Amnesty’s U.S. director ‘regret[s] representing the views of the Jewish people’

Jewish organizations and Israeli officials sharply condemned his words, as did all 25 Jewish Democratic members of Congress.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

The director of Amnesty international’s (AI) American branch has apologized to U.S. lawmakers for declaring last month that American Jews want a “safe space” rather than a Jewish state and that Israel should not exist as one.

In a March 25 letter obtained by Jewish Insider on Thursday, Paul O’Brien walked back the comments he had made at an event held earlier in the month at the Women’s National Democratic Club.

“I regret representing the views of the Jewish people,” wrote O’Brien, who is not Jewish. “What I should have said is that my understanding from having visited Israel often and listened to many Jewish American and Israeli human rights activists is that I share a commitment to human rights and social justice for all with Jewish Americans and Israelis.”

O’Brien told a Jewish Insider reporter at the event that although people have a right to self-determination, “we are opposed to the idea — and this, I think, is an existential part of the debate — that Israel should be preserved as a state for the Jewish people.”

Jewish organizations and Israeli officials sharply condemned his words, as did all 25 Jewish Democratic members of Congress.

In an open letter, the legislators wrote, “Mr. O’Brien’s patronizing attempt to speak on behalf of the American Jewish community is alarming and deeply offensive…. “We stand united in condemning this and any antisemitic attempt to deny the Jewish people control of their own destiny.”

In his letter to the Insider, O’Brien tried to frame his statement as referring to Israel’s 2018 basic law, which declares that Israel is the nation state of the Jewish people, even though he made no mention of the law when saying the country should not exist.

Israeli critics of the law had challenged it in the Supreme Court, which then determined that it did not detract from the individual rights of non-Jewish citizens since they are protected by other laws that ensure equal rights.

O’Brien also went on the attack in backing the recent Amnesty report that fallaciously labeled Israel an apartheid regime.

“In recent months, the Israeli government has intensified its efforts to censor and discredit anyone who uses the word ‘apartheid,’ instead of engaging with the substance of our findings, and the findings of a number of Israeli and Palestinian groups.”

The human rights organization completely ignored the fact that Israeli Arabs can be found throughout all branches of government and the private sector, leading the advocacy group Coalition for Jewish Values to call Amnesty “an antisemitic hate group.”

Eleven U.S. lawmakers also wrote separately to Amnesty Secretary General Agnés Callamard, Jewish Insider also saw her response, which rejected O’Brien’s extreme language although not the group’s report.

“I write to reaffirm that Amnesty International recognizes the right of Jewish people to self-determination,” she wrote in part. “We have reaffirmed, including in the context of the launch of our report on Apartheid, that there is nothing under international law to prevent the state of Israel identifying itself as Jewish, as long as the government does not discriminate between its citizens on the grounds of religion or race.”