Amnesty report on Israeli ‘apartheid’ garners bipartisan US fury

In an era of hyper-partisanship in the United States, a new bipartisan consensus appeared to emerge on Capitol Hill this week: condemning Amnesty International over its report accusing Israel of committing the crime of apartheid against Palestinians.

Dozens of US lawmakers from both major parties, including powerful legislators and heads of key committees in the House of Representatives and Senate, have released statements rejecting Amnesty’s findings – with some accusing the group of fuelling antisemitism.

These forceful condemnations, analysts say, illustrate the level of support Israel enjoys in Washington despite mounting allegations of abuse – but they do not reduce the validity of the rights group’s report.

“They want to nip this in the bud, but the bud has already broken ground and undeveloped roots, and it’s going to be a losing battle on their part,” said James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute (AAI), a Washington-based think tank.

Zogby told Al Jazeera that domestic political pressures have compelled many legislators to condemn the Amnesty report, but the group’s status and international credibility make it difficult to dismiss its conclusion that Israel is systematically oppressing Palestinians.

He added that while many US legislators are demonising the report and accusing Amnesty International of bias, they have not discussed specific allegations. “They’ve decided to just focus on the use of the word ‘apartheid’ because that’s the only case they can make … ‘How dare you use apartheid to describe Israel.’”

Amnesty’s findings

In its February 1 report, Amnesty said Israel is committing the crime of apartheid against Palestinians in the occupied Palestinian territories (OPT), as well as within Israel. Human Rights Watch, Israeli rights group B’Tselem and Palestinian rights groups have all reached the same conclusion.

“Israel has imposed a system of oppression and domination over Palestinians wherever it exercises control over the enjoyment of their rights – across Israel and the OPT and with regard to Palestinian refugees,” Amnesty’s report (PDF) reads.

“The segregation is conducted in a systematic and highly institutionalized manner through laws, policies and practices, all intended to prevent Palestinians from claiming and enjoying equal rights to Jewish Israelis within Israel and the OPT, and thus intended to oppress and dominate the Palestinian people.”

The response from US Congress members was swift.

A day after the report was released, nine centrist House Democrats, including former Democratic National Committee chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, called it “baseless”, “biased” and “steeped in antisemitism”, saying it was “part of Amnesty’s broad, decades-long campaign to criminalize and delegitimize the world’s only Jewish state”.

Republican Congressman Lee Zeldin also attacked the rights group. “Amnesty International is a so-called ‘human rights organization’ that routinely hurls false accusations of oppression against Israel, ignores violent attacks on Israel from its hostile neighbors and fans the flames of antisemitism around the world,” he said in a statement on the day the report was published.

The Israeli government also had called the report “false, biased and antisemitic” – even before it was released.

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