Amnesty International on Tuesday labelled Israel an “apartheid” state that treats Palestinians as “an inferior racial group”, joining the assessment of other rights groups which the Jewish state vehemently rejects.
“Israel’s cruel policies of segregation, dispossession and exclusion across all territories under its control clearly amount to apartheid,” said Amnesty’s secretary general Agnes Callamard.
“Whether they live in Gaza, east Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank, or Israel itself, Palestinians are treated as an inferior racial group and systematically deprived of their rights.”
Israel’s Foreign Minister Yair Lapid strongly rejected the claims as “divorced from reality” and charged that “Amnesty quotes lies spread by terrorist organisations”. A year ago, Israeli-based rights group B’Tselem drew fire when it asserted that Israeli policies had been designed to enforce “Jewish supremacy from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea” and met the definition of “apartheid”.
New York-based Human Rights Watch in April last year became the first major international rights group to publicly level the controversial allegation.
The report by London-based Amnesty builds on those previous calls in asserting that Israeli-enforced apartheid exists in occupied Palestinians territories and within Israel itself, where Arab citizens make up more than 20 per cent of the population. Amnesty stressed it was not comparing Israel’s treatment of Palestinians with conditions in apartheid-era South Africa but said Israeli conduct and policies met the criteria for the crime of apartheid under international law.
Israel’s foreign ministry has called on Amnesty to “withdraw” the report.
“Amnesty was once an esteemed organisation that we all respected,” said Lapid. “Today, it is the exact opposite.”
“Israel is not perfect, but it is a democracy committed to international law and open to scrutiny,” said Lapid, who is also Israel’s alternate prime minister.
He also charged that Amnesty had an anti-Semitic agenda. “I hate to use the argument that if Israel were not a Jewish state, nobody in Amnesty would dare argue against it, but in this case, there is no other possibility,” he said.