fatal flaws in this report completely overshadow legitimate concerns in the way Israel treats Palestinians in the West Bank. (Gaza is different due to Hamas’ control of the area.)
Mansour Abbas is right about apartheid. However, there is certainly discrimination against Palestinian citizens of Israel, and we see it plainly in the economic and social disparities between Jewish and Arab cities.
While not rising to the level of apartheid, Israel’s policies and actions can and must be improved upon, and Zionist circles should be calling upon the Israeli government to do just that.
However, with such a one-sided report, our natural and correct instinct is to circle the wagons, reject the criticism out of hand, and double down on our support for Israel. The result, of course, is that any meaningful change in Palestinians’ lives becomes much harder to make.
Secondly, this report provides Palestinians and their heartfelt supporters false hope that its findings will lead to changes in Israeli policy. They probably won’t. Israel views Palestinians through the lens of an existential security concern, believing that they will not be satisfied with anything less than the destruction of Israel. Palestinian endorsement of this report only confirms that message for many Israelis. Supporters of Palestine around the world who believe that calling Israel an apartheid state will somehow change the status quo are simply making an incorrect assumption.
That’s a tragedy.
There is little doubt that Israel is getting stronger militarily, economically and diplomatically. Even Turkey, one of Israel’s fiercest critics, is now reaching out to Israel to improve diplomatic ties. Pressure campaigns like BDS and human rights forum attacks have all failed and will continue to fail.
But there’s one thing that won’t fail (I believe): rapprochement.
There is an adage that Israel can resist any pressure except a hug. That is very true. I hope, for the sake of both Israelis and Palestinians, that more hugs will lead to the peaceful two-state solution both Palestinians and Israelis deserve.

(Matt Goldberg is director of the Jewish Community Relations Council.)

Leave a Reply