Amnesty’s nearly 300-page report, released on Tuesday, details “inhumane or inhumane acts of forcible transfer, administrative detention, torture, unlawful killings and serious bodily harm, and denial of fundamental rights and freedoms or the persecution committed against the Palestinian population”, creating “an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination over the Palestinians.”
“Amnesty International concludes that the State of Israel views and treats Palestinians as an inferior non-Jewish racial group,” he said.
“Since its establishment in 1948, Israel has pursued an explicit policy of establishing and maintaining Jewish demographic hegemony and maximizing its control over the land for the benefit of Jewish Israelis,” he said.
Even before the report was officially released, Israel denounced it as “false and biased”.
In an online briefing with journalists ahead of the report’s publication, Foreign Ministry spokesman Lior Haiat said Amnesty was “using double standards and demonization in order to delegitimize the existence of Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people.
“These are the exact components out of which modern anti-Semitism is made,” the Foreign Office said in a separate statement.
Israel has always rejected comparisons with apartheid-era South Africa. Even some staunch Israeli critics of the occupation have argued that discrimination against Palestinians does not amount to intentional or institutional racism and is the result of genuine security fears.
This conflict over words – and efforts to make them stick – increasingly characterizes perceptions of the conflict in the region and abroad.
While the Israeli government’s response to previous reports by B’Tselem and HRW was critical, Haiat acknowledged concerns about the construction of the apartheid narrative, this time urging a more combative approach.
“Of course, there is concern that people will believe these false accusations,” Haiat said.
He pointed to Israel’s current government, which includes Arab lawmakers in its ranks for the first time, as evidence of what he called Israel’s inclusive democracy.
But many Palestinian activists believe that these arguments are no longer persuasive and see the tide of public opinion turning in their favor.
They point to protests in the United States and around the world last year in support of Palestinian families facing forced eviction from their homes in East Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood.
“The world is coming to the conclusion that for human beings who live on the land between the river and the sea, the levels of freedoms and rights are defined by ethnonational identity,” said Salem Barahmeh, executive director of the Palestinian Institute for Peace, based in Ramallah. Public Diplomacy told CNN.
The accusation of anti-Semitism by Israel’s advocates has also become a hotly contested issue. While the research clearly indicates the rise of anti-Semitism around the world, many believe the word is misused and devalued.
Israel’s former ambassador to the United Nations, Danny Danon, was recently ridiculed after accusing actress Emma Watson of anti-Semitism after posting a photo of a pro-Palestinian rally online along with the words “Solidarity is a verb”.
“No kidding, we’re at the point where just posting a vague photo referring to Palestinian solidarity on Instagram gets you labeled an anti-Semite,” tweeted MSNBC host and former CNN reporter Ayman Mohyeldin.
At the level of international diplomacy, however, there are few signs so far that the battle over the apartheid label is having much impact.
On Monday, the United States pushed back against the Amnesty report’s characterization of Israel.
Before reading the report, US State Department spokesman Ned Price told a State Department briefing that describing Israel as an apartheid state was “not language we have used, and that we would never use”. Price added that the administration would not comment further until they had a chance to read the full report.
The report also coincided with the first-ever trip by an Israeli head of state to the United Arab Emirates, highlighting Israel’s recent diplomatic achievements.
Reports of President Isaac Herzog’s two-day trip to the United Arab Emirates make no reference to discussions of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.