JTA and the Jewish Journal noted our denunciation of a Human Rights Watch report once again demonizing Israel, the world's only Jewish state.
(JTA) — A report by Human Rights Watch says that Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza has crossed the threshold into apartheid and recommends far-reaching punitive measures, including prosecutions for crimes against humanity.
The leading human rights group’s embrace of the term, seen by Israel and many Jewish groups as a way of accusing Israel of being essentially racist and illegitimate, set off a firestorm of outraged attacks from a number of major U.S. Jewish groups that charged Human Rights Watch with attempting to “delegitimize” Israel. Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations called it “a collection of lies and fabrications, bordering on antisemitic.”
Human Rights Watch is an international group that monitors countries’ adherence to international human rights law. It has often been harshly critical of Israeli policy, and in 2019 Israel deported one of the group’s employees.
But this is the first time the group has used the word “apartheid” to describe Israeli policy. The report says Israel systematically discriminates against Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza as well as against its Arab citizens, some of whom identify as Palestinian. But the report says the apartheid designation applies only to Israel’s policy in the West Bank and Gaza.
“To maintain domination, Israeli authorities systematically discriminate against Palestinians,” Human Rights Watch said in a statement. “In the occupied territory, the severity of the repression, including the imposition of draconian military rule on Palestinians while affording Jewish Israelis living in a segregated manner in the same territory their full rights under Israel’s rights-respecting civil law, amounts to the systematic oppression required for apartheid.”
Israel captured the West Bank and Gaza in the 1967 Six-Day War. In the West Bank, Israeli settlers are Israeli citizens with the right to vote and freedom of movement. West Bank Palestinians live under varying degrees of Israeli military control and Palestinian local governance, without citizenship or the right to vote in Israel.
Israel withdrew its settlers and troops from Gaza in 2005, and Israelis particularly reject the notion that Israel still controls the coastal strip. Israel does control most of Gaza’s border and airspace. And the Human Rights Watch report treats the West Bank and Gaza as a single entity despite their different realities.
Within Israel’s recognized borders, Arab Israelis are full Israeli citizens with the right to vote, equality under the law and representation in Israel’s parliament. Community leaders, however, have long complained of systemic discrimination in a range of fields.
Gilad Erdan, the Israeli ambassador to the U.N. and the United States, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency in a statement that the report “is part of the organization’s ongoing campaign against Israel. He added, “When the authors of the report cynically and falsely use the term apartheid, they nullify the legal and social status of millions of Israeli citizens, including Arab citizens, who are an integral part of the State of Israel.”
The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, an umbrella body for U.S. Jewish groups, called the report released Tuesday “disgraceful” and said it was an attempt to “demonize, delegitimize and apply double standards to the State of Israel.”
The Presidents Conference statement stopped short of calling the report antisemitic, but the “three d’s” cited in the statement is a formula coined by Natan Sharansky, a former Soviet refusenik, to describe when criticism of Israel crosses into antisemitism.
Other major U.S. Jewish groups including the American Jewish Committee and B’nai B’rith International, separately slammed the report. AIPAC, the pro-Israel lobby, retweeted the Presidents Conference statement and two Republicans in Congress condemned Human Rights Watch. The Anti-Defamation League also called the report “yet another attempt to delegitimize the very concept of a Jewish and democratic state,” though the group added that the report “raises legitimate issues of concern about Israeli policies.”
Human Rights Watch is not the first group to apply the apartheid label to Israel. In January, the Israeli human rights group Btselem concluded that Israel should be considered an apartheid state.
The core of Israeli and mainstream Jewish objections to using the term apartheid is that in its original South African definition, it described a system that explicitly used race to discriminate against, oppress and disenfranchise minorities.
The Presidents Conference said that the “tyranny and dehumanization” of South African apartheid had “no equivalence” with Israel’s “vibrant democracy where all citizens of rights and representation in the national legislature.”
Human Rights Watch argued in its report that the term apartheid has been used since the collapse of South African apartheid to describe inequitable societies that are not explicitly based on racist laws, as South Africa’s was.
The group said Israel met the terms of what it says is this more recent definition in three ways: by maintaining domination over the Palestinians who live in the West Bank and Gaza Strip through military occupation, citing statements from Israeli officials who suggest the occupation will continue in perpetuity; through Israeli laws that discriminate against Israel’s Arab minority, including one from 2018 that states Israel is the “nation state of the Jewish people”; and “inhumane acts” including restrictions on the movement and residency rights of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The report’s recommendations are far-reaching, including prosecutions of Israeli officials for crimes against humanity and restrictions on trade with Israel. It also calls for the international community to “establish through the United Nations an international commission of inquiry to investigate systematic discrimination and repression based on group identity in the [Occupied Palestinian Territories] and Israel.”
NGO Monitor, an Israeli watchdog of human rights groups, says such recommendations suggest a broader and more sinister agenda.
