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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.



1. Tim Hicks - February 26, 2010

Greetings candidate :-

You said “Hamas, has seized control of the territory” – not true, they were voted in by an election , which was judged by observers to be democratic, Only after that happened were they in conflict with Fatah. If you misrepesent such basic facts , people might start to think that YOU were biased., or do you believe that democracy only belongs to ‘civilised people’, like you.

Page 22 – Cluster Bombs – are you saying that this is not true ?. Massive drops of cluster bombs in the villages before the lebanon Ceasefire, combined with an ‘unusually’ large number left unexploded was clearly intended to render the villagers uninhabitable. Instead kids are getting killed by them. Why do you think that they did this just before the ceasefire ?

Page 28 – The settlement freeze !!, how do you know that there is actually a freeze , have you been there ?. Did you see Ross Kemp’s recent documentary on the West Bank, he visited after the ‘freeze’ and there WAS building in the settlement that he visited.

Page 30 – Israel attacks Hamas, Hamas attacks Israel. Before Hamas it was Fatah. Do you know or care who started it all, and why it doesn’t stop ?, don’t the people of palestine have the right to defend themselves ? The settlements are living proof that Israel covets their land, how do you think the palestinans can resist.

Page 33 – This is perhaps the best, without knowing anything about it, you assume that the boy in question is a terrorist. The West Bank is under Martial Law , the IDF can arrest anybody for any reason. Most young boys are actually arrested for throwing stones at Soldiers with guns or the Wall.

I know someone who’s Israeli sister takes part in peaceful demonstrates with Palestinans in the West Bank. She attests that the Palestinans are often locked up and held for months without charge.

Page 37 – Do you know anything of the story of Vanunu , he wasn’t a spy. You do know that this harmless little country, which tells itself that it’s under daily threat of extinction, has NUKES !

And you want to be on the board of Amnesty. !!

Then to cap it all you hilariously twist the facts about the Goldstone Report. If you get elected, I’m gonna burn my membership.

The central problem here is that , over the years the world has given the impression to Israel that they can do whatever they want in Palestine, anything goes, so Human nature being what it is, they do it, they take what they want. Israel will keep on growing unless they are told ‘that’s enough’.

2. Brian from Toronto - February 27, 2010

Well done. I wish you luck.

3. Gert - February 27, 2010

Oh man, this is just too funny. Under the guise of ‘impartiality’, Eric Lee (Eric Who?) runs a campaign to get into AI’s board. On Eric Lee’s blogroll, (at least) two avowed Zionists: Nick Cohen and Jonathan Hoffman.

No conflict of interest there then…

Sad thing is, with Zionist support you’ll probably get elected too!

4. Val - February 27, 2010

Thank you for honesty.

5. Josh Scholar - February 28, 2010

Tim Hicks: “You said ‘Hamas, has seized control of the territory’ – not true, they were voted in by an election , which was judged by observers to be democratic, Only after that happened were they in conflict with Fatah. If you misrepesent such basic facts , people might start to think that YOU were biased., or do you believe that democracy only belongs to ‘civilised people’, like you.”

Hitler was elected too.

Since being elected they have thrown opposition leaders off buildings http://www.liveleak.com/view?i=c67_1188887407&c=1

Shot them in their hospital beds: http://edition.cnn.com/2009/WORLD/meast/02/10/gaza.reprisal.killings/index.html

etc. etc.

There will not be another election in Gaza.

Funny, you didn’t know that. Isn’t this row supposed to be about a human rights organization? I thought you guys knew that sort of thing.

6. Yehuda Erdman - February 28, 2010

Hi Eric
I support your effort but would counsel you not to ignore the huge groundswell of feeling about Israel’s treatment of the Gazan population. For that matter what happened in the 2nd Lebanon War was also a major setback towards peace and normalisation of Israel’s presence in the Middle East.
Judging from the very partisan comments above, Amnesty International seems to make people very passionate in their views. Sometimes cooler heads are needed.
AI is not just about Israel/ Palestine and the other worldwide hotspots deserve to be raised up the awareness ladder. I am thinking of Tibet, Burma, Zimbabwe as well as Iran which you mentioned.
Good luck in your campaign

7. Gert - February 28, 2010

Support the campaign: ‘Eric Lee for tea boy of the British Zionist Federation!’

8. Gert - February 28, 2010
9. Gert - February 28, 2010

And then some: Eric Lee’s support for Operation Cast Lead in an article on… Engage!

Don’t worry Lee, if you’re looking for support from Zionists, all this will stand you in very good stead!

10. Justin Moran - February 28, 2010

“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.”

Like Ireland? We voted to support the Goldstone report at the UN. Did we recently become undemocratic?

11. Don MacKeen - March 4, 2010

You state that Israel “faces relentless violence from its enemies” – aside from suicide bomb attacks from Palestinians, and mortar rounds from within Gaza, what “relentless attacks” are you talking about? Which “enemies”? I’m not trying to downplay the effects of violence form the Palestinian side, although it is very important to consider the proprotion of violence +towards+ Israel as compared to the proprotion of violence +from+ Israel. But you make it sound as if Israel is under constant bombarment.

Please explain.

12. Gert - March 4, 2010

Don MacKeen:

C’mon Don, Eric Lee is a well potty-trained Zionist. In that world Israel is the eternal victim that only wants peace but it ‘faces relentless violence from its enemies’. Despite that it’s managed to maintain its ‘democratic’ character. Democratic for Jews, that is…

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