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.”
JTA included our statement in its coverage of the storming of the United States Capitol by rioters.
(JTA) — AIPAC hardly ever pronounces on any issue that does not relate to Israel. It’s also loath to criticize a sitting president.
But the preeminent pro-Israel lobby did both on Wednesday after rioters supporting President Donald Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol to stop the count of electoral votes that would formalize Joe Biden’s win.
“We share the anger of our fellow Americans over the attack at the Capitol and condemn the assault on our democratic values and process,” AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, said in a statement posted to Twitter Wednesday evening. “This violence, and President Trump’s incitement of it, is outrageous and must end.”
The statement, crafted during an emergency meeting of the lobby’s executive committee, was among a host of extraordinary comments on American democracy by Jewish groups, many of which typically steer clear of partisan politics.
AIPAC was not the only mainstream Jewish organization to speak out on an extraordinary day that resulted in what once was unthinkable: police spiriting into safe havens hundreds of lawmakers while marauders roamed and looted the Capitol. Its statement, crafted during an emergency meeting of the lobby’s executive committee, also was far from the only one to criticize Trump explicitly.
Trump invited protesters to Washington, D.C., and earlier Wednesday urged them to march on the Capitol. As the situation grew tense, he simultaneously urged his supporters to disband and told them that he “loved them.”
The Anti-Defamation League also named Trump. “The violence at the US Capitol is the result of disinformation from our highest office,” it said in a tweet. “Extremists are among the rioters in DC supporting President Trump’s reckless rhetoric on America’s democratic institutions.” ADL’s CEO Jonathan Greenblatt called on social media to suspend Trump’s accounts; a number of platforms eventually heeded those calls.
The Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the umbrella body for Jewish public policy bodies, also named Trump. “This was a direct assault on our democratic process, and nothing less than an attempt to disrupt the peaceful transition of power in a presidential election and an act of sedition,” it said in a statement. “We urge in the strongest possible terms that President Trump and others immediately cease incendiary rhetoric and restore order.”
Two legacy groups were cautious and condemned the violence while not directly blaming Trump. The American Jewish Committee called on Trump “to call for an immediate end to the riots and respect the certification process currently underway,” without noting that Trump started the fire, as many others had — including some leading Republicans.
The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the umbrella foreign policy group for the Jewish community, did not name Trump at all, although its statement was forceful. “We are disgusted by the violence at the US Capitol and urge the rioters to disperse immediately,” it said in a statement. ”Law and order must be restored, and the peaceful transition of administrations must continue.”
B’nai B’rith International “strongly urged” Trump “to publicly condemn the rioters.” “Though it’s horrifying to see the U.S. Capitol under siege, the seeds for this have been planted and nurtured for many years,” the statement said.
Ronald Lauder, the president of the World Jewish Congress, called the attack on the Capitol a “brutal onslaught on our nation’s integrity and historical traditions.”
The Orthodox Union weighed in at first by endorsing the Presidents’ Conference statement, but on Thursday morning issued a statement pointedly aimed at Trump and with a tone of relief at the prospect of Trump’s term ending and a new administration incoming.
“We are deeply saddened and shaken by yesterday’s violent events at the U.S. Capitol that have badly upset our sense of peace and security,” the statement said. “There is no place for the kind of outrageous incitement that fed that assault on the pillars of our democracy. It must stop. We call upon President Trump to do all that is in his power – and it is indeed in his power – to restore that peace.”
It concluded: “We pray to the Almighty that He grant strength and wisdom to President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect [Kamala] Harris as they lead this great country forward in unity, peace, and security.”
Agudath Israel of America posted on Twitter a statement by its longtime Washington director, Rabbi Abba Cohen.
“The U.S. Capitol is more than a majestic building,” Cohen said. “It is the true house of the people and the home of democracy. It is the hope of the nation. You feel it when entering its doors and walking its halls. Today, it was a place of shameful violence and tyranny. Stop or we are lost.”
The Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly called on Trump “to defend and uphold the constitution of the United States,” but did not blame him for what it called an “attack on democracy and its institutions.”
The Reform movement’s Religious Action Center was less shy, saying, “The fact that today’s events were encouraged by the President of the United States who has refused to accept his electoral loss is equally terrifying and heartbreaking.”
Liberal groups like the RAC have throughout Trump’s presidency had an adversarial relationship with him, criticizing both his policies, including his anti-immigration policies, and his expressions of bigotry.
It was no different on Wednesday. “Earlier today, an armed seditious mob stormed the Capitol at President Trump’s behest, with the aim of preventing elected Members of Congress from certifying the presidential vote in the Electoral College,” said the Israel Policy Forum, a two-state advocacy group. (A staffer describes his experience during the tumult here.) “We unreservedly and wholly condemn this.”
