Amnesty’s nearly 300-page report, released Tuesday, details “inhuman or inhumane acts of forcible transfer, administrative detention, torture, unlawful killings and serious injuries, and the denial of basic rights and freedoms or persecution committed against the Palestinian population,” creating “an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination over Palestinians.”
“Amnesty International concludes that the State of Israel considers and treats Palestinians as an inferior non-Jewish racial group,” it said.
“Since its establishment in 1948, Israel has pursued an explicit policy of establishing and maintaining a Jewish demographic hegemony and maximizing its control over land to benefit Jewish Israelis,” it said.
Even before the report was formally released, Israel denounced it as “false and biased.”
In an online briefing with journalists held in advance of the report’s publication, Foreign Ministry spokesman Lior Haiat said that Amnesty was “using double standards and demonization in order to delegitimize the existence of Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people.”
“These are the exact components from which modern antisemitism is made,” the foreign ministry said in a separate statement.
Israel has always rejected comparisons with apartheid-era South Africa. Even some staunch Israeli critics of the occupation have argued that discrimination against Palestinians does not amount to intentional or institutional racism and is the result of genuine security fears.
Clash over words
This clash over words — and the efforts to make them stick — have increasingly come to characterize perceptions of the conflict from within the region and abroad.
While the Israeli government response to the previous B’Tselem and HRW reports was critical, Haiat acknowledged concerns that the apartheid narrative is building, prompting a more combative approach this time.
“Of course, there is a concern that people will believe those false accusations,” Haiat said.
He pointed to Israel’s current government, which for the first time includes Arab lawmakers in its ranks as proof of what he termed Israel’s inclusive democracy.
But many Palestinian activists believe those arguments are no longer cutting through, and the see the tide of public opinion turning in their favor.
They point to demonstrations in the United States and around the world last year in support of Palestinian families facing the threat of forced eviction from their homes in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah.
“The world is coming to the conclusion that for human beings that live in the land between the river and the sea, the levels of freedoms and rights are defined by ethnonational identity,” Salem Barahmeh, Executive Director of the Ramallah-based Palestine Institute for Public Diplomacy told CNN.
The charge of anti-Semitism by Israel’s defenders has also become a highly contested issue. While research clearly points to rising anti-Semitism around the world, many feel the word is being mis-used and devalued.
Israel’s former ambassador to the United Nations, Danny Danon, was ridiculed recently after accusing actress Emma Watson of anti-Semitism after she posted online a picture of a pro-Palestinian rally alongside the words, “Solidarity is a verb.”
“No joke, we are at the point where merely posting a vague picture referencing solidarity with Palestinians on Instagram gets you labeled as an antisemite,” MSNBC host and former CNN journalist Ayman Mohyeldin tweeted.
At the level of international diplomacy, though, there is little sign so far that the battle over the apartheid label is having much of an impact.
On Monday, the US pushed back at the Amnesty report’s characterization of Israel.
Prior to reading the report, US State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a State Department briefing that describing Israel as an apartheid state was “not language that we have used, nor would we ever use.” Price added that the administration would not comment more fully until it had had a chance to read the full report.
The report also coincided with the first ever trip by an Israeli head of state to the United Arab Emirates — underscoring Israel’s recent diplomatic achievements.
Read-outs from President Isaac Herzog’s two-day trip to the UAE made no reference to any discussions of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.