Israel's security wall in Jerusalem
Israel's security wall in Jerusalem Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90

A New York-based NGO has accused the State of Israel of “crimes against humanity”, including “apartheid”.

In a report published Tuesday morning, Human Rights Watch excoriated Israeli policies in not only Judea, Samaria, Gaza, and eastern Jerusalem, but also in pre-1967 Israel, claiming they amount to not merely discrimination against Arabs, but even “persecution”.

“Laws, policies, and statements by leading Israeli officials make plain that the objective of maintaining Jewish Israeli control over demographics, political power, and land has long guided government policy,” HRW claimed in the report.

“In pursuit of this goal, authorities have dispossessed, confined, forcibly separated, and subjugated Palestinians by virtue of their identity to varying degrees of intensity. In certain areas, as described in this report, these deprivations are so severe that they amount to the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution.”

"On this basis, the report concludes that Israeli officials have committed the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution," as defined under the 1973 Apartheid Convention and the 1998 Rome Statute.”

Israel pushed back against the claims, however, calling the HRW report “both preposterous and false” and accused HRW of pushing an “anti-Israel agenda”. The Israeli foreign ministry noted that HRW has worked “for years to promote boycotts against Israel.”

"The purpose of this spurious report is in no way related to human rights, but to an ongoing attempt by HRW to undermine the State of Israel's right to exist as the nation state of the Jewish people," said Israel’s Strategic Affairs Minister Michael Biton.

Among the policies cited by the HRW report to bolster its claims of 'apartheid' is Israel's Law of Return, which guarantees the right to Jews and their descendants to claim citizenship.

"While states are sometimes associated with a religious or ethnic identity, a states’ prerogative to define its own identity and promote it is not unlimited; it is not a license to violate the fundamental rights of others," the report argued.

"Laws and policies adopted by the Israeli government to preserve a Jewish majority have afforded benefits to Jews at the expense of the fundamental rights of Palestinians. Most significantly in demonstrating Israel’s demographic goals is the 1950 Law of Return. It guarantees Jewish citizens of other countries the right to settle in Israel, and its 1952 Citizenship Law entitles them to citizenship."

"The same Citizenship Law, by contrast, denies Palestinian refugees and their descendants... the ability to enter and live in areas where they or their families once lived and have maintained links to. The right to live in Israel or the OPT is guaranteed to them under international human rights law, alongside the options of integration in place or resettlement elsewhere."

Israel's Right of Return for Jews is considered key to the state's Jewish character. Israel has long argued that granting a similar right of return to Arabs would mark the end of Israel as a Jewish state.

The report was authored by the regional director of Human Rights Watch in Israel, Omar Shakir, who was expelled from Israel in November 2019 over his support for anti-Israel boycotts and the BDS movement.

Shakir vowed he would return to Israel, and accused the Jewish state of maintaining a “system of discrimination”.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry cited Shakir’s history of anti-Israel rhetoric and support for the BDS movement in its denunciation of Tuesday’s report.

Shakir told Reuters that HRW will forward the report to the International Criminal Court "as we normally do when we reach conclusions about the commissions of crimes that fall within the Court's jurisdiction."

Professor Gerald Steinberg, President of NGO Monitor, excoriated HRW over its comparison of Israel to apartheid-ridden South Africa.

“The demonization of Israel through comparisons to the heinous legacy of the South African apartheid regime has deep roots, going back to the Soviet and Arab campaigns and the infamous Durban NGO Forum. HRW’s latest contribution consists of the standard mix of shrill propaganda, false allegations, and legal fictions. Exploiting the ‘apartheid’ image for propaganda is a cynical appropriation of the suffering of the victims of the actual apartheid regime.”

According to NGO Monitor, over the past 18 months, NGOs have intensified their concerted campaign to highlight the term “apartheid” in the discourse about Israel. This campaign reinforces the actions of the ICC Prosecutor, who, after ten years, agreed to launch an investigation against Israel.