Posts Tagged ‘apartheid’

New program director of Human Rights Watch generates interest

May 7, 2022

In 1 May 2022 the Times of Israel reported that “Sari Bashi, a longtime activist with the organization who is married to a Palestinian, to head up programming at HRW amid search for successor to departing director Kenneth Roth” {see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2022/04/27/after-almost-30-years-kenneth-roth-will-leave-human-rights-watch/]

I’m thrilled, honored, humbled and grateful to announce that next month, I will begin my appointment as @hrw’s new Program Director, supervising our research and investigations as we reorient ourselves to strengthen the broader human rights ecosystem and meet today’s challenges,” Bashi tweeted on Friday.

In the past, Bashi, a lawyer by training, co-founded and directed Gisha, an organization that pushes for freedom of movement for Palestinians in Gaza. From 2015 to 2018 she served as the director of Israel-Palestine for HRW, and returned to the organization last year as a special adviser.

A year ago, HRW issued a sweeping 213-page report accusing Israel of apartheid. Israel rejected the report, calling its “fictional claims… both preposterous and false,” and accusing HRW of having “a long-standing anti-Israel agenda.” [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/05/10/israeli-government-sponsored-app-goes-after-hrw-for-apartheid-categorisation/]

HRW’s Israel and Palestine director, Omar Shakir, was expelled by Israel in 2019 over allegations that he supported the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, which seeks to isolate Israel over its alleged mistreatment of Palestinians. [See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/11/06/human-rights-watch-omar-shakir-loses-his-appeal-in-israeli-supreme-court/]

In recent years, Bashi, a US native, has been open about her relationship with a Palestinian man originally from Gaza, and the struggles they have faced to live in the same place. They lived together for a few years in the United States as well as in South Africa, and have based their lives in Ramallah, she said, since they are unable to live together in Israel.

The reaction was quick in coming. On 2 May Just the News stated: “A powerful nongovernmental organization with a massive budget and an alleged ideological bias against Israel will continue targeting the Jewish state after it completes a major leadership change now underway, according to experts and lawmakers who spoke to Just the News.” “Unfortunately, the extremely biased attitude toward Israel which Kenneth Roth represented in Human Rights Watch will, most probably, be cemented with the appointment of Sari Bashi,” said Sarah Stern, president of the Endowment for Middle East Truth, a think tank. “Throughout her career, Ms. Bashi has constantly demonstrated her lack of objectivity and overwhelming animus towards the state of Israel.”

https://www.timesofisrael.com/jewish-israeli-to-become-new-programs-director-of-human-rights-watch/

https://justthenews.com/accountability/whistleblowers/experts-human-rights-watch-continue-targeting-israel-after-leadership

Results 49th session Human Rights Council as seen by NGOs

April 15, 2022

13 organisations – including the ISHR – have shared reflections on the key outcomes of the 49th session of the UN Human Rights Council, as well as the missed opportunities to address key issues and situations. . Full written version below [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2022/02/21/guide-to-49th-session-of-human-rights-council-with-human-rights-defenders-focus/:

We stand in solidarity with human rights defenders in Ukraine, as well as those in Russia and around the world striving for peace, justice and accountability.

We welcome the Council’s swift response to the devastating human rights consequences of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, setting up a strong accountability mechanism. The war in Ukraine represents the latest in a growing regional human rights crisis and the action taken by the Council to establish this accountability mechanism is an important step. 

Since the Council took action in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Ukrainian human rights defenders have documented evidence of violations that may amount to war crimes, including indiscriminate attacks, forced deportation of Ukrainians to Russia, abductions and disappearances of political activists and human rights defenders, and the intentional targeting of local political figures, journalists, civilians, and civilian infrastructure. While we welcome the Council’s initial response, it is imperative that the Council remain diligent and responsive to situational needs, including a potential special session prior to HRC50 should the situation in Ukraine continue to deteriorate.

Every human rights situation must be dealt with on its merits, with Council members ensuring a principled and consistent application of international law and standards, including in all situations of occupation. It is imperative that the Council uses all available tools to ensure the fulfilment of the inalienable right to self-determination of the Palestinian people as a whole struggling against Israel’s apartheid,  and to act with urgency to support Palestinian civil society in a context of mounting repression.

We recall the mounting recognition of Israel’s imposition of an apartheid regime over the Palestinian people, including by the UN Special Rapporteur Michael Lynk, but also prior to his historic report, in a joint statement by 47 UN Special Procedures which stated that “above all, the Israeli occupation has meant the denial of the right of Palestinian self-determination.” In a joint statement at this session,  90 organisations reiterated that “Double standards on this matter, including those propagated by Europe and the United States, severely undermine the effectiveness and legitimacy of international human rights and humanitarian legal standards. For 73 years, the international community has enabled Israeli impunity and failed to hold Israeli perpetrators accountable for serious crimes against Palestinians.  Accountability is long overdue.”

This Council must also urgently act to dismantle systemic racism in border control and migration governance and play its role in upholding all human rights for all at international borders, including the right to seek asylum. All human beings crossing European borders from Ukraine are fleeing the same dangers. We deplore the discrimination and violence against Africans and other racialized groups fleeing Ukraine, as well as the different approach taken towards refugees fleeing other conflicts.

