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Amnesty has lost its way — and what we can do about it February 26, 2010

Posted by amnestyhaslostitsway in Uncategorized.

Amnesty has lost its way.

I write that in sadness — because I believe in Amnesty International.

This is an organisation that has for nearly half a century represented  the very best values.  It deservedly won the Nobel Peace Prize.  It has captured the hearts of millions.  In Britain alone, more than a quarter of a million people count itself among its members, donating money to the cause, participating in its campaigns.

I am proud to be one of them.

When Amnesty campaigns to release prisoners of conscience, I am with them.  When they fight against the death penalty, I support them.  When they campaign against torture, they have my backing.

But when they get it wrong, someone has to tell them.

And recently, Amnesty has gotten it very wrong on the question of Israel and Palestine.

Before saying another word, I should be clear about where I stand.

Not that it matters — I could have no view at all about the Israelis and Palestinians and still could have valid things to say about Amnesty on this question.

But I want to tell you who I am and what I believe.

I support a two-state solution, Israel and Palestine living side by side with secure and recognized borders.  I support a withdrawal of Israel from the occupied territories as part of a peace agreement with the Palestinians.  I support a negotiated settlement regarding Jerusalem, one which gives both Israelis and Palestinians the right to call that city their capital. And I oppose those on each side who work to undermine any chance at peace and reconciliation — including the West Bank Israeli settlements, which I want to close down because they are an obstacle to peace.

I am not a supporter of the Netanyahu government; I do not believe that violence is the way to solve conflicts; I do not accept any side’s claim to a God-given right to the land.

Having said that, I do believe that all peoples have a right to self determination, and that includes a right to self-defense.  I believe that it is right for Israel to use its military might to defend the country.

And now we come back to Amnesty.

I guess the best way would be to illustrate, perhaps just with one example, what has gone wrong.  There are other examples in the articles below, but here’s just one.

Take the most recent issue of the Amnesty magazine, which is sent to all members and supporters of the organisation.  I’m talking about its January/February 2010 issue.

The magazine is only 40 pages long.

  • Two-thirds of page 4 is taken up with an article about Gaza, about the Israeli blockade.  It does not once mention the fact that Egypt too shares a border with Gaza, and that it — like the international community — enforces strict border controls because a terrorist organization, Hamas, has seized control of the territory.  (There is no such blockade of the West Bank, which is under the control of the Palestinian Authority.)
  • Page 8 makes the top ‘what you can do’ item an appeal to the UK government to lift the Israeli blockade on Gaza.
  • Page 22 is a feature on the use of cluster bombs.  It is illustrated with a photo of young girl injured by Israeli cluster bombs used in Lebanon.
  • Israel is named as a country that produced cluster munitions on page 23.
  • Page 28 has an ‘Action update’ focussing on the denial of clean water to Palestinians by the Israeli government, part of a policy, Amnesty says, “to drive Palestinians from their homs to make way for further illegal Israeli settlements”. No mention of the Israeli settlement freeze announced by the Netanyahu government.
  • Page 30 gives a couple of examples of feedback the organisation receives — and the first one condemns Amnesty for “calling for an arms embargo” on Gaza.  The writer, presumably, supports the import of arms into Gaza where they can be used by Hamas to attack Israel.
  • Page 33 has ‘Appeals updates’ and the first one is about a Palestinian, jailed by Israel, who was released and “is now at home with his family and plans to resume his studies”.  There is no mention of what he was jailed for — presumably, links to a terrorist organization.
  • Page 34 lists upcoming events.  One lecture includes Gaza in the title.  Another is a dramatised reading about a family in Gaza.
  • Page 37 runs a letter from a reader protesting Israel’s treatment of convicted spy Mordecai Vanunu.
  • Another letter defends Israel on the water policy stuff, but gets a repy from Amnesty — the only editorial reply to any letter in the magazine — saying simply that AI “wrote to Israel’s Water Authority before the report was published but received no response.”

That’s 10 or 11 references to Israel in a 40 page magazine.

And to put things in perspective, do you know how many times Amnesty mentions, for example, North Korea — probably the most repressive regime on earth, in the same magazine?


Iran also gets mentioned, I think, only twice.

But Israel gets mentioned on almost every other page.

And the mentions of Israel are biased, incomplete, sometimes inaccurate.

