Amnesty against Israel

Andrew Donaldson on the blowback in the UK against NGO's declaration that the Jewish state is criminal


APARTHEID, we are routinely reminded, is a crime against humanity under international law. 

It was once held to be a uniquely South African in nature, a system of institutionalised racial segregation that existed from 1948 until the early 1990s. But its definition is much broader now, and it’s generally accepted that any racially-based act of discrimination or oppression by any state or group is labelled as an apartheid crime.

Last week, the human rights organisation Amnesty International released Israel’s Apartheid Against Palestiniansa 280-page report accusing the Israelis of pursuing a de facto policy of enforced segregation and maintaining “an institutionalised regime of oppression and domination of the Palestinian population for the benefit of Jewish Israelis”. Jerusalem, the report charged, “considers and treats” Palestinians as an inferior “racial group”.

“This,” Amnesty states, “amounts to apartheid as prohibited in international law.” What’s more, their report adds, Israel has pursued “an explicit policy of establishing and maintaining a Jewish demographic hegemony” since 1948. (Again, that year…)

The organisation has called on the perpetrators of “apartheid” in the Israel and the Occupied Territories to be investigated by the International Criminal Court. It also wants the UK to impose a “comprehensive import ban” on all products from Israeli settlements, as well as immediately suspending all military and policing cooperation with Israel. 

The report has not gone down too well in some quarters, and the backlash has been considerable. Israel, as expected, has rejected it out of hand. But many others, independent of Jerusalem, have also stepped up to criticise the report as breaching the International Holocaust Remembrance Association’s definition of antisemitism: namely, that it is antisemitic to deny Jews their right to self-determination “by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour”. 

Reacting to the report, former DA leader Tony Leon told London’s Jewish Chronicle: “I’m highly critical of aspects of Israeli policy, but making out Israel to be a moral criminal on a par with the South African apartheid state is politically specious and historically, absolutely wrong. Amnesty International is not doing is cause or its reputation any good by what is at best an undergraduate-level analysis.” 

However, addressing journalists at the report’s launch in Jerusalem, Amnesty secretary-general Agnès Callamard said the document was based on “four years of meticulous research by the best legal scholars on apartheid”.

The report’s authors have not been identified but the Jewish Chronicle did note that, sharing the platform with Callamard, was Amnesty’s deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa, Saleh Hijazi. Before joining the organisation, Hijazi had posted images on social media of 1970s Palestinian hijacker Leila Khaled and Khader Adnan, a Palestinian jihadist now imprisoned in Israel.

There are now calls from leading legal figures and politicians from across the British political spectrum that Amnesty be investigated by the UK’s Charity Commission.

One of them, the Labour peer Lord Mann, a senior government advisor on antisemitism, put it bluntly thus: “It is time for Amnesty to receive some training in what antisemitism is. How could they possibly refuse this?” 

Another, barrister Lord Carlile, a former reviewer of anti-terrorism legislation, said that he had “concerns” over Israeli policy in the Occupied Territories, but added: “As a lifelong Amnesty supporter, I am disappointed they have produced a report that is so overtly political and can only cause damage to the efforts being made by governments and individuals to secure conciliation between Jewish and non-Jewish citizens of Israel.”

Amnesty raises money in Britain as a charitable trust, meaning that it receives tax benefits. But it publishes reports via a limited company, Amnesty International Ltd, which it funds. Charity Commission rules stipulate that when charities do this, they must ensure that such funding is used for charitable purposes and the “public benefit”.

That said, there are those who have welcomed their report. Hamas has claimed it is “a new contribution to ending the last ugly racist occupation on the face of the Earth”.

A dramatic and sweeping generalisation, admittedly. But one wouldn’t be too hard-pressed to come up with another regime to which the apartheid label may be attached to gee up a bit of indignation.

Beijing, let’s say.

Last month, the Canadian billionaire investor Chamath Palihapitiya created something of a stink when he claimed he wasn’t too bothered by events in China’s Xinjiang province: “Let’s be honest, nobody, nobody cares about what’s happening to the Uighurs.”