We welcome the Council’s decision to extend the mandate of the OHCHR Examination on Belarus. We remind the Council that the original Examination did not start its work for a number of months which resulted in delays in documenting and analysing evidence of human rights violations committed in the context of Belarus’s 2020 presidential elections. We are concerned by reports that the Examination will be moved from Geneva to Vienna and delays which could result from such action. We encourage the Council to engage with OHCHR to ensure that the Examination rolls over without delay.

We welcome attention paid to the issue of transitional justice in the Democratic Republic of Congo in the context of the interactive dialogue at this session, and stress that any meaningful transitional justice process must include a judicial mechanism with a strong international component to hold perpetrators to account.

While we welcome the renewal of the Special Rapporteur on Iran, we urge the Council to revisit its business as usual approach to the human rights situation in Iran. We regret that the resolution fails to contain any substance on the situation of human rights in the country, a situation that is unique for country resolutions under item 4. As noted by the Special Rapporteur in his report to this Council, “institutional impunity and the absence of a system for accountability for violations of human rights permeate the political and legal system of the Islamic Republic of Iran.” We furthermore urge the Council to answer the Special Rapporteur’s appeal for “the international community to call for accountability with respect to long-standing emblematic events that have been met with persistent impunity”.

It is clear from its interim report to this Council that the Fact-finding Mission for Libya must be renewed in June, ideally for a period of two years.  Much more work needs to be done to promote the institutions necessary for accountability in the country. 

We welcome the adoption of the resolution on Myanmar – by consensus – maintaining enhanced monitoring and reporting on the ongoing crisis, and with calls for suspension of arms transfers to Myanmar as a necessary step towards preventing further violations and abuses of human rights.

We celebrate the establishment of a Group of Human Rights Experts on Nicaragua, as the repression intensifies, and the government does not show any willingness to cooperate with the UN. The Group’s mandate to investigate human rights violations since April 2018, including root causes and intersectional forms of discrimination, identify perpetrators, and preserve evidence, will pave the way for future accountability processes, putting victims at the heart of the Council’s response.

We welcome the adoption of the resolution on human rights defenders and we stress that recognizing and protecting human rights defenders involves not only their holistic and security protection but also recognition of the important work they do in conflict and post-conflict situations. We also welcome the reference of the impact of arms transfers in this resolution, but regret a more substantive reference could not be made in the operational paragraphs. We also regret that child human rights defenders have not been included in the resolution despite the strong request from many States.

We welcome the leadership of Uruguay, on behalf of GRULAC, and the EU on the resolution on the rights of the child and family reunification in the context of migration and armed conflict, ensuring a strong focus on children as rights holders, prevention of family separation and the establishment of effective and accessible family reunification procedures. We are concerned once again, by the attempt to weaken the text on child participation through amendments. Finally, we regret that the resolution does not include a clear reference to the existing standards on prohibition of child immigration detention, and that the important recognition, especially in the context of the resolution, that various forms of family exist was not retained in the text. 

We welcome the extension of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur for the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism, although we regret that the resolution does not clearly stress the need for additional resources to the mandate due to its necessary focus on activities of UN on counter-terrorism in New York. We recognise the important analysis on states of emergency that was very relevant during the pandemic.

We welcome the adoption of the resolution on disinformation. The resolution reaffirms the central role of the right to freedom of expression in countering disinformation and stresses that censorship cannot be justified to counter disinformation, including through Internet shutdowns or vague and broad laws criminalising disinformation.  It also draws attention to the role of algorithms and ranking systems in amplifying disinformation. We urge States to follow the approach of the resolution and counter disinformation through holistic measures, including by ensuring a free, independent, plural and diverse media, protecting the safety of journalists, and promoting access to information held by public bodies.

Whilst underlining the importance of protecting the independence of the OHCHR and ensuring there is no state interference in its work, we welcome the resolution on promoting and protecting economic, social and cultural rights within the context of addressing inequalities in the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, its emphasis on austerity measures and policies imposed by International Financial Institutions (IFIs) and its impact on economic, social and cultural right. We regret the language calling out IFIs was not stronger and in this regard encourage the workshop that will be convened by the High Commissioner to address the specific impacts of austerity measures imposed by IFIs on human rights specifically on recovery from COVID 19 Pandemic. 

We welcome reports 49/68 on […] prevention and technical assistance and capacity-building, and 49/88 on the contribution of […] all human rights […] to achieving the purposes and upholding the principles of the UN Charter – they emphasized how the Council and the broader human rights community can work more effectively and coherently across all UN pillars to sustain peace – including through systematically integrating human rights in UN common analysis and programming, and increasing synergies between UN pillars; and ensuring human rights are at the centre of a new social contract.

We regret that the Council failed to respond to several human rights situations.

In the context of new heights of repression threatening the survival of independent civil society in Algeria, we welcome the High Commissioner’s call on the Government of Algeria to take all necessary steps to guarantee its people’s rights to freedom of speech, association and peaceful assembly, to which we add the right to freedom of religion or belief. Special Procedures have repeatedly warned about increasing crackdown on religious minorities, in the context of a sustained crackdown on civil and political freedoms.

