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Behind the Scenes of Amnesty International’s Report on Israel

I wish to address the report itself, particularly at the methodological level.
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March 24, 2022
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For approximately a decade, throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, I was a member of the Israel section of Amnesty International. During this period, I was also a member of the board of directors, and in 1998-1999, I was its chair. There, I met good people who devoted their energy, money and time to helping people they did not know, and all of this on a purely voluntary basis.

Currently, I am not a member of the organization, and I do not know most of the members at the Israeli section. Most of the officials of the international movement who were active at the beginning of the millennium have been replaced by others. It goes without saying that I do not pretend to represent the organization or speak for it.

Amnesty was founded in 1961 following an article published in The Observer titled, “The Forgotten Prisoners.” In its infancy, one of the organization’s major focuses was “prisoners of conscience”: people who were imprisoned for exercising their basic human rights in a non-violent way, and without calling for the use of violence. At that time, it was relatively easy to find prisoners of conscience: It was just a matter of locating a person in the Communist Bloc or in a European or Latin American dictatorship who was imprisoned or who had vanished as a result of such activity.

In the late 1980s and 1990s, as these regimes were gradually disappearing, distinct prisoners of conscience became rarer. More human rights organizations, which fought for the same pool of activists and donors as Amnesty International, entered the arena. In addition, the spotlight turned to ethnic conflicts like the one that erupted in Yugoslavia, following CNN and similar parties that broadcasted live from all over the world. These conflicts involved widespread and severe human rights violations, but investigating them required staff members with different skill sets than the ones used to aid prisoners of conscience.

These developments made the organization’s investigations of events that took place months and sometimes years before publication, irrelevant, and pressure mounted to publish current reports. However, producing quick and accurate research requires many qualified experts, access to warzones and to classified materials, as well as the ability to interview combatants in real time, and more. The organization did not possess the manpower and financial resources that enable such investigations, and to the best of my knowledge it does not have them today, rendering its reports far less professional. These phenomena were further exacerbated during the second decade of the 21st century, when social networks became an influential factor in the organization’s agenda and modus operandi.

The organization did not possess the manpower and financial resources that enable such investigations, and to the best of my knowledge it does not have them today, rendering its reports far less professional.

A recently published Amnesty International report declared that Israel practices a policy of apartheid against the Palestinians, both in Israel and the Palestinian Authority. In my view, this is a ridiculous claim, but since this is a case of a detailed report by a prestigious organization, cries of antisemitism will clearly not be helpful here. Readers around the world would rather believe an organization that is considered reliable and neutral and not the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

I wish to address the report itself, particularly at the methodological level.

Amnesty International’s reports are written anonymously. There is no way to know who authored the report, how many researchers were involved in its preparation, what their professional experience is and so on. In addition, when examining the sources on which the current report is based, a disturbing picture emerges. The report contains about 1,600 footnotes, the majority of which refer to past reports and policy papers by Amnesty International, B’Tselem, Adalah, HaMoked, Ir Amim, Bimkom, Al-Haq, and additional far-Left Israeli organizations, as well as reports by the UN Human Rights Council and similar international bodies. When these are the sources for “research” that purports to examine the State of Israel’s attitude toward its Arab population from 1948 to the present, it is clear that the result will be biased and one-sided. While I am not familiar with all the legal experts quoted in the report, if one relies on people like John Dugard, who is known for his critical attitude toward Israel, it is clear that the views of people like him will lead any reasonable person to similar conclusions. Furthermore, despite the fact that the report claims to confirm the theory that Israel, since its inception, has aspired to discriminate against Arabs on racial grounds, the number of sources concerning Israel’s first fifty years is negligible compared to those concerning recent decades.

Amnesty International prides itself on the organization’s high level of research and its neutrality. This report is an extreme example of how baseless that claim is.

Amnesty International prides itself on the organization’s high level of research and its neutrality. This report is an extreme example of how baseless that claim is. If one writes a report based almost entirely on all one-sided sources, does not bother to engage with civil society organizations that hold a different perspective, and does not turn to mainstream academics and legal experts, then he is conducting biased and negligent research with the main purpose of smearing Israel and harming its international status. His aim is not to promote human rights. Anyone who seeks to have a dialogue with Israel and improve its human rights situation should not label it an apartheid state, which by definition makes it illegitimate.


Dr. Michael Ehrlich, Department of Middle Eastern Studies Bar-Ilan University, Israel

 

 

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