One wonders why this tiny country which faces relentless violence from its enemies and yet retains its essentially democratic character — why it is the subject  of  so much attention by Amnesty?

One might say that Amnesty is obsessed with Israel.

And that this obsession is blurring its critical faculties, making Amnesty uncritically accept the “Israeli is apartheid” line being put forward by its new allies in groups like War on Want.

Maybe it explains Amnesty’s rush to embrace the Goldstone inquiry, which was launched with the backing of regimes like those in Burma and North Korea but opposed by every democratic country in the world.

How did Amnesty wind up taking the same line as North Korea, opposing the views of the US, Canada, the European Union and others?

Clearly there is something wrong here.

And there’s something we can do about it.

Amnesty remains a democratic organisation.  We, its members, elect its governing bodies, and we set its policy.

We can turn this around it we want to.

If you are an Amnesty member in the UK, you will be getting a ballot with the next issue of the Amnesty magazine.  You will asked to choose 3 new members of the Board.  There are 10 candidates.  I am one of them, and I ask for your vote.

This is only the beginning.  Together, we can do much more.

And we will do this, we will turn Amnesty around, we will turn it back into the organisation that the whole world respected — an organisation that campaigns for human rights everywhere and that is not tarred with bias against some countries, in particular, Israel.

We can turn Amnesty back into an organization that instead of winding up on the same side as North Korea (on the Goldstone inquiry, for example) actually turns its attention to human rights issues there.

Of course Amnesty should criticize Israel when it violates human rights, when it tortures, when it holds prisoners of conscience.  But as I hope I’ve illustrated above, and as other examples on this site show, Amnesty keeps getting it wrong and remains obsessed with Israel.

If you support what I’m trying to do here, please make sure to sign up to our mailing list and tell everyone you know about this site.

Thank you.


Amnesty’s response on Taliban unsatisfactory February 25, 2010

Posted by amnestyhaslostitsway in Afghanistan.

Harry’s Place reports on Eve Gerrard’s attempts to get a straight answer out of Amnesty regarding its relationship with the pro-Taliban “Cageprisoners” organisation.  Their reponse to Gerrard is typical of the arrogance that has come  to characterise Amnesty — as anyone who has challenged the organisation on other issues will discover.

Jewish Chronicle: Amnesty critic stands for role on charity’s board February 25, 2010

Posted by amnestyhaslostitsway in Uncategorized.
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A trenchant critic of Amnesty International’s policy on Israel, Eric Lee, is standing for its section board in the UK – effectively the organisation’s board of governors, which makes its policy.

Read the full article here.

Cuba: AI practically ignores prisoner of conscience who dies February 24, 2010

Posted by amnestyhaslostitsway in Cuba.
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Since he was an Amnesty “prisoner of conscience”, I expected there would be a great deal of detail on the AIUK’s website where we might learn more of this obviously courageous human rights advocate. Alas there is nothing, apart from a mention in passing in a press release from more than two years ago, and the introduction to a 2004 human rights report on Cuba which has been removed from the site.

Over at Amnesty International’s website, there is, frankly, sod-all either. A search of the site finds some broken links to long-removed press releases and a few cursory mentions in long generic global round-up reports… but nothing resembling a profile or briefing on this adopted prisoner of conscience who has now died at the end of a three-month hunger strike. Did anyone even notice he’d started his protest?

Read the full story on Harry’s Place.

Vote for Eric Lee for the Amnesty International UK Section Board – by Jonathan Hoffman February 24, 2010

Posted by amnestyhaslostitsway in Israel/Palestine, Jonathan Hoffman.
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This post appeared on CifWATCH on 24 February 2010.

Over the past eighteen months or so, Amnesty International has been in the vanguard of the delegitimisers and vilifiers of Israel. Even though impartiality is a core value of Amnesty within its statute, the London branch has hosted meetings addressed by Jeff Halper, who frequently calls Israel an ‘apartheid’ state – an antisemitic  statement – Ben White, author of the book with an antisemitic title “Israel Apartheid” (a book replete with misquotations and untruths) and the Christisons, who make the antisemitic charge of ‘dual loyalty’ about US supporters of Israel and make wry jokes about Congress being “Israeli-occupied territory.” (They are also 9/11 ‘troofers’). (more…)

Off and running! I am now a candidate for the Amnesty International UK Section Board February 24, 2010

Posted by amnestyhaslostitsway in Eric Lee, Israel/Palestine.