We note the High Commissioner’s announced visit to China, while expressing concerns at the lack of transparency over agreed terms for unfettered access. We recall precedents that cast shadow over the possibility that the Chinese authorities indeed allow genuine unrestricted access and inquiry, across the country. We deplore her Office’s lack of coherence in responding to serious human rights violations in China, as this Council still awaits a long-promised report on grave violations in Xinjiang, the Uyghur region, with no further indication on its protracted release.

We express deep disappointment in a lack of follow up by States to the joint statement condemning widespread violations in Egypt delivered last March.   The Egyptian human rights movement and independent rights NGOs continue to face a real and imminent threats to their existence.  The authorities continue to misuse counterterrorism laws to arbitrarily detain thousands, including hundreds of human rights defenders, activists, political opponents and journalists, while systematically resorting to enforced disappearances and torture. Judges continue to sentence hundreds of defendants following their convictions as a result of unfair criminal trials, including to death, amid an alarming spike in executions since late 2020.  Given the failure of the Egyptian authorities to meaningfully address the on-going human rights crisis and tackle impunity for crimes under international law and other serious human rights violations, we strongly urge follow up action at this Council.  The price of silence is too high.

It is unfortunate that the Council did not take steps to respond to the substantial and growing attacks on human rights on the territory of the Russian Federation. Since Russia launched its war against Ukraine, the authorities have further clamped down on the freedoms of assembly, association, and expression and made legitimate human rights work increasingly difficult. Peaceful protest is effectively forbidden. Independent media are forbidden from printing facts and required to solely report government narratives. Two decades of repression against independent civil society, journalists, and human rights defenders laid the groundwork for the authorities to be able to launch an unprovoked attack against Ukraine and the Council has a responsibility to respond accordingly. We demand that the Council establish a Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Russia at its soonest opportunity.

Finally, we call on the UN General Assembly to suspend Russia’s rights of membership of the Council for committing widespread, gross and systematic human rights violations, some amounting to war crimes.

Signatories: International Service for Human Rights, Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development, Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, Human Rights House Foundation, Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales, CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation, International Commission of Jurists, International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI),  Women’s Centre for Legal Aid and Counselling, Gulf Centre for Human Rights, child rights connect, Habitat International Coalition, FIDH.

https://ishr.ch/latest-updates/hrc49-civil-society-presents-key-takeaways-from-human-rights-council/

Amnesty joins debate on Apartheid versus Palestinians but reactions debase struggle against real antisemitism

February 4, 2022

In Newsweek of 3 February 2022 Omar Baddar, Director of the Arab American Institute, published an opinion piece entitled “Amnesty Settles It: It’s Time for U.S. Accountability on Israel”.

Amnesty International, issued on 1 February 2022 an extensive report titled “Israel’s Apartheid against Palestinians: Cruel System of Domination and Crime against Humanity.” As the report documents, “Israel has imposed a system of oppression and domination over Palestinians wherever it exercises control over the enjoyment of their right.” The report further found that Israel’s policies are part of a “systematic as well as widespread attack directed against the Palestinian population, and that the inhuman or inhumane acts committed within the context of this attack have been committed with the intention to maintain this system and amount to the crime against humanity of apartheid.

In recent years, some leading Israeli human rights organizations have started using the word apartheid to describe their government’s systems of oppression. Last year, Human Rights Watch, one of the best-known American human rights organization, similarly accused Israel of apartheid. Amnesty International following suit this week has solidified the human rights community’s emerging consensus on Israeli apartheid. See: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/01/18/israel-and-apartheid-israeli-human-rights-group-stirs-debate/ and https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/07/09/israel-and-the-international-crime-of-apartheid-a-response-by-human-rights-watch-worth-studying-in-full/

Omar Baddar, states: The most important consequence of this consensus is that it lays to rest the false but popular notion of an “Israeli-Palestinian conflict” between two equal sides. The new consensus instead frames the issue more accurately as a struggle between an oppressor and an oppressed people. In the same way that Apartheid in South Africa and Jim Crow segregation in the American South denied people the ability to live in freedom with their full rights simply because of who they are, Israel also denies freedom to Palestinians and many basic rights to Palestinians just because they are Palestinians.

Like the Human Rights Watch report before it, what’s remarkable about the new Amnesty report is how extensive and detailed it is. Amnesty did its due diligence and made sure that its central claims are backed by a mountain of evidence, meticulously documenting unlawful killings, forced displacement and systemic discrimination on a massive scale. Unsurprisingly, the devastating and irreproachable nature of this report triggered a meltdown among Israel’s apologists. See for this also: https://yubanet.com/world/human-rights-organizations-from-israel-condemn-vicious-attacks-on-amnesty-international/

Unable to argue with the substance of the Amnesty report, pro-Israel groups have resorted either to blindly asserting—as AIPAC did—that Amnesty was lying, or baselessly claiming—as the ADL did—that the report would spark antisemitic attacks. The latter is nothing short of a cynical weaponization of antisemitism—which, in fact, is a serious and rising scourge in America and across the world—unscrupulously exploited in order to silence criticism of Israeli government policy.

We cannot have the open debate we need in a free society if speaking honestly about Israeli policy results in smears of bigotry. By misusing the charge of antisemitism in this fashion, Israel’s apologists aren’t just harming the human rights defenders being smeared by it; they’re also harming the real effort to eliminate antisemitism—a goal that we all have a moral obligation to come together and accomplish.

