IN THE MEDIA
Gross distortions of HRW apartheid slur
May 13, 2021 | Ahron Shapiro
Australian Jewish News – 13 May 2021
Human Rights Watch’s (HRW) inflammatory April 27 report, provocatively titled A Threshold Crossed, falsely accuses Israel of “apartheid” and “crimes against humanity”.
These accusations are nonsense.
South African Palestinian rights advocate and journalist Benjamin Pogrund, author of the book Drawing Fire: Investigating the Accusations of Apartheid in Israel, wrote in The New York Times in 2017, “I am acutely aware of Israel’s problems and faults, but it is nothing like South Africa before 1994. Those who accuse Israel of apartheid … have forgotten what actual apartheid was … this analogy [of apartheid] in the name of human rights is cynical and manipulative.” The aim of this analogy, he wrote, is to “eliminate Israel”.
Pogrund was right in 2017 and any honest assessment would make it clear that nothing significant has changed since then.
Indeed, the trendline over time is for Israel, the autonomous Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, and the completely independent Hamas-ruled entity in Gaza to become more separate and independent.
Yet HRW, for its own political purposes, insists on depicting all of them as a “single authority” under Israeli rule, which it then portrays as racist. HRW attempts to paint a morally complex two-sided conflict between Palestinians and Israelis – which has confounded generations of peace negotiators seeking to balance the legitimate human rights and rights of self-determination of both peoples – as a black-and-white story of the oppressed requiring international support to defeat their criminal Israeli oppressors.
The report actively advises against peace negotiations, or cooperation between Israeli and Palestinian authorities – instead insisting Israel be sanctioned and punished in every possible way until it meets Palestinian demands which are incompatible with Israel’s continued existence.
The report’s author set out to find institutionalised political racism – such as once existed uniquely under the apartheid system in South Africa and justifiably necessitated a complete replacement of that state – and not surprisingly, claimed to have found it.
In attempting to do so, the report embodies two sleights of hand involving gross distortions of international law. It claims, in essence, that Israel is obliged to treat non-citizens who live in Palestinian-controlled areas of the West Bank and Gaza identically to its own citizens – despite Israel having absolutely no presence in Gaza, and having repeatedly offered to make all of Gaza and the vast majority of the West Bank into a sovereign Palestinian state in exchange for peace.
Meanwhile, extending Israeli law to the West Bank would simply shift the outrage to justified claims about annexation of “Palestinian land”.
The report also argues, in essence, that Israel’s identity as a Jewish nation-state, with a right of return offering citizenship to any Jews – a law created in the aftermath of the Holocaust when Europe’s Jews had no place to go – effectively renders Israel an “apartheid state”. Should countries with similar laws to Israel conferring a right of return – such as Ireland, France, Japan and Greece – also be considered apartheid states?
With this report, HRW allies itself with the Palestinian extremists who reject ever making peace with Israel. It is therefore unsurprising that the terror group Hamas, which has always argued Israel is a criminal enterprise with which no coexistence is possible, welcomes the report, saying it proves the “credibility of the Palestinian narrative which exposes the crimes against humanity committed by the Israeli occupation against Palestinians”.
The more moderate Palestinian Authority is mentioned only once in the 223-page report, presumably because its existence as the governing body over the vast majority of West Bank Palestinians is inconvenient to its narrative. HRW does urge the PA to sever all security coordination with Israel – as if the PA’s cooperation with Israel isn’t for its own self-interest.
HRW’s goals are further unmasked in its recommendation that Israel “recognise and honour” the so-called Palestinian “right of return” – a legally baseless claim that all the millions of descendants of Palestinian refugees from the 1948 war must be permitted to settle in Israel, instead of any Palestinian state.
This extreme position is simply incompatible with the paradigm of two states for two peoples.
HRW makes it clear it is totally uninterested in any negotiated two-state peace. It advises the Palestine Liberation Organisation to “adopt an advocacy strategy centred on the immediate attainment of the full human rights of Palestinians, rather than one that puts off attainment of human rights in favour of a particular political outcome”.
A Threshold Crossed is actually not a report at all, but simply a dossier of propagandistic claims against Israel sourced almost entirely from various other NGOs hostile to Israel.
Ironically, the only threshold crossed is by HRW itself. HRW has been running a grossly disproportionate agenda vilifying Israel for more than 20 years – something even the organisation’s own late founder, Robert Bernstein, condemned. Now, in a blatant effort to tip the scales of the conflict in favour of the maximalist Palestinian narrative, HRW has committed itself to the demonisation strategy of trying to isolate and sanction Israel out of existence that generations of radical activists have failed to achieve. Today, whatever one can say about HRW’s work elsewhere, the NGO has destroyed any remaining credibility in this arena through its gross distortion of international law, and historical and political realities to support the most extreme, rejectionist forces in a complex conflict.
Ahron Shapiro is a senior policy analyst at the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC).