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If Speaking Against Injustice Is Antisemitic, I'm an Antisemite

Akiva Eldar
Akiva Eldar
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Amnesty International's report on Israeli apartheid
Amnesty International's report on Israeli apartheidCredit: Maya Alleruzzo/AP
Akiva Eldar
Akiva Eldar

Even Amnesty’s biggest devotees wouldn’t call the veteran human rights organization a great fan of the Zionist movement. And its new report that accuses Israel on both sides of the Green Line of the crime of apartheid is an anti-Zionist document. The authors’ recommendation to fling open the country’s gates to the descendants of the 1948 refugees would be a death sentence for the two-state solution. The recommendation to realize the right of return is considered problematic or worse even on the Israeli left, including by the Meretz party, which supports a definition of Israel as the state of the Jews and of all its citizens.

Prof. Mordechai Kremnitzer was correct when he wrote last week that, in this sense, Amnesty erred by overreaching. It played into the hands of its critics, especially those who have spent decades specializing in the much graver error of holding on to occupied territory at the expense of human rights.

In order to distract attention from a long list of statistics and evidence that points to the injustices of the occupation, government spokespeople resort to the age-old trick of smearing the messenger. And, of course, no accusation has a more powerful effect than the accusation of antisemitism. Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu invariably transformed any document that dared to be critical of the occupation into a new edition of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. A report on the human rights situation in the territories served as an opportunity to brandish the sword of the Holocaust. Foreign Minister and Alternate Prime Minister Yair Lapid has adopted the same tactic, and even improved on it.

In a statement issued on the eve of the report’s publication, Lapid said that Amnesty is not a human rights organization, but rather “just another radical organization that echoes propaganda with no serious examination.” He wondered why Amnesty doesn’t label Syria, where the government has killed half a million civilians as an “apartheid state.” And why it has not attached this label to Iran or to murderous regimes in Africa and Latin America. Only to Israel. If he weren’t so quick to echo propaganda without first seriously examining it, Lapid would have discovered that Amnesty did call for Bashar Assad and for the government of the Ayatollahs to be tried for crimes against humanity and war crimes. But no other country in the club of democracies to which Israel purports to belong has been forcibly ruling over millions of people for 55 years.

Lapid said that he hates using the argument that if Israel were not a Jewish state, no one in Amnesty would dare to accuse it of being an apartheid state. Hates it, but still uses it. This claim recurs in a press release from his ministry, which used the occasion of International Holocaust Remembrance Day last week to single out Amnesty. “A few days after International Holocaust Remembrance Day, we once again learn that antisemitism is not just a part of history, but unfortunately, is also part of today’s reality… Amnesty’s report effectively serves as a green light for the perpetrators and others to harm not only Israel, but Jews around the world.”

If describing the situation in the territories since 1967 is antisemitism, then I am an antisemite. If saying that Israel is increasingly suffering from the symptoms of apartheid is antisemitism, then I am an antisemite. And don’t tell me that many people here really care about the human rights situation in the territories. How many readers know that Halav Ha’aretz goat-milk yogurt is made at a settlers’ dairy on the lands of Susiya, a stronghold of the criminal zealots of the illegal outposts (Pardon me, I mean the “heroes of the young settlement project”)? Boycotting Osem pasta because of price hikes is much more important.

If writing countless articles and a hefty book (“Lords of the Land,” with Idith Zertal) that chronicles the control of the Palestinian population in the occupied territories by means of land policy and discriminatory enforcement is considered antisemitism – then I am an antisemite. If accusing Israeli governments of a deliberate policy of denying Palestinians in East Jerusalem rights in order to push them out of the city is antisemitism, then I am an antisemite. If demonstrating against the eviction of Palestinian families from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah so that Jews can move into them is antisemitism, then I am an antisemite.

The authors of the Amnesty report wrote that demographic considerations guided Israeli legislation and policy from the start. They say that the Palestinians, inside Israel and, later, in the territories, were perceived as a threat to the establishment and preservation of a Jewish majority, and consequently were subjected to expulsion, separation, oppression, confiscation of property and land, and denial of economic and social rights. The report cites the Citizenship Law, which is being advanced on the basis of security concerns.

If claiming that these concerns serve as a disguise for ethnic discrimination is antisemitism, then I am in good company. At a Yesh Atid party faction meeting in July, party chairman Yair Lapid admitted that the Citizenship Law is “one of the tools meant to ensure a Jewish majority in Israel.” Problem is, Lapid and his coalition comrades from the Zionist camp, who have come to accept the occupation, have become accomplices to the right-wing settler movement’s commission of apartheid.

In another day or two, perhaps even before this article appears in print, the Amnesty report will fade from the public agenda. Yet another document will join countless similar documents from international and Israeli human rights organizations, having served as the punching bag of the hour and then filed away in the archives. But how long will antisemitism (which unfortunately is very much alive and well) be able to go on concealing the shame of apartheid?

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