What this Amnesty report should have done is serve as a wake-up call to an American political establishment that prioritizes pandering over sensible policy, and that has turned a blind eye to a grave injustice for far too long. After all, it is U.S. military funding, to the unrivaled tune of $3.8 billion per year, which enables the Israeli military to maintain its suffocating grip on the occupied Palestinian population, and it is U.S. diplomatic protection, through more than 40 vetoes at the UN Security Council and beyond, that shields Israel from accountability for its crimes.

And yet, despite repeatedly claiming to prioritize human rights in its foreign policy, the Biden administration’s reaction to this report was utterly disappointing. The administration rejected it out of hand.

The Amnesty report bemoans the fact that, “for over seven decades, the international community has stood by as Israel has been given free rein to dispossess, segregate, control, oppress and dominate Palestinians.” It criticizes countries like ours that have “actively supported Israel’s violations by supplying it with arms, equipment and other tools to perpetrate crimes under international law and by providing diplomatic cover, including at the UN Security Council, to shield it from accountability.” The report also reiterated its call for “states to immediately suspend the direct and indirect supply, sale or transfer of all weapons, munitions and other military and security equipment.”

https://www.newsweek.com/amnesty-settles-it-its-time-us-accountability-israel-opinion-1675876

https://www.juancole.com/2022/02/prolonged-occupation-palestinians.html

https://www.thecitizen.in/index.php/en/NewsDetail/index/6/21449/Why-Is-Israel-Fearful-of-Amnestys-Apartheid-Report

Desmond Tutu, human rights champion par excellence, is no more

December 29, 2021

Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, who was post-apartheid South Africa’s moral compass and the driver of its troubled reconciliation process, has died. He was 90 years old.

He is the laureate of at least 10 human rights awards: For the complete list, see:

https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/3E4065ED-420D-D94E-ECB1-4A2C91FE3BE6

Andrew Donaldson in News24 of 26 December 2021 published an interesting obituary: A tireless social activist and human rights defender, Tutu not only coined the term “Rainbow Nation” to describe the country’s ethnic diversity but, after the first democratic elections in 1994, went on to become its conscience, using his international profile in campaigns against HIV/Aids, tuberculosis, poverty, racism, xenophobia, sexism, homophobia and transphobia, among others…

His was a powerful, forthright voice, one that irked both the Nationalist government and its successor, the African National Congress and its allies. He was, an activist noted, “given to expressing his opinion in ways that are guaranteed to be outside the realm of comfortable politics”. As Tutu himself put it, in 2007, “I wish I could shut up, but I can’t, and I won’t.“..

Both at home and abroad, Tutu’s opposition to apartheid, which he often likened to Nazism, was vigorous and unequivocal. The Nationalists twice revoked his passport, and he was briefly jailed in 1980 after a protest march. Many felt that his increasing international reputation and his advocacy of non-violence had spared Tutu from more harsh treatment by the government…

He was a born orator and, according to the journalist Simon Hattenstone, “a natural performer [with] his hands and eyes flying all over the place, his voice impassioned and resonant; a tiny ball of love.”

Tutu would often play down such adulation. “I was,” he once said of his reputation, “this man with the big nose and the easy name who personalised the South African situation.”…

Following the Soweto riots in 1976, Tutu became an increasingly vocal supporter of economic sanctions and a vigorous opponent of US president Ronald Reagan’s “constructive engagement” with the Nationalist government.

In 1978, he was appointed general secretary of the SACC, a position he used to further rally support, both local and international, against apartheid. He was just as harsh in his criticism of the violent tactics later used by some anti-apartheid activists, and was unequivocal in his opposition to terrorism and communism.

Tutu’s finest hour came when he chaired the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which was set up to bear witness to, record and in some cases grant amnesty to the perpetrators of apartheid-relation human rights violations, as well as rule on reparation and the rehabilitation of victims…

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2013/07/30/desmond-tutu-chooses-hell-over-homophobic-heaven/

He is survived by his wife, four children, seven grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Desmond Tutu was responsible for countless notable quotes throughout his life as an activist and elder. TimesLive (Ernest Mabuza) of 26 December 2021 in “In his own words: Desmond Tutu’s unwavering stance on human rights” published 12 of his best:

https://www.news24.com/news24/Obituaries/obituary-desmond-tutu-tenacious-charismatic-and-a-thorn-in-the-national-party-and-ancs-side-20211226

https://www.timeslive.co.za/news/south-africa/2021-12-26-in-his-own-words-desmond-tutus-unwavering-stance-on-human-rights/

Israel and the international crime of Apartheid: a response by Human Rights Watch worth studying in full

July 9, 2021

EJIL Talk!, the Blog of the European Journal of International Law, last week had a symposium (see: https://www.ejiltalk.org/), which has addressed a number of legal issues arising from HRW’s report released in late April 2021 “A Threshold Crossed: Israeli Authorities and the Crimes of Apartheid and Persecution.” This report has received significant media attention.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/01/18/israel-and-apartheid-israeli-human-rights-group-stirs-debate/ and https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/05/10/israeli-government-sponsored-app-goes-after-hrw-for-apartheid-categorisation/

On 9 july 2021 Clive Baldwin, Senior Legal Adviser of HRW, uses the opportunity to contribute to a substantive discussion focusing primarily on the implications of the report for the broader international legal discourse.