I have just learned today that I am one of ten candidates for four seats on the Amnesty International UK Section Board.

As part of the process of getting nominated, I was required to submit some details about my experience, knowledge and so on — and an election manifesto. As I was severely limited in the number of words I had, the election manifesto is only 100 words.

The text — which will be sent out to the more than 250,000 Amnesty members in the UK in the next two weeks — is, I think, explosive stuff:

“I believe that Amnesty has lost its way when it comes to Israel and Palestine. Instead of being seen as an unbiased source, Amnesty is increasingly viewed by many as being anti-Israel. Amnesty’s uncritical support for the controversial Goldstone report, the excessive coverage of Israel in its magazine (far more than coverage of, for example, Iran), the partnerships with anti-Israel NGOs like War on Want which label Israel as an “apartheid” society, all contribute to this perception. And just as Amnesty demands that governments tolerate dissent, it too must be open to criticism and not smug or defensive.”

If you are an Amnesty member I encourage you to vote for me.

If you know other Amnesty members or your organisation may have Amnesty members in its ranks, please encourage them to vote.

If you want to help raise the profile of my campaign — for example, by placing an ad in the Guardian, please email me at ericlee@labourstart.org

I want to thank all those who nominated me and encouraged me. We only have a couple of weeks to make our case — let’s get to work today!

Suspension of Conscience – by Christopher Hitchens February 15, 2010

Posted by amnestyhaslostitsway in Afghanistan, Christopher Hitchens.
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This organization is precious to me and to millions of other people, including many thousands of men and women who were and are incarcerated and maltreated because of their courage as dissidents and who regained their liberty as a consequence of Amnesty International’s unsleeping work. So to learn of its degeneration and politicization is to be reading about a moral crisis that has global implications.

Read the full article on Slate.

Amnesty Int. & Megagreed Plc – by Nick Cohen February 14, 2010

Posted by amnestyhaslostitsway in Afghanistan, Nick Cohen.
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Imagine an evil corporation; let us call it Megagreed plc. A worker with a fine and principled record speaks out about its directors associating with men who propagate a criminal ideology that has led to the denial of rights to millions in poor countries. Far from listening to her wise objections, Megagreed’s bosses suspend her for exercising her right to free speech on matters of public importance; it is a very evil corporation as I said.  Our brave whistleblower tours the streets looking for a human rights lawyer to represent her. But none will because they are all so frightened of incurring the wrath of Megagreed plc they would rather allow an injustice to pass than run the risk of taking up her cause.

Once men and women suffering at the hands of evil corporations like Megagreed could have turned to Amnesty International for help. Our heroine has been punished for speaking out, she is being denied the basic right to legal representation, surely Amnesty will act as a court of final appeal and give her a hearing? But our heroine can’t turn to Amnesty because in this instance Amnesty International IS the evil corporation.

Read the full article here.

How Amnesty chose the wrong poster-boy – by David Aaronovitch February 9, 2010

Posted by amnestyhaslostitsway in Afghanistan, David Aaronovitch.
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If you were a prisoner of conscience, a dissident, hounded by the authorities, imprisoned without proper process, shut up, shut in and shut down, then an organisation such as Amnesty International might be your one breath of air. Those Amnesty postcards, which seem like flinging a dart from a mountainside, may keep someone from despair. So the news that there is trouble at Amnesty is not welcome, except to tyrants. And yet it is hard not to see these ructions as being Amnesty’s own fault.

The problem came to prominence at the weekend when The Sunday Times reported that one of Amnesty’s senior officers, Gita Sahgal, had circulated a memorandum extremely critical of the organisation’s collaboration with a group called Cageprisoners. Cageprisoners’ most famous figure is the former Guantánamo inmate Moazzam Begg, a man whose three years’ incarceration without trial has helped, for many liberals, to turn him into a kind of Muslim Mandela — an embodiment of the wrongly accused.

Read the full article in the Times.

Facebook group launched: Amnesty International You Bloody Hypocrites Reinstate Gita Sahgal February 7, 2010

Posted by amnestyhaslostitsway in Afghanistan.
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This Facebook group was set up by Nick Cohen and Martin Bright — if you’re on Facebook, join it!