The blog of Eric Lee - web design and internet consulting for the trade union movement.

The problem with Amnesty

This article appears today on the Jewish Chronicle website and will appear in tomorrow's print edition. It is also being reprinted on the website of Pluto Press.

In recent months, Amnesty International in the UK has taken a sharp anti-Israel turn. This will be obvious to anyone who receives the organisation’s bi-monthly magazine, which now features articles bashing Israel in every single issue.

For example, last summer the magazine carried a long report on a visit by an Amnesty delegation to Israel and Palestine. It was an utterly one-sided account, reporting the suffering of Palestinians without even hinting at the possibility that Israelis too might be victims of the conflict.

Amnesty condemns the building of the separation barrier without mentioning why it exists or the lives it has saved. Its report focuses on petty matters like the cleanliness of toilets at Israeli checkpoints, without a mention of why those checkpoints are there (to counter terrorism).

The history of the conflict is mentioned when it serves the Palestinian side (for the example, the tragedy of the refugees in 1948) but ignored when it might help to explain why Israel does some of the things it does.

Perhaps worst of all, the Amnesty delegation report says that it’s hard to end a conflict “when people are constantly being provoked to retaliate”. The reference is to Palestinians who are being provoked by Israelis. Israel is never provoked by the Palestinians, apparently.

This is not only one-sided, but seems to be a moral justification for terrorism, which is far worse. Amnesty adopts the language of Palestinian extremism, referring to “resistance” when they mean terror. Indeed, the report concludes by saying that the conflict will only end when that “resistance” (albeit in its “non-violent” form) wins.

I wrote to complain about that report and a shortened version of my letter was duly published in the next issue of the magazine — which also featured a long interview with Noam Chomsky. In that interview, Chomsky barely touched on human rights, but included — as usual — an anti-Israel rant. What this has to do with Amnesty’s core mission of promoting human rights is beyond me.

The next issue of the magazine contained yet another long article on Israel. Amnesty’s latest project is to condemn Israel’s water policy and the organisation held a public meeting in London featuring Ben White, the author of a book on Israeli “apartheid”. In doing this, Amnesty is following the lead of War on Want, whose charitable status is under threat as it pursues a one-sided political agenda.

In the last few weeks, Amnesty has encouraged its supporters to pressure the British government to back the biased and deeply flawed Goldstone Report. When the UN General Assembly voted (as expected) against Israel, the organisation sent out an email message to its members with the subject line “More good news on Gaza”.

This was inappropriate. Good news on Gaza would be an end to terror, the ousting of Hamas from power, and the freeing of Gilad Shalit.

For Amnesty International to find itself on the side of such human rights violators as the dictatorial regimes in Belarus, Burma, Cuba, Eritrea, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Syria (all of whom voted for Goldstone) — and against all the world’s democracies — surely cannot be something to be proud of.

Of course it’s right for Amnesty to condemn human rights violations anywhere in the world, including Israel. But its one-sided, inaccurate, and persistent attacks on the Jewish state are making some us question our support for the organisation.

Let’s not forget that Amnesty does outstanding work for human rights around the world. There are many, like myself, who remain members of the organisation in spite of what it does and says regarding Israel. Some say that Amnesty, like War on Want, is no longer worthy of our support. They may be right. For the moment, I remain a member.

The organisation is holding elections to its board this spring, offering the chance to set things right, and to turn Amnesty around.


Great article. In recent months it has seemed that Amnesty has searched for the most obnoxious Israel-bashers and offered them a platform in London: Ben White, the Christisons, Jeff Halper. Amnesty's Water report was full of inaccuracies, see my post here:

There have been other critiques published too.

I only hope the new board puts things right - what is the chance of that?

Eric, I live in Israel and am a full scale basher of the army, the settlers and the whole fascist establishment. Checkpoints are not set up for security, they exist between two Arab villages just for the purpose of making the lives of Palestinians so miserable that they will emigrate. Land is stolen, people including children are abused and indeed it is designed to justify reaction. Typically a few police of soldiers will dress up as Arab teenagers and start throwing stones, so that their colleagues will have an excuse to shoot. The case of the murder of ten year old Abir Aramin by soldiers with impunity granted by the court is far two characteristic. Amnesty is right on and I am with them.