After detailed discussion of the international LEGAL aspects, he concludes:

The discussion demonstrates the importance of considering the term “apartheid” under international criminal law as a specific crime against humanity, together with the closely related crime against humanity of persecution. This requires a legal understanding of its definition and constitutive elements, as well as of ways to apply it. To even begin the process of criminal justice, prosecutors – and in particular those at the ICC – will first need to understand and investigate these crimes. Legal discussions like this symposium can, we hope, help advance this objective. These are crimes against humanity that have been neglected for too long.

https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/07/09/human-rights-watch-responds-reflections-apartheid-and-persecution-international-law

Israeli government-sponsored app goes after HRW for Apartheid categorisation

May 10, 2021

Alan Macleod in Mint-press News of 7 May 2021 studies in quite some detail the way in which the recently released Human Rights Watch (HRW) report has made waves around the world and the organised backlash that followed.

For the first time, the New York-based non-governmental organization has categorized Israel as an apartheid state guilty of “crimes against humanity.” [see also`: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/01/18/israel-and-apartheid-israeli-human-rights-group-stirs-debate/]

The 213-page study goes into detail about a range of racist laws and policies carried out by successive administrations, concluding that there is an “overarching Israeli government policy to maintain the domination by Jewish Israelis over Palestinians and grave abuses committed against Palestinians living in the occupied territory, including East Jerusalem.” The report accuses the state of Israel of widespread “institutional discrimination” and of “denying millions of Palestinians their fundamental rights…solely because they are Palestinian and not Jewish.” It further notes that, across Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, it has “sought to maximize the land available for Jewish communities and to concentrate most Palestinians in dense population centers.”

Prominent voices have warned for years that apartheid lurks just around the corner if the trajectory of Israel’s rule over Palestinians does not change,” said the organization’s executive director, Kenneth Roth. “This detailed study shows that Israeli authorities have already turned that corner and today are committing the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution.

Perhaps most importantly, Human Rights Watch is now openly calling for global action to end the repression. The report asks the International Criminal Court to investigate and prosecute those involved in Palestinian persecution. While not explicitly endorsing the Boycott, Divestment and Sactions (BDS) movement, Human Rights Watch directly advocates that “[s]tates should impose individual sanctions, including travel bans and asset freezes, against officials and individuals responsible for the continued commission of these serious crimes,” and for businesses to “cease business activities that directly contribute to the crimes of apartheid and persecution.”

A big splash

The report was widely covered across the world and has been heralded by Palestine solidarity activists, with experts seeing it as a potential turning point in the struggle for Palestinian sovereignty. “It was inevitable that Human Rights Watch would have to declare Israel an Apartheid state and, from what I hear, Amnesty International is going to be next to say it,Asa Winstanley of the Electronic Intifada told MintPress. “It puts Israel’s backers in a difficult spot because Human Rights Watch is really part of the establishment so they cannot just dismiss it and it makes it impossible to ignore… It is harder for them to say Human Rights Watch is anti-Semitic, but they’re trying it anyway,” he added.

Trying indeed. Michigan Congresswoman Lisa McClain tweeted that “Human Rights Watch has shown again how they have an anti-Israel agenda,” suggesting they instead focus their attention on China or Iran’s repressive governments. “Hostility and hypocrisy are HRW’s hallmarks when it comes to Israel,” wrote the American Jewish Committee. The Jerusalem Post’s editorial board was equally condemnatory, denouncing what they saw as the “cynical appropriation of the suffering of the victims of the actual apartheid regime.” Other Israeli journalists described the report as “a disgrace to the memory of the millions who suffered under that policy [apartheid] in South Africa.” The news even made enough waves to force a response from the White House. Press Secretary Jen Psaki replied that “[a]s to the question of whether Israel’s actions constitute apartheid, that is not the view of this administration.”

Organized spontaneity

Yet much of the online anger at the report was actually manufactured by an Israeli government-sponsored app, Act.IL, which organized supporters of the Jewish state to act in sync to create an artificial groundswell of opposition to it. The app, which reportedly has a budget of over $1 million per year, instructed users to leave combative comments on Facebook, Twitter, and popular news outlets, and to like and promote others who did the same.

Human Rights Watch’s Facebook post announcing the report’s release has received over 1,400 comments, hundreds of them written in a similar, scathingly negative tone. One that the app directly told users to signal boost, for instance, described Palestinians as a people “indoctrinated with hate for Israel and Jews for over 100 years,” and claimed they were paid salaries to murder Israelis. It also presented the 1967 war and occupation as a humanitarian effort to bring electricity and other infrastructure to Arabs.

Another “mission” Act.IL gave its users was to promote a Facebook comment attacking the report as “nothing more than hate speech” and calling its lead author a “rabid anti-Zionist and Israel hater.”Omar Shakir HRW

One of the many images provided to Act.IL users for their astroturfing campaign against HRW

Act.IL is one of the chief tools in Israel’s online public relations enterprise. The app debuted in 2017 and is part of what Israeli Minister of Strategic Affairs Gilad Erdan called an “Iron Dome of Truth.” “Our cell phones are the number one weapon against us,” he explained, noting that public opinion in the U.S. was beginning to turn against them. While most of the app’s nearly 20,000 users are volunteers, a core of them are paid operatives, with many students receiving scholarships as a reward for their work.

