State Department rejects Amnesty International’s ‘apartheid’ Israel report

by Joel Gehrke, Foreign Affairs Reporter 

A new report characterizing Israel as an “apartheid regime” has opened a dispute between one of the most prominent international human rights groups and senior U.S. lawmakers and officials.

“We reject the view that Israel’s actions constitute apartheid,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said Tuesday. “We don’t offer our own public comprehensive evaluations of reports, but we certainly reject the label that has been attached to this when speaking about Israel.


Amnesty International offered a blistering indictment of Israel’s treatment of Palestinian people in the decades since the establishment of the Jewish state, urging the International Criminal Court to take up the matter. The report, which drew a mix of derision and condemnation from across the U.S. government, implied U.S. officials are complicit in the “racist oppression” of Palestinians.


“Governments who continue to supply Israel with arms and shield it from accountability at the U.N. are supporting a system of apartheid, undermining the international legal order, and exacerbating the suffering of the Palestinian people,” said Amnesty International Secretary General Agnes Callamard. “The international community must face up to the reality of Israel’s apartheid and pursue the many avenues to justice which remain shamefully unexplored.”

Like previous presidencies, President Joe Biden’s administration has rebuked the United Nations Human Rights Council’s “disproportionate attention on Israel.” Secretary of State Antony Blinken has made humanitarian and diplomatic overtures to Palestinian officials in the months since a major clash this spring between Hamas terrorists in Gaza and the Israeli military. He did this most recently in a Monday call with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

“They discussed the importance of strengthening the U.S. relationship with the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian people, as well as the need to improve quality of life for Palestinians in tangible ways,” Price said Monday afternoon. “They also discussed the challenges facing the Palestinian Authority and the need for reform. Secretary Blinken reiterated that Israelis and Palestinians alike deserve to live safely and securely and enjoy equal measures of security, freedom, and prosperity, and reaffirmed the U.S. administration’s commitment to a two-state solution.”

Price’s rejection of the Amnesty International report coincided with Israeli government apologies for the death of Palestinian American Omar Asad, an elderly man who died of heart failure after being bound by a detachment of the Israeli Defense Forces and left unattended during a winter night.

“Along with the full backing that the IDF has in order to carry out its activities, we will act against any deviation from the norms of IDF values, as we saw in the case of Omar Assad’s death,” said Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz, acknowledging the threat of “Jewish terrorism” in the area.

“I met with members of the IDF who deal with nationalist crime and Jewish terrorism,” Gantz said. “The IDF, police, and Shabak are expanding the means, and we will make sure that all the necessary forces are involved in this mission. This is a struggle that is important for security and no less for our moral image.”

Price said U.S. officials remain “deeply concerned” about his case.

“The United States expects a thorough criminal investigation and full accountability in this case, and we welcome receiving additional information on these efforts as soon as possible,” he said in a written statement Tuesday. “We continue to discuss this troubling incident with the Israeli government.”

However, U.S. diplomats and lawmakers faulted Amnesty International for overstating the case against Israel and linking its allegations to the founding years of the Jewish state.

“This outrageous accusation belies history, facts, and common sense,” said Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, on Tuesday. “By identifying Israel’s very establishment as the foundation for this accusation, Amnesty International has joined a growing chorus of vicious voices intent on denying Israel’s right to exist through slander, misinformation, and ignoring that both Israelis and Palestinians are responsible for their own fates.”

Rep. Ted Deutch, who chairs House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East, North Africa, and Global Counterterrorism, underscored that “Arab and Jewish Israelis serve side by side in the same governing coalition” in Israel.

“Since the founding of the modern State of Israel, the world’s only Jewish state has faced no shortage of attacks,” the Florida Democrat said. “This report is no different — it is full of the same mischaracterizations, the same false accusations, and the same biased language that have been hurled at Israel and its advocates for decades.”

Callamard’s team insisted the facts are clear.

“Successive Israeli governments have considered Palestinians a demographic threat,” Amnesty International argued. “Palestinians have been fragmented geographically and politically and experience different levels of discrimination depending on their status and where they live.”


Price countered by calling attention to the support for terrorism offered by Palestinian officials, citing U.S. human rights reports as proof of U.S. scrutiny of Israeli policies.

“We support the efforts of the Israeli government, of the Palestinian Authority — alongside human rights activists — to ensure accountability for human rights violations and abuses,” he said during Tuesday’s briefing. “We continue to emphasize to Israel and the Palestinian Authority the need to refrain … from unilateral actions that exacerbate tensions. This includes the annexation of territory, settlement activity, demolitions, incitement of violence, and the providing of compensations for individuals imprisoned for acts of terrorism.”

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