“This publication is not merely a critique of Israeli policy in the West Bank, but an attack on the very foundations of Israel and a rejection of the legitimacy of a Jewish state, regardless of borders,” it said in publishing its own report on the report.
At least two pro-Israel groups on the left said the correct reaction to the report should not be to focus on whether or not apartheid is an appropriate term, but to address the corrosive effects of the occupation described in the report.
“After 40 years of documenting and protesting against the occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, we do know a thing or two about it,” said Americans for Peace Now, a constituent of the Presidents Conference. “And we know that the carefully documented facts in the HRW report on the occupation are largely indisputable. We also know too well what the occupation does to Palestinians and Israelis, and how desperately it needs to end.”
The president of J Street, a liberal pro-Israel group, said his organization would not use the apartheid term, but called on other Jewish groups to refrain from “defaming” those who do use it.
“While we do not ourselves use the term ‘apartheid’ to describe the current situation in the occupied territories, we believe it’s deeply wrong and harmful to defame scholars, activists and political leaders who use it themselves,” Jeremy Ben-Ami said.
Jewish Voice for Peace, an anti-Zionist group that has longed use the term, welcomed the report.
“It is long past time for the rest of the world to call this what it is,” JVP said on Twitter. “It could not be more clear. It’s apartheid.”
The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) distributed written remarks from B'nai B'rith International during its Human Dimension Implementation Meeting, Europe's largest human rights conference.
Eric Fusfield B’nai B’rith International
September 24, 2019
Mr. Chairman, distinguished delegates:
Of all the hatreds that tear at our social fabric today, none is more unremitting, more resilient, more adaptable than anti-Semitism. As representatives of B’nai B’rith International, an American-based organization with members in dozens of countries around the world, my colleagues and I have viewed the resurgence of anti-Semitism throughout the OSCE region in recent years with deep anguish. In my home country of the United States, the problem has become strikingly apparent, as synagogue mass shootings in Pittsburgh and San Diego in the past year have left American Jewry shaken and fearful for its safety.
The responsibility of governments, international organizations, and leaders of society to confront this phenomenon is becoming increasingly urgent. To do this we need practical tools. One such mechanism has been ODIHR’s Words into Action project, which, with the support of the German government, has countered anti-Semitism through activities in the areas of education, security, and coalition-building. Words into Action, whose contract recently expired, has published practical guides and provided other resources to assist educators, government officials, and civil society in better understanding and developing strategies to combat anti-Semitism.
It is crucial that this work continue in some context, as the need is more pressing than ever. B’nai B’rith calls on the OSCE to continue its support of ODIHR’s tolerance and nondiscrimination unit in its programs to combat the unique, and uniquely persistent, social illness of anti-Semitism. Now is simply not the time to reverse course on this important effort.
In 2014 we honored the 10th anniversary of the OSCE Berlin Conference on Anti-Semitism and the historic declaration that emerged from that gathering. But the review conference that took place in Berlin that fall underscored that much work remains to be done. The past five years have seen a wave of anti-Israel demonstrations throughout the OSCE region; these gatherings have typically featured blatantly anti-Semitic themes and have often turned violent. Attacks and threats against Jewish individuals and institutions, such as the white supremacist march two years ago in Charlottesville, Virginia have increased in frequency and intensity, as the landscape from Belgium to Bulgaria, Germany to Greece, Holland to Hungary, and Ireland to Italy has witnessed violence against Jewish targets. This spread of hatred has been accompanied by a corrosion of the public discourse with respect to Jews and Israel and has left Jews both in Europe and North America fearful for their safety and security.
As a result of anti-Semitic attacks, thousands of Jews have emigrated from Western Europe to Israel in each of the past several years. Furthermore, a survey of European Jewish leaders last year indicated that membership and participation in Jewish institutions has declined, at the same time that security has, of necessity, been increased. Next Sunday night the holy day of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year, will begin. Across the continent, synagogue attendance is expected to suffer as a result of fear about openly practicing Judaism.
The rise of anti-Jewish hatred has also resulted in a proliferation of anti-Semitic propaganda, much of which is directed against the State of Israel. Tragically, the demonization and delegitimization of the Jewish state has become a daily occurrence, as Israel’s enemies repeatedly accuse it of being a Nazi-like occupier and an apartheid state that disenfranchises the Palestinians. Falsehoods about Israel are repeated so often that they become widely accepted in the popular culture and sometimes impact government policy. The effort by Israel’s relentless critics to denigrate the Jewish state is not only evidence that anti-Semitism is alive and well 74 years after the Holocaust – this new variation of the world’s oldest hatred actually poses a security threat to the Jewish state by intensifying its international isolation.
For more than a decade, the OSCE has taken up the urgent struggle against rising antiSemitism. High-level conferences in Vienna in 2003 and Berlin in 2004 and 2014, among other gatherings, have focused a needed spotlight on this and other forms of intolerance.