The app has been designed to feel like a game, with points assigned for completing “missions” such as sharing pro-Israel videos, reporting anti-Israel content, signing petitions, or attending online seminars. Users can track their progress on leaderboards, earn badges and prizes, and chat with other members of the community. While it might feel like Animal Crossing or World of Warcraft for some, its creators see this very much as a new front in the war against Palestine. Israeli Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked categorizes BDS as “another branch of terrorism in the modern age,” and has been an important voice in taking the fight to a new front.

An Act.IL mission encouraging astroturfing of online discussions. Source |
@AntiBDSApp

There is also an online toolkit full of folders of responses to typical questions and issues that arise. Users can, for instance, go to the BDS folder to find stock replies to their arguments. Or they can go to a specific folder to find articles, images and videos they can use to demonize Hamas.

The missions are organized by outlet, so users can, for instance, target only Facebook, Telegram, or other platforms they are most familiar with. At the time of writing, there are 10 missions each to complete on Facebook and YouTube, 30 on Instagram, 25 on Twitter.

One current challenge is to upvote an answer to a question on Quora that asks about the validity and purpose of checkpoints in the West Bank. The answer claims they are purely about protection from terror attacks, and claims that Red Crescent ambulances are used to ferry bombs around the area. Other missions include pressuring an online store to remove a bag with a message stating “Make Israel Palestine Again.”Act.IL

An Act.IL “mission” encouraging users to demand the removal of products with pro-Palestinian messaging

It is quite astounding how openly they do it. But, of course, when you see a comment online, you wouldn’t necessarily think that it was coming from the Israeli government, but this is essentially what is happening,” Winstanley said. “Israel is not the only state to do this, but they do it fairly successfully.

For all this, however, it is clear that Act.IL has a serious problem with user retention and lacks the volunteer numbers for it to be truly game changing.

Controlling the message

In a time of heightened awareness about foreign government interference online, it is particularly surprising that these operations can be openly carried out across virtually every major platform. Big tech companies like Twitter, YouTube and Facebook are constantly deleting tens of thousands of Russian, Chinese, Iranian and Cuban accounts belonging to what they claim are organized, state-sponsored disinformation campaigns.

In an effort to gauge the legality of its operations, MintPress reached out to Facebook, YouTube, Quora, and other big platforms used by Act.IL. We received no response from any of them. While this is particularly noteworthy — as these companies have teams of public relations representatives and are extremely forthright and timely with responses on other issues — it is perhaps not surprising. Facebook especially has long been working closely with the Israeli government in deciding which voices to censor. As far back as 2016, Ayelet Shaked boasted that Facebook removed 95% of the posts her office asked them to. Yet when Shaked herself called for a genocidal war against Palestine and its women, who give birth to “little snakes,” not only did the post remain online, it received thousands of likes and was widely circulated.

“The concern is that Facebook is adopting Israeli policy and terminology when it comes to defining what incitement is,” said Nadim Nashif, co-founder of 7amleh, the Arab Centre for the Advancement of Social Media. 7amleh was therefore dismayed when last year, Facebook appointed former Israeli Minister of Justice Emi Palmor to its Oversight Board, the council having the final say in the moderation of content on the platform used by 2.6 billion people worldwide. In her role as justice minister, Palmor was directly implicated in the persecution and subjugation of Palestinians.

Earlier this year, an Israeli Defense Forces soldier attempted to sue a Palestinian-American activist living in California over an allegedly slanderous Facebook post condemning her for participating in ethnic cleansing. Remarkably, the plaintiff attempted to convince a California judge to apply Israeli law to the incident, despite the fact that both she and the defendant are American citizens. https://cdn.iframe.ly/r7H7ueP?iframe=card-small&v=1&app=1

Inside the world of academia, professors critical of Israel have found themselves pushed out of the profession. In 2007, prominent critic of Israel Norman Finkelstein was denied tenure at DePaul University for political reasons. Seven years later, the University of Illinois “unhired” Steven Sailata for his comments denouncing Operation Protective Edge, the 2014 Israeli attack on Gaza. Emails showed that wealthy donors put significant pressure on the university to pull the plug on him. More recently, Cornel West was blocked from a tenured job at Harvard this year, despite having previously held tenure at Harvard, Princeton, and Yale. “Being the faculty advisor for the Palestinian student group was the one that probably went outside of the line for many Harvard staff,” West told Krystal Ball and Kyle Kulinski. “It’s a joke. It’s ridiculous. It’s ludicrous. It’s preposterous that it wouldn’t have something to do with politics.”