Minor apoplexy followed. There came an apology of sorts, weaselly and lacking the candour of his earlier statement. 

But Palihapitiya is right: no-one gives a toss about the Uighurs.

Reviewing a new memoir, How I Survived a Chinese “Reeducation” Camp by Gulbahar Haitiwaji with Rozenn Morgat (Canbury Press), London Sunday Times critic John Phipps offers several theories for this indifference:

“The Uighurs live far away. Their culture is unfamiliar, their name difficult to pronounce. It’s possible that books such as these will change that, but I’m doubtful. The brutal truth is that the Uighur cause is unfashionable. Our attention gravitates towards controversy, marginal cases of right and wrong that spark debate. In the case of the Uighurs there is no argument to be had, only the conspicuous, continuing disaster, from which the world turns away.”

The Uighur, Phipps reminds us, are Turkic Muslims who live in north-west China. Over the last half-century, their homeland has been swamped by Han Chinese while they have become second-class citizens. This state of affairs resulted in dissent and violent protest, which prompted the Chinese Communist Party to embark on a massive programme to completely destroy the Uighur. Wherever they may be.

Gulbahar Haitiwaji was working for a Chinese oil company in Boulogne, France when she was summonsed back to Xinjiang by her employer on the pretext of sorting out a pension problem. She was arrested upon return, jailed for six months and then sent to the province’s “gulag archipelago”, a purpose-built network of camps that, at its peak, housed roughly a tenth of all adult Uighurs.

Here she began her “reeducation”, a process that included the forced singing of patriotic songs and giving thanks to Xi Jinping along with a constant threat of unaccountable violence. Phipps writes:

“Gulbahar’s memoir is an indispensable account, which makes vivid the stench of fearful sweat in the cells, the newly built prison’s permanent reek of white paint. It closely corresponds with other witness statements, giving every indication of being very reliable. Most impressive is her psychological honesty. Her initially derisive attitude to the rudimentary propaganda that makes up her ‘re-education’ is replaced by a hollow fog of submission. Re-education works. When she is finally told she can leave, after 18 months, she lies motionless on her bed.

“Her memoir attests to a series of mandatory injections for female internees, after which women stopped getting their periods. This detail, reported consistently by survivors, tallies with the immense, state-backed sterilisation programme that is under way. As a result Uighur birth rates have plummeted, by as much as 80 per cent in some places, which validates the charge of genocide — an attempt to destroy, in whole or part, an entire people.”

This is horrifying by any definition. But is it apartheid? 

Cynical as it may seem, not to mention inaccurate, but the world may just give a damn about the atrocities committed by the Chinese should the country be labelled an apartheid state. We should give it a bash.

Trigger warning: peculiar humour ___STEADY_PAYWALL___

I take it we’re all familiar with Jimmy Carr’s Holocaust joke that has caused an international furore? It’s the one that features in the “career-enders” section (appropriately enough) of the British comedian’s forthcoming new Netflix show, His Dark Material. But for those who don’t know it, here goes:

“When people talk about the Holocaust,” Carr tells his theatre audience, “they talk about the tragedy and horror of six million Jewish loves being lost to to the Nazi war machine. But they never mention the thousands of gypsies that were killed by the Nazis. No one ever wants to talk about that, because no one ever want to talk about the positives.”

The clip found its way onto social media last week, and was roundly condemned. A knowingly callous joke on the murder of the Roma and Sinti by the Nazis? It was “deeply disturbing”, a Downing Street spokesperson said, and “it was unacceptable to make light of genocide”.

Giles Coren, The Times columnist (and man forever being told he’s not as funny as his late father, Alan), has however a different take on the brouhaha. It would be a “terrible shame”, he wrote yesterday, if, because of one bad Holocaust joke, people stopped telling good Holocaust jokes.

There are lots of these, Coren says. One favourite is that chestnut about a man telling a camp survivor that his grandfather died in Auschwitz. Was he Jewish, the survivor asks. “Nah,” comes the response. “Fell off a watchtower.” 

