By Anshell Pfeffer in Haaretz on 1Feb 2022.
This is the third such report in a year to label Israel an apartheid state, but Jerusalem has only succeeded in generating greater interest in Amnesty’s accusations.
We may have to wait decades for the archives to open until we learn by what cunning stratagem Israel’s intelligence services obtained an early copy of Amnesty International’s new report that calls Israel an apartheid state. But needless to say, they obtained the crucial document.
Forewarned of the existential threat, an armada of government press officers and spokespeople of American Jewish organizations was marshaled to fight the “battle of the narrative” and launch a preemptive strike, accusing the veteran human rights organization of antisemitism.
Thirty-six hours before the report – detailing, over 200-plus pages, how Israel is and always was an apartheid state – was to be released at a press conference on Tuesday morning, Israel got “ahead of the story.” By doing so, it ensured that the report got a lot more exposure than it would otherwise receive.
This wasn’t supposed to be the modus operandi of the new government, which entered office seven and a half months ago promising to “shrink the conflict” rather than big it up. It even made the wise move of closing down the superfluous Strategic Affairs Ministry, with its ridiculous campaigns against the phantom threats of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement and “delegitimization.”
But old habits are hard to kick and just a few months into its term, the Bennett-Lapid government is falling back on the old tropes of hasbara (propaganda) instead of learning from experience.
Is Israel an apartheid state? Are the staffers and executives of Amnesty International UK Jew haters? Who cares? Either way, these accusations have long lost any potency they might have once had to shock. These reports get a few headlines and then gather dust, and Israel’s foreign trade and diplomatic relations continue to flourish.
The previous reports by human rights organizations classifying Israel as an apartheid state, published last year by B’Tselem and Human Rights Watch, were met with a much lower-profile response from Israel. After a few days of media attention, interest in them disappeared. While this could have been the official Israeli response again this time around, it was decided to act differently – partly due to the much higher international profile of Amnesty than B’Tselem or HRW.
But if that is the case, why assume that a campaign trying to brand the report as “antisemitic” would work against an organization with Amnesty’s long decades of credibility?
Whatever the legitimate claims Israel has against the report, this all-out attack on Amnesty, rather than arguing about the report on its merits, is basically a declaration of war on the entire human rights community. It will convince no one but the already convinced. And as usual in such cases, it is more about pandering to domestic political constituencies.
It is also shows a total lack of proportion. The Amnesty report is unlikely to have much of an impact after the apartheid reports that appeared last year. It was published by Amnesty’s U.K. office with the express aim of trying to get the British government to reassess its close ties with Israel. But that’s not about to happen. Boris Johnson’s Conservative government is the most right-wing and pro-Israel one that Britain has ever had, and is extremely unlikely to pay any attention. Neither is Labour, the main opposition party, likely to want to play the report up as it is still trying to overcome the taint of antisemitism – a legacy of its previous leader, Jeremy Corbyn.
On every level, it would have made much more sense for the Israeli government to let this report wither on the vine, as it almost certainly ultimately will do.
Not everyone in the government backs the approach being taken. At least one official with extensive experience of working on these matters with international media and Jewish organizations said this week that “taking Amnesty on in such a way only makes a bigger deal out of the report than it would otherwise be. Especially given the timing of this with much bigger international matters happening right now, like a possible war between Russia and Ukraine. This is a transitory nuisance that would disappear within a couple of days if everyone just ignored it.”