Top media figures have also paid the price for their support of BDS. CNN fired commentator Marc Lamont Hill after he made a speech at the United Nations calling for a free Palestine. Meanwhile, journalist Abby Martin was blocked from speaking at a conference at Georgia Southern University last year after she refused to sign a contract promising to renounce BDS. Georgia is one of dozens of U.S. states to have anti-BDS legislation, essentially forcing any would-be recipient of public contracts or funds, including government employees, to sign a pledge not to boycott Israel. Martin is currently suing the state of Georgia. MintCast Interviews Abby Martin About Her Anti-BDS Lawsuit & The Israel Lobby

While Human Rights Watch’s report is new, the charge of apartheid is not. In 2017, a United Nations report “clearly and frankly concludes” that Israel is “a racist state that has established an apartheid system that persecutes the Palestinian people.” Earlier this year, Israeli human rights organization B’TSelem also used the word “apartheid,” claiming that Israel had established “a regime of Jewish supremacy from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea.”…

Advocates for Palestine hailed Human Rights Watch’s study. Phyllis Bennis of the Institute for Policy Studies wrote:

There can be little doubt that much of HRW’s decision to issue this report now was based on the recognition that not only is it no longer political suicide to call Israeli apartheid what it is, but that we are now at a tipping point whereby failing to call out apartheid risks losing credibility for a human rights organization. It’s a huge victory for our movement.”

The battle, however, is far from won, and it is clear that the Israel lobby will continue to fight to hold back the tide until it is insurmountable.

Alan MacLeod is Senior Staff Writer for MintPress News. After completing his PhD in 2017 he published two books: Bad News From Venezuela: Twenty Years of Fake News and Misreporting and Propaganda in the Information Age: Still Manufacturing Consent, as well as a number of academic articles. He has also contributed to FAIR.orgThe GuardianSalonThe GrayzoneJacobin Magazine, and Common Dreams.

https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/04/27/abusive-israeli-policies-constitute-crimes-apartheid-persecution

Israel and Apartheid: Israeli Human Rights Group stirs debate

January 18, 2021

At the risk of inviting a torrent of abusive reactions, I think that the question of whether there is a case of APARTHEID is a legitimate one as a recent human rights NGO report asserts that one unequal system governs Israel, Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

B’Tselem, a prominent Israeli human rights group has intensified its criticism of the country’s policies toward Palestinians, saying Israel pursues a nondemocratic “apartheid regime” and “Jewish supremacy” in both Israel and the Palestinian territories. The report of Tuesday 12 January 2021 reflects a recent shift by critics within Israel, widening their focus beyond the country’s half-century military occupation of Palestinian territories to policies stretching back to Israel’s founding, and endorsing highly charged parallels to South Africa’s former regime of white rule.

An editorial in the Guardian of 17 January states: It was a deliberate provocation by B’Tselem, Israel’s largest human rights group, to describe the Palestinians in the Holy Land as living under an apartheid regime. Many Israelis detest the idea that their country, one they see as a democracy that rose from a genocidal pyre, could be compared to the old racist Afrikaner regime. Yet figures such as Desmond Tutu and Jimmy Carter have done so. There is a serious argument about injustices to be had. Palestinians – unlike Israeli Jews – live under a fragmented mosaic of laws, often discriminatory, and public authorities which seem indifferent to their plight. Apartheid is a crime against humanity. It is a charge that should not be lightly made, for else it can be shrugged off. Some might agree with the use of such incendiary language, but many will recoil. The crime of apartheid has been defined as “inhumane acts committed in the context of a regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups with the intention of maintaining that regime”.

Many Israelis firmly reject the comparison. They boast of a vibrant Israeli democracy, say Palestinians have representation in their own semi-autonomous Palestinian Authority, and justify restrictions on Palestinians as necessary security measures in the absence of peace.

B’Tselem’s director Hagai El-Ad, who is Jewish, said he hoped the report would inform the analysis of the incoming Biden administration as it considers how to steer U.S. policy, after the Trump administration sided with Israel and against Palestinian positions on the most sensitive aspects of the long-running conflict between the two peoples. “I expect this will be part of a new chapter for fighting for justice in this place,” El-Ad said.

B’Tselem, which has documented Israeli human rights abuses in Palestinian territories since 1989, said it now rejects the commonly held notion that Israel maintains two separate regimes side-by-side: a democracy inside Israel, where the country’s 20% Palestinian Arab minority shares equal citizenship and rights with its Jewish majority, and a military occupation imposed on Palestinian non-citizens in territories captured in 1967 which Palestinians seek for an independent state. “One organizing principle lies at the base of a wide array of Israeli policies: advancing and perpetuating the supremacy of one group – Jews – over another – Palestinians,” B’Tselem said in a statement Tuesday.

Daniel Estrin notes in his piece on NPR some reactions:

The Israeli government did not issue an immediate public response, but defenders of Israeli policy accused B’Tselem of radicalized anti-Israel propaganda.

This is no longer the same NGO that once gained respect, even from critics, by championing human rights based on credible research. Today, it is a platform for demonizers,” Gerald Steinberg of NGO Monitor, an Israeli watchdog of pro-Palestinian groups, said in a statement.

B’Tselem seeks to “fundamentally delegitimize Israel and call for its destruction – because one does not reform an Apartheid regime, one ends it,” said Eugene Kontorovich of the Kohelet Policy Forum, a conservative Israeli think tank.

Another prominent Israeli advocate for Palestinian rights, lawyer Michael Sfard, issued a legal opinion last year that Israelis practice apartheid over Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, but he stopped short of evaluating whether the same definition applied within Israel proper.

