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Amnesty rebuffs Congress, urges US to pressure Israel over 'apartheid policies'

Rights group rejects criticism from US Congress against its report labelling Israel an apartheid state
Amnesty International Secretary General Agnes Callamard speaks during a press conference in Jerusalem on 1 February 2022.
Amnesty International Secretary General Agnes Callamard speaks during a press conference in Jerusalem on 1 February 2022 (AFP)
By MEE staff in Washington

Amnesty International has called on the United States to pressure Israel "to repeal discriminatory laws and policies" and to "review" its military aid to the country, days after the rights group released a landmark report calling Israel an apartheid state.

In a statement, Amnesty's USA chapter appeared to push back against criticism from members of Congress against the findings of its report and said Washington was in a "uniquely placed" position to pressure Israel into repealing certain discriminatory policies that have been levied against Palestinians in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.

"We encourage all members of Congress to use the full power of their office to advance human rights for all by calling for a thorough review of US security aid to Israeli forces to determine whether such aid has been used in the commission of violations," the rights group said.

Amnesty becomes latest rights group to call Israel an 'apartheid state'
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"By conditioning security aid appropriated to Israel on an end to violations of international humanitarian law and improvements in respect for human rights.”

The statement comes just a few days after Amnesty labelled Israel an apartheid state, saying its policies "benefit Jewish Israelis while restricting the rights of Palestinians".

Amnesty became the latest rights group to join a cadre of organisations that have used the term to describe Israel's discriminatory treatment of Palestinians.

The organisation highlighted crimes Israel has committed that fall under the definition of apartheid, such as the forcible transfer of Palestinians; Israel's destruction of homes and land owned by Palestinians; and the imprisonment of thousands of Palestinians "without charge or trial".

In its report, Amnesty called on the UN Security Council to "impose targeted sanctions, such as asset freezes, against Israeli officials most implicated in the crime of apartheid, and a comprehensive arms embargo on Israel.'

Accusations of slander and misinformation

The report, however, was met with immediate and fierce opposition from Israeli officials and leaders, as well as the Biden administration which rejected the apartheid label on Israel, a close and long-standing US ally.

A number of members of US Congress across both parties also attacked the report, including Republican Senators Jim Risch; Marco Rubio; and James Lankford; and Democratic Senators Bob Menendez; Chuck Schumer; and Congressman Ritchie Torres.

Menendez, who heads the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee, accused Amnesty of "slander" and  "misinformation".

Schumer, the Senate majority leader, told Jewish Insider: "Delegitimizing the existence of the State of Israel – a fellow democracy and the world’s only Jewish state – as Amnesty does in its report, brings the parties no closer to peace, but simply hardens the extremes who do not wish to ever see a two-state solution where Israelis and Palestinians can live in peace, freedom, security and prosperity."

Amnesty dismissed the criticism of the report and accusations of antisemitism levelled at the group.

"Amnesty's research, campaigns, advocacy and statements pertaining to Israel are focused on the actions of the Israeli government - they are not, and never will be, a condemnation of Judaism or the Jewish people," the group said.

"Furthermore, we condemn anyone who would cynically cite our research as justification for committing anti-Semitic acts of hatred and violence. Amnesty International condemns anti-Semitism in the strongest possible terms," the statement said.

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