Amnesty International Boycotts UK Jewish Group, Silences Debate on Israel

An Egyptian shouts anti-Israeli slogans in front of banners with the Boycott, Divestment a
AP/Amr Nabil

A leading Jewish organisation slammed Amnesty International UK’s cancellation of a debate about human rights in Israel as “disgraceful”, saying the shutdown defeated Amnesty’s own claims of unbridled advocacy for freedom of speech.

Amnesty withdrew from jointly hosting the event with the Jewish Leadership Council (JLC) last Friday. It said the belated move came on the grounds that it might contradict its call “for all governments around the world to ban the import of goods produced in the illegal Israeli settlements.”

“We do not, therefore, think it appropriate for Amnesty International to host an event by those actively supporting such settlements,” the group stated.

The panel session, entitled “The UNHRC and Israel: How it works, what’s not working, and how it might be repaired” was to be chaired by Danny Friedman QC, a human rights barrister, with speakers including Fred Carver of the UN Association, and Hillel Neuer of UN Watch.

In response to Amnesty’s withdrawal and expressed support for the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement, the JLC published an open letter and said, “We have long argued that the aggressive criticism of Israeli government policy creates an environment where antisemitism thrives, and it is highly regrettable that on this occasion Amnesty International UK’s decision has targeted the Jewish community.”

JLC CEO Simon Johnson added that the decision was “outrageous,” saying “the idea of freedom of speech applies to everyone but Jewish groups.”

He explained that in August 2017 his organization had asked Amnesty if they would be willing to jointly host a panel at their London offices.

The suggestion followed extensive talks designed to enhance relations between the two organizations. Jewish leaders have fiercely criticized Amnesty in the past for what they described as its obsession with criticizing Israel, backed by the evidence that Amnesty’s own work has already sowed seeds of doubt about its impartiality.

As Breitbart News reported, in 2014 the charity lobbied against the proscription of the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organisation by Saudi Arabia. Al-Nusra, al-Qaeda’s outfit in Syria, and Islamic State were also banned by the same ruling, which carried a 20-year jail term for those found to belong to the groups.

Slamming the legislation, Said Boumedouha, Amnesty’s Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director said at the time: “The Saudi Arabian authorities are seeking legal cover to entrench their ability to crack down on peaceful dissent and silence human rights defenders.”

And in 2011, the charity handed £533,104 to Irene Khan, its former secretary general as a golden handshake when she stepped down. A source close to Khan suggested that a significant proportion of the payment was made as “settlement for a dispute with the board.”

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