NGO Monitor report places Amnesty ‘on the defensive’

“We believe our report can change and is changing the discourse,” says legal adviser and UN representative for NGO Monitor Anne Herzberg.

By Israel Kasnett, JNS.org

A new report by NGO Monitor debunks the accusation of apartheid against Israel and assesses whether apartheid, as previously defined, applies to Israel and territories under its military administration.

This new report, titled “Neo-Orientalism: Deconstructing Claims of Apartheid in the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict” and written by legal expert Joshua Kern and legal adviser and UN representative for NGO Monitor Anne Herzberg, expands on a previous report published in December that sought to rectify the lack of a coherent and legally substantiated definition of the crime of apartheid.

According to NGO Monitor, “accusations of this crime against humanity have been historically leveled at the State of Israel and its officials by powerful NGOs such as Human Rights Watch (HRW), B’Tselem and, most recently, Amnesty International.”

“The lack of an accepted definition of the crime of apartheid has been harnessed by central actors in the campaign to delegitimize Israel, who apply the term to characterize the political and legal nature of Israel’s government, and in many cases to delegitimize the notion of Israel’s identity as a Jewish state,” it added.

“Our report is for legal professionals, academics, practitioners and government officials,” Herzberg told JNS, “but it is also for those who are looking for answers to the false and often malicious charges by NGO and UN Rapporteurs who grossly misrepresent the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict, the legal basis for Israel as a Jewish state, and the nature of Israel’s democracy and legal system.”

In “A Threshold Crossed,” published in April 2021, HRW accused Israel of “crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution.”

Not to be outdone, Amnesty International took this accusation further on Feb. 1, when it released its own report, “Israel’s apartheid against Palestinians: Cruel system of domination and crime against humanity.”

According to NGO Monitor, “Amnesty’s 280-page report largely echoes those of the HSRC [Human Sciences Research Council] and HRW. It does, however, express (while HRW and HSRC only did so implicitly) a thesis that the establishment and maintenance of Israel as a Jewish state institutionalized apartheid.”

The Amnesty report accused Israel not only of apartheid in Judea, Samaria and Gaza, but also in Israel proper, and having been institutionalized since the founding of the Jewish state.

Adding to Israel’s troubles are the three reports forthcoming this year from UN bodies (the March 2022 Report of Special Rapporteur Michael Lynk to the UN Human Rights Council; the June 2022 Report of the UNHRC United Nations Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and Israel; and the expected report from the CERD Conciliation Committee)—all of which are highly likely to rely on the debunked Amnesty and HRW reports, as well as other anti-Israel NGOs, for information.

Arsen Ostrovsky, chair and CEO of the International Legal Forum, which has played a leading role in combating the apartheid charges in the international legal arena, told JNS: ​​“It is unfathomable, that with all the major human-rights crises around us—from Russia’s brutal assault on Ukraine and China’s ethnic cleansing of Uyghurs—that some in the international community, such as the United Nations and NGO civil society, should choose to prioritize and single out Israel for opprobrium at this historical juncture in time.”

“However,” he continued, “that is also highly revealing, indicating that these false and malicious aspersions of apartheid and distortions of truth are not grounded in law or motivated by the desire to advance peace, but rather by intellectual dishonesty and the simple refusal to accept Israel’s very right to exist as the nation-state of the Jewish people.”

Ostrovsky debated Philip Luther, Amnesty’s Middle East and North Africa research and advocacy director, on Israel-based i24 News shortly after Amnesty released its report.

‘An ahistorical and decontextualized narrative’

NGO Monitor’s analysis found the definitions of apartheid’s elements commonly used by the NGOs to be “unreasoned by reference to principles and instruments of international law; consequently, we found the legal basis upon which accusations of apartheid against Israel rest to be invalid.”

The main findings of NGO Monitor’s report are disturbing.

Among others, it found that “apartheid discourse is not merely criticism of or an attempt to improve Israeli policy. Rather, it is used by NGOs and U.N. officials to construct a narrative that presents Israel’s very existence as a Jewish state as illegitimate.”

It also found that reports by NGOs and the United Nations “present an ahistorical and decontextualized narrative to press the case of apartheid. The publications erase the international community’s endorsement of the creation of a Jewish state, alongside Arab states; Arab military aggression and the ongoing Palestinian rejection of any final settlement to date; Palestinian political divisions and the root causes of fragmentation; and how the ongoing armed conflict has shaped policy in the region.”

Additionally, it found that NGO and UN publications “overwhelmingly adopt a neo-Orientalist approach towards Zionism and Judaism. Their claims rest on antisemitic caricatures and stereotypes, which trivialize how Jews have, for thousands of years, defined their peoplehood and their religion.”

NGO Monitor insisted in its own report that “any reasonable assessment of Israel’s policies must be viewed through the lens of its security dilemma and the context of armed conflict within which they are implemented. NGO and U.N. reporting consistently fail to address these issues.”

‘The UN is institutionally antisemitic’

According to NGO Monitor, its analysis “has demonstrated that there is no reasonable basis to support the charges of apartheid against Israel and its officials. Every country across the globe struggles to protect the principle of equality and root out racial and other forms of discrimination. Israel is no exception.”

It recommended in its report that the Israeli government establish a “National Human Rights Institution” to tackle the issue of discrimination affecting the population, including the Palestinians.

According to the organization, such measures, if implemented, could “blunt attacks made by those NGOs and UN rapporteurs” who might use the discourse of apartheid to attack the legitimacy of Israel’s existence as a Jewish state.

“Israel is never going to prevail in UN spaces any time in the near future,” said Herzberg. “The UN is institutionally antisemitic and due to politics, the deck is completely stacked against the country. Officials who could do something about this dynamic, like European officials, refuse. In addition, the NGOs and UN Rapporteurs responsible for inventing and disseminating the apartheid charge wield tremendous influence at the UN”

“Nevertheless,” she said, “it is imperative that we do not cede the legal and factual space to these actors. We have to take the fight directly to the places where the political war against Israel is being waged. They cannot be allowed to monopolize the debate, even though it is difficult and we may not be successful. It is also important to expose the motives of those promoting the apartheid slander, and name and shame their funders—which, in this case, is the European Union, Ireland, Scandinavian governments and UN agencies.”

With so many powerful actors actively seeking to delegitimize Israel, it’s easy to lose hope that Israel could ever win this battle.

Nonetheless, Herzberg remained optimistic, telling JNS: “We believe our report can change and is changing the discourse. Our first report already has placed HRW and Amnesty on the defensive by exposing the 1948 agenda underlying their reports and their invented legal standards, and we have seen other NGOs and activists engaging with our work, albeit trying to attack it.”