J Street, the liberal Jewish Middle East policy group, said, “The president repeatedly incited far-right thugs to subvert our democracy, and now they’re trying to do just that.”
“I’m heartbroken for our country,” National Council of Jewish Women CEO Sheila Katz said on Twitter. Hadassah, the women’s Zionist organization, alluded to Trump, saying that “The criminal behavior and events of this afternoon are abhorrent, as are attempts to disrupt democracy with incitement to violence. As Jews, we know the power of words and demand our elected leaders raise the level of discourse and lead with civility.”
Morton Klein, the president of the Zionist Organization of America, a group known for its support for Trump’s Israel policies, said on Twitter that the marauding in the Capitol was “thoroughly unacceptable & intolerable” but went on to cite an unsubstantiated report that an FBI agent reported a claim that a busload of the marauders belonged to Antifa, a catchall term for leftist protesters.
That allegation was circulating widely among Orthodox supporters of the president on Wednesday night, many of whom decried the violence in D.C. but not the pro-Trump movement that led the mob to convene.
The Republican Jewish Coalition’ on Thursday morning congratulated Biden on winning the election, and in its statement included a plea for a peaceful transition to power.
“After the abhorrent mob attack yesterday on our Capitol, our elected officials went back to work, fulfilled their duty under our Constitution, and certified the results of the 2020 election,” the RJC said. “Now is the time for the same peaceful transition of power that the U.S. has carried out for over 220 years,” the RJC said. “It is also time for healing and unity in our country, because we face many serious and significant challenges.”
The statement made no mention of Trump. The congratulations to Biden were late: His race was called on Nov. 7, but a number of groups allied with his outlook, among them Jewish groups, hesitated to congratulate Biden at the time, seemingly mindful of Trump’s refusal to accept the election’s outcome.
The Jewish Democratic Council of America was scathing, calling for Trump’s removal from power. “President Trump has abused his power, endangered American lives, and undermined our democratic institutions,” it said.
“Today, he intentionally jeopardized security at the Capitol to further his depraved autocratic agenda, risking the lives of the Vice President and Republican and Democratic lawmakers,” the JDCA said. “Donald Trump was impeached by Congress for abuse of power one year ago, and today he should be immediately removed from office for sedition, insurrection, and abuse of power.”
JTA included B'nai B'rith International's statement in its coverage of U.S. Army Col. Douglas Macgregor's nomination to become U.S. ambassador to Germany.
WASHINGTON (JTA) — Rashida Tlaib, the Palestinian-American congresswoman from Michigan, calls Bernie Sanders “Amo Bernie,” using the Arabic term of endearment for “uncle.”
I learned that Wednesday night watching an hourlong lovefest hosted by the Vermont senator on his YouTube channel for three candidates he has endorsed: Tlaib (who beat a primary opponent in her Detroit district), Cori Bush (who just ousted a longtime pro-Israel congressman in St. Louis) and Jamaal Bowman (who recently toppled the longtime pro-Israel stalwart Eliot Engel in New York).
I got to wondering why she didn’t just use “Uncle,” or the Hebrew “dod” or the Yiddish “feter” or even “saba” or “zayde” — Sanders is Jewish and spent time as a young man in Israel.
Of course, I learned about more than Sanders’ family-like dynamics with his progressive endorsees. Notably, here were four thorns in the sides of the centrist and right-wing pro-Israel movement, and Israel never came up in their conversation.
What does that mean for progressives and Israel? I dove into that here.
IN OTHER NEWS
President Donald Trump’s nominee to be ambassador to Germany, Douglas Macgregor, is pulling off the rare Trump-era feat of uniting Jews from across the political spectrum in opposition to him. CNN’s K File unearthed a long history of the retired general’s attacks on Muslims and immigrants. That earned him rebukes from the Jewish left, with J Street Vice President Dylan Williams decrying his “shameful record of expressing profoundly bigoted views.”
Weighing in from the center was the Anti-Defamation League’s CEO, Jonathan Greenblatt, who was appalled by Macgregor’s statement in 2018 on Nazi Germany. “There’s sort of a sick mentality that says that generations after generations must atone for sins of what happened in 13 years of German history,” Macgregor said.
B’nai B’rith International, which tacks to the right on foreign policy, had raised concerns about Macgregor even before the K File story was posted, noting his past propensity to insinuate that “neocons” serving Israel’s interests were controlling U.S. foreign policy. “It is important that American diplomats not question the patriotism of other Americans who hold political views different from their own, especially given that questioning Jewish loyalty to America is an anti-Semitic trope,” B’nai B’rith said.
In the News
B'nai B'rith International is the Global Voice of the Jewish Community.
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