Last year, the Israeli NGO Yesh Din found that Israeli officials were culpable of the crime of apartheid in the West Bank.

B’Tselem said Palestinian Arab citizens in Israel have more rights than non-citizens in the West Bank and Gaza but that they were second-class citizens to Jewish Israelis. It pointed to Israel’s construction of hundreds of Jewish communities while building few communities for the country’s Palestinian citizens; and laws that grant automatic Israeli citizenship to Jews around the world but exclude non-Jews, including Palestinians.

B’Tselem’s criticisms of Israel’s military occupation include travel restrictions placed on Palestinians, who require Israeli travel permits; and Palestinians’ lack of voting rights in the Israeli political system which holds sway over their lives.

B’Tselem said it decided to embrace the apartheid terminology following the adoption in 2018 of Israel’s Nation State Law, which defined Israel as a Jewish state and accorded Jews priority in areas ranging from the official use of Hebrew versus Arabic, to land development, to the government’s discussion last year of potentially annexing occupied West Bank territory without extending voting rights to Palestinians living there, a move Israel says is possible.

“Israel is not a democracy that has a temporary occupation attached to it: it is one regime between the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, and we must look at the full picture and see it for what it is: apartheid,” El-Ad said.

The human rights group’s name, B’Tselem, Hebrew for “In the Image,” is taken from Genesis 1:27 which states that humanity was created in the image of God.

See also: https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/1/18/israel-moves-to-rein-in-rights-group-over-use-of-term-apartheid

https://www.npr.org/2021/01/12/956020789/israeli-human-rights-group-says-the-country-pursues-nondemocratic-apartheid-regi?t=1610539620271

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/jan/17/the-guardian-view-on-israel-and-apartheid-prophecy-or-description

https://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/WO2105/S00023/quibbling-over-cruelties-human-rights-watch-israel-and-apartheid.htm

George Bizos: Anti-apartheid lawyer who defended Mandela dies aged 92

September 10, 2020
Nelson Mandela's lawyer and friend George Bizos is pictured in Johannesburg in 2018
 
George Bizos is best known for defending Nelson Mandela at his trials – image copyrightAFP
Many media reported that South African human rights lawyer George Bizos, who famously defended Nelson Mandela, has died aged 92 (here the BBC).
After representing some of the country’s best known political activists during the apartheid years, Mr Bizos became one of the architects of South Africa’s new constitution. President Cyril Ramaphosa announced his death, saying Mr Bizos had “contributed immensely to our democracy”.
George Bizos is most widely known for his work with Nelson Mandela. The pair met while studying law in Johannesburg and Mr Bizos went on to represent his friend and other anti-apartheid figures in various court cases. He was one of the lawyers who represented Mandela at his treason trial, which began in 1956. He also represented Mandela during the Rivonia Trial, when he and other anti-apartheid activists were sentenced to life imprisonment in 1964 on charges of seeking to overthrow the apartheid government.
George Bizos was born in Greece but came to South Africa at the age of 13 as a World War Two refugee. Before moving to South Africa, he and his father helped seven New Zealand soldiers to escape Nazi-occupied Greece. He fell out of education for an extended period of time and worked instead in a Greek shop, after arriving in Johannesburg with no English. He later trained as a lawyer at South Africa’s Witwatersrand university, before being admitted to the Johannesburg Bar. After the end of white minority rule, Mr Bizos helped to write South Africa’s new constitution. He also represented families of anti-apartheid activists who had been killed during apartheid at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. In one of his last major trials, he secured government payouts for families of 34 mine workers who were killed by South African police in 2012.
https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-54094248

Canadian Museum for Human Rights wins award for Mandela exhibit

April 14, 2019
Canadian Museum for Human Rights
The Canadian Museum for Human Rights is located in Winnipeg. Josh Arason / Global News

The Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR) has earned an award for its interactive exhibition, Mandela: Struggle for Freedom, beating out top museums across the world. The annual international GLAMi Awards recognizes innovative and engaging cultural heritage projects in museums worldwide. This year, the event was held in Boston. The museum was the recipient of the best Non-Immersive Exhibition Media or Experience award for Mandela: Struggle for Freedom. The exhibit, which showcases Nelson Mandela and his fight against apartheid in South Africa, is an interactive, sensory experience of imagery, soundscape, digital media.

see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2014/11/14/canadian-human-rights-museum-in-winnipeg-a-touching-experience/

Canadian Museum for Human Rights celebrates Mandela’s legacy 29 years after his release

Navi Pillay reflects on 50 years as a defender of human rights

April 14, 2016

I have had quite a few post on Navi Pillay as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights [https://thoolen.wordpress.com/tag/navi-pillay/]  before and after her term [https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2014/07/09/navanethem-pillay-finishes-her-term-as-un-high-commissioner-for-human-rights-a-great-lady/]. So when the Toronto Star ( Immigration reporter) did an interview with this remarkable woman on 12 April 2016, I am happy to bring it to your attention. She was the recipient of the 2003 Gruber Prize for Women’s Rights and the 2010 Stockhom Human Rights Award.

“Navi Pillay reflects on 50 years as a champion for human rights”

Navi Pillay, who grew up under apartheid in South Africa, is the former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Navi Pillay, who grew up under apartheid in South Africa, is the former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

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