Then there is this one Coren says he heard from his dentist while discussing the Carr brouhaha: “The thing to remember is that Hitler killed six million Jews and one milkman.” “A milkman?” Coren replied. “You see,” said the dentist. “Nobody cares about the Jews.”

Trigger warning: animal cruelty

Further to news of tourism minister Lindiwe Sisulu’s wig, unconfirmed reports suggest matters of a veterinary nature were raised when She Who Would Be King attended Dubai’s Expo 2020 in December. Mention was allegedly made of distemper shots and other quarantine requirements, although officials may have been referring to Sisulu herself, and not her unruly rug.

Such concerns were however swiftly set aside once rumours began swirling of a reunion of sorts with various Gupta associates. This is a pity, for it drew attention from the striking South African “showcase” at the expo, which runs until March 31. While other countries’ efforts at showcasing their national treasures and tourism highlights were described by visitors as majestic and inspiring, South Africa instead opted to underwhelm with a “spaza shop” display: five shelves containing various fizzy drinks, cordials, canned vegetables, tomato sauces and other condiments.

Worse still was a home-made notice on this shabby arrangement: “Please don’t take the items. For display only.” All this, mind you, under the banner, “Proudly made in South Africa. Available to the world.” 

As Sygnia founder and executive chair Magda Wierzycka described it: “Beyond sad.”

Trigger warning: mawkish behaviour

My old friend Carl Niehaus is whining that he has no money and that his life is falling part as the ANC has not paid him his salary since August last year. Readers will recall that the party fired Carl the following month with immediate effect after he along with fellow disgruntled ANC staffers threatened to lay charges of corruption and fraud against their leadership over the ongoing non-payment of wages and contributions to pension funds. The matter is reportedly before the Labour Court. 

Last week, party treasurer-general Paul Mashatile announced that all employees had now been paid their outstanding salaries. This was news to Carl, according to IOL News. Greatly aggrieved that he was not included in the payouts, he dashed off a letter to his attorney. Its contents are deeply unsettling:

“This is now becoming a disaster for me. I have nothing to live on, and I am unable to pay rent. I have lost my car. I literally do not have food in the house. How long is this still going to take? How am I expected to live while all of this is dragging on? Please forgive me for becoming emotional, but my life is falling apart. Please, is there a way that matters can be sped up? Please, I am pleading with you.”

Twitter has been especially cruel and many commentators find this hilarious, but it is no laughing matter. It is shameful that there is nothing to eat in Carl’s home, and this may explain why he is forced to dine out at restaurants. The images he frequently posts on Twitter of his wife and himself at such establishments must therefore be seen as desperate cries for help. 

As for his car, well, some regulars at the Slaughtered Lamb (“Finest Ales & Pies”) believe that Carl may simply have forgotten where he last parked it. Others wonder whether he hasn’t disguised the vehicle as a thicket or a hedge and, given his expertise at camouflage, literally cannot see the damned thing for the trees. Either way, if anyone knows the car’s whereabouts, could they please tell Carl? He is getting quite frantic.

Every cloud, however, has that silver lining, and Carl informs us that the long-awaited follow-up to his 1994 autobiography, Fighting for Hope: His Own Story, will be with us in November. This is good news for fans of comic fantasy writing. Carl says that he was on the verge of publishing it last year, but held back because 2022 is going to be “a watershed year” for the ANC’s survival.  

“I am in the final stages of editing the manuscript to bring it fully up to date, and adding three more chapters dealing with recent political developments. The last chapter will contain my views about what the future holds for the #ANC that I love, and dedicate my life to.”

Carl promises this will be a no holds barred, straight-talking account in large, easily legible type. He will reflect on his life in the ANC and those comrades he holds in the highest regard and those he claims are sell-outs and disappointments. “There will be no beating about the bush.”

No beating about the bush? There’s an excellent title in there, methinks, especially for a book by a revolutionary in Pep Store jungle fatigues.