The historic 2004 Berlin Declaration, which provided a series of important recommendations for governments to follow in combating anti-Semitism, specifically addressed the growing problem of anti-Semitic attacks being committed by opponents of Israel’s policies. The passage stating that “international developments or political issues, including those in Israel or elsewhere in the Middle East, never justify anti-Semitism” stands as an important rebuff to those who try to justify hate crimes with politics.
Permanent Council Decision No. 607, which preceded the 2004 Berlin Conference, and subsequent Ministerial decisions, represent vital affirmations of the OSCE’s commitment to fight anti-Semitism and related forms of racism and xenophobia. That pact has been bolstered by the creation of ODIHR’s indispensable tolerance and non-discrimination unit, which carries out this important work each day and which includes an expert advisor on anti-Semitism, and by the appointment of the Chairman-in-Office’s three personal representatives on combating intolerance.
In 2016 the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) adopted a working definition of anti-Semitism that clearly illustrates the dimensions of the problem. The time has come for the OSCE to follow suit. The Ministerial Council should approve a working definition of anti-Semitism based on the IHRA model, one that should then be widely promoted within the OSCE to educate public officials, journalists, teachers, and others about the contemporary manifestations of anti-Semitism.
While much has been done to fight anti-Semitism in the past decade or more, much work remains. The need for practical and effective strategies to combat and defeat this pathology is still crucial. To this end,
We must continue to affirm commitments made at the landmark 2004 conference and reiterated at subsequent conferences and assess the implementation of those commitments.
We must enhance funding for ODIHR’s Tolerance and Non-Discrimination unit, which has now become a fixed and integral part of the OSCE’s work. We must enable the TND unit to sustain and expand its critical activities, which has included the Words into Action project and educational programs on anti-Semitism in more than a dozen countries.
We must extend, for the foreseeable future, the terms of the three personal representatives on intolerance.
Member-states must fulfill their reporting requirements with respect to hate crimes data. Far too few governments have done so until now.
Finally, we must strongly reinforce the crucial principle declared at the 2004 Berlin Conference – That no political position, cause or grievance can ever justify anti-Semitism – and make clear that the demonization and delegitimization of the Jewish state is often none other than a pretext for the hatred of Jews themselves.
In light of the current wave of unrelenting attacks against Israel's legitimacy, B'nai B'rith International joined B'nai B'rith Europe, local lodges and dozens of other Jewish organization to rally in support of Israel outside of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva.
B’nai B’rith is highly critical of the report issued by the United Nations Human Rights Council’s (UNHRC) “independent, international commission of inquiry” into Israel’s defensive operations against Hamas in Gaza during the summer of 2014. The report inherently lacks credibility and should not be taken as a serious evaluation of the necessary counterterrorism actions of the Israel Defense Forces.
B'nai B'rith International's Israel/Middle East policy includes issues such as fighting terrorism; supporting Israel's right to defend itself; preventing Iran's efforts to acquire nuclear weapons; preserving the unity of Jerusalem; promoting the rights of Jewish refugees from Arab and Muslim countries; and supporting direct negotiations between the parties to the Middle East conflict while affirming the importance of Israel's critical security needs.
Photos below courtesy of Israel In Switzerland:
B'nai B'rith International is thrilled to announce that Executive Vice President Daniel S. Mariaschin's inclusion in The Algemeiner Jewish 100 List for 2014.
This is the second year for the list, which is dedicated to "organizations or individuals who have positively influenced Jewish life this past year...These 100 people who have the most positive impact on Jewish life and Israel, men and women, Jew or non-Jew, who have lifted the quality of Jewish life in the past year. Without these 100 individuals or the organizations they represent – Jewish life would not be at the caliber it is today."
The following is Mariaschin's profile, listed in the Community section, with description in its entirety:
Daniel S. Mariaschin has spent nearly all of his professional life working tirelessly on behalf of the Jewish community. Currently, as the top executive officer of B’nai B’rith International, he directs the agency’s work in more than 50 countries.
He also serves as director of B’nai B’rith’s Center for Human Rights and Public Policy, representing the organization to audiences that include Congress and the media.
Mariaschin has met with countless heads of state, prime ministers, foreign ministers, opposition leaders, influential journalists, and clerical leaders.
Each time, his goal has been to advance human rights, help protect the rights of Jewish communities worldwide, and promote better relations with the State of Israel.
On Tuesday evening, B'nai B'rith Argentina held its annual recognition ceremony for the Human Rights awards recipients. Embassy representatives from Germany, Brazil, Greeze and Bulgaria joined B'nai B'rith and community leaders attending the event.
This year's four winners are: Beatriz Pellizzari from The Plant, a project dedicated to helping people with disabilities to have a better life; Rabbi Alexander Avruj and Father Jose Maria (Pepe) Di Paola for the work they have done combating homelessness and hunger over the last decade; and Dr. Fernando Polack from the Infant Foundation, working to prevent infant and adolescent deaths through disease prevention and education.
The event has been covered extensively by Vis A Vis in tweets and articles (links here and here), highlights of which can be found, below (Spanish):
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