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Israel

HRW report accusing Israel of apartheid widely condemned

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There has been widespread local and international condemnation over a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report accusing Israel of apartheid and persecution.

The United States-based HRW published a 213-page report this week accusing Israel of pursuing policies of apartheid and persecution against Palestinians and against the country’s own Arab minority that amount to crimes against humanity. The report claims the Israeli government enforces an overarching policy to “maintain the domination by Jewish Israelis over Palestinians”.

HRW said that after decades of warnings that an entrenched hold over Palestinian life could lead to apartheid, it had found that the “threshold” had been crossed.

The report titled “A threshold crossed: Israeli authorities and the crimes of apartheid and persecution” was authored by Omar Shakir, the Israel and Palestine country director at HRW. Shakir was deported from Israel in 2019 for his alleged support of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement.

“HRW’s credibility as a human-rights watchdog has been hopelessly compromised by its obsessive anti-Israel bias, so much so that its founder has distanced himself from it,” says David Saks of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies. “Its latest report is just another rehashing of this politically-driven, factually distorted vendetta against the Jewish state.”

Israel’s foreign ministry rejected the claims as “preposterous and false”, and accused HRW of harbouring an “anti-Israeli agenda”, saying the group had sought “for years to promote boycotts against Israel”.

Israeli Strategic Affairs Minister Michael Biton said the purpose of the report was “in no way related to human rights, but to an ongoing attempt by HRW to undermine the state of Israel’s right to exist as the nation state of the Jewish people”.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas welcomed the report.

The HRW said its report wasn’t aimed at comparing Israel with apartheid-era South Africa, but rather at assessing “whether specific acts and policies” constitute apartheid as defined under international law. The report said Israel met the legal definition for crimes of apartheid as set out by the Rome Statute.

This is the first time in HRW’s 43-year history that it has accused Israel of apartheid. It has called on the United Nations (UN) to verify the claims, and apply an arms embargo against Israel until steps are taken to end such “crimes”.

The report said Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, both within and outside sovereign Israel, met the definition of the crimes of apartheid.

The report provides an example of discrimination, citing Israel’s Law of Return which grants citizenship to Jews who want to emigrate to Israel. It says Palestinian refugees and their descendants who had lived on territory now under Israeli sovereignty didn’t have that same right of return.

NGO Monitor said that for close to 20 years, HRW had backed various BDS campaigns against Israel and companies that do business in Israel. “Recently, HRW was active in [failed] BDS attacks targeting Airbnb and FIFA, as well as in lobbying intensively for the UN BDS Blacklist.”

In its extensive analysis of the HRW report, the nongovernmental organisation accuses the HRW “of deviously erasing the context” of the Law of Return.

“The Law of Return was enacted in the shadow of the Holocaust to provide a safe haven for Jews who for centuries suffered persecution around the world. The sharp rise in physical violence and other forms of antisemitism around the world in recent years only highlights the need for Israel as a safe refuge from persecution.”

The report addressed Israeli policies against Palestinians in the West Bank, including settlement activity, the demolition of Palestinian homes, and lack of freedom of movement for Palestinians.

The report also highlights problems with the 2018 Nation State Law.

NGO Monitor condemned the apartheid accusation, saying it was part of a larger global campaign to discredit Israel and undermine its identity as a Jewish state.

Shaun Sacks of NGO Monitor told the SA Jewish Report that over the past 18 months, NGOs had intensified their campaign to highlight the term “apartheid” in discourse about Israel.

In January, Israeli organisation B’Tselem made exactly the same case, also accusing Israel of apartheid for the first time.

“This campaign reinforces the actions of the ICC [International Criminal Court] prosecutor, who after 10 years, agreed to launch an investigation against Israel.

“Our analysis of this report shows this isn’t 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’s the culmination of decades of obsessive attacks against Israel.”

Sacks said Shakir had “devoted many years to delegitimising Israel, and in 2019, his Israeli work visa wasn’t renewed because of his involvement in BDS campaigns in violation of Israeli law.”

The president of NGO Monitor, Professor Gerald Steinberg, said in a statement, “The demonisation of Israel through comparisons to the heinous legacy of the South African apartheid regime has deep roots, going back to the Soviet and Arab campaigns and the infamous Durban NGO Forum. HRW’s latest contribution consists of the standard mix of shrill propaganda, false allegations, and legal fictions. Exploiting the ‘apartheid’ image for propaganda is a cynical appropriation of the suffering of the victims of the actual apartheid regime.”

Rowan Polovin, the national chairperson of the South African Zionist Federation, said the HRW was biased against Israel.

“It’s not surprising that HRW has produced yet another anti-Israel report based on distortion, misinformation, and the political agendas of the writers. Even HRW’s original founder, Robert Bernstein, has distanced himself from the organisation over its obsessive and ongoing anti-Israel focus. HRW has admitted in the report that it doesn’t base its claims on the repeatedly debunked notion that Israel is similar to apartheid South Africa. This is yet another attempt to dilute the meaning of actual apartheid practices in South Africa and the victims who suffered under it.”

Polovin said the facts on the ground “simply don’t comport with the fantasy being portrayed in the report”.

“Whilst this report is being promulgated, multiple Arab nations are signing peace treaties with Israel and scaling up their involvement with the Jewish state. Democratically elected political parties with constituents from Arab-Israeli communities are engaging in the Israeli Knesset with their counterparts, and Israel is faced with rocket attacks not just from Gaza but from Syria as well. This reality isn’t portrayed in the report, and strongly contradicts the allegations it makes.”

Said Saks, “As for the impact of this report, it depends in part on how effectively the message gets out that HRW cannot be trusted, especially on this issue.”

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