Amnesty against Israel

Andrew Donaldson |

09 February 2022

Andrew Donaldson on the blowback in the UK against NGO’s declaration that the Jewish state is criminal


APARTHEID, we are routinely reminded, is a crime against humanity under international law. 

It was once held to be a uniquely South African in nature, a system of institutionalised racial segregation that existed from 1948 until the early 1990s. But its definition is much broader now, and it’s generally accepted that any racially-based act of discrimination or oppression by any state or group is labelled as an apartheid crime.

Last week, the human rights organisation Amnesty International released Israel’s Apartheid Against Palestiniansa 280-page report accusing the Israelis of pursuing a de facto policy of enforced segregation and maintaining “an institutionalised regime of oppression and domination of the Palestinian population for the benefit of Jewish Israelis”. Jerusalem, the report charged, “considers and treats” Palestinians as an inferior “racial group”.

“This,” Amnesty states, “amounts to apartheid as prohibited in international law.” What’s more, their report adds, Israel has pursued “an explicit policy of establishing and maintaining a Jewish demographic hegemony” since 1948. (Again, that year…)

The organisation has called on the perpetrators of “apartheid” in the Israel and the Occupied Territories to be investigated by the International Criminal Court. It also wants the UK to impose a “comprehensive import ban” on all products from Israeli settlements, as well as immediately suspending all military and policing cooperation with Israel. 


The report has not gone down too well in some quarters, and the backlash has been considerable. Israel, as expected, has rejected it out of hand. But many others, independent of Jerusalem, have also stepped up to criticise the report as breaching the International Holocaust Remembrance Association’s definition of antisemitism: namely, that it is antisemitic to deny Jews their right to self-determination “by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour”. 

Reacting to the report, former DA leader Tony Leon told London’s Jewish Chronicle: “I’m highly critical of aspects of Israeli policy, but making out Israel to be a moral criminal on a par with the South African apartheid state is politically specious and historically, absolutely wrong. Amnesty International is not doing is cause or its reputation any good by what is at best an undergraduate-level analysis.” 

However, addressing journalists at the report’s launch in Jerusalem, Amnesty secretary-general Agnès Callamard said the document was based on “four years of meticulous research by the best legal scholars on apartheid”.

The report’s authors have not been identified but the Jewish Chronicle did note that, sharing the platform with Callamard, was Amnesty’s deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa, Saleh Hijazi. Before joining the organisation, Hijazi had posted images on social media of 1970s Palestinian hijacker Leila Khaled and Khader Adnan, a Palestinian jihadist now imprisoned in Israel.