Why did the founders – both Jews – of Human Rights organizations denounce their progenies?
By David E. Kaplan
It takes something for the founders of internationally respected organizations; whom they served with conviction and passion; to later denounce them. It is as unthinkable as a parent walking away from a child. Well, that is what the founders – both Jews – of Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch did.
Nurturing their creations from the proverbial cradle to best serve the interests of humanity, they saw them morph into wayward offspring, infected with the very maladies it was designed to oppose.
Organisations founded to counter hate, would mutate instead to incite and champion hate – against Jews!
Both founders lived long to see the moral downfall of their “babies”. A modest man who refused all honors for most of his life including a Knighthood (he did accept in 2001 the Pride of Britain Award for Lifetime Achievement largely to please his family), the founder of Amnesty International (AI) Peter Berenson was born in London to a large Jewish family. The future lawyer began his political activism at an early age. At Eton, a complaint he made to the headmaster about the poor quality of the school’s food prompted a letter warning his mother of the boy’s “revolutionary tendencies”. At sixteen, Berenson helped establish a relief fund with other schoolboys for children orphaned by the Spanish Civil War and raised £4,000 from his school friends and their families to bring two young Jews to Britain from Nazi Germany. While still at Eton in 1938, he helped with the rescued Jewish children in the aftermath of Kristallnacht. He emerged a strong supporter of a Jewish national homeland, reinforced by the horrors of the Holocaust, a vision and sentiment not shared later by the organisation he founded. The impetus for the founding of Amnesty International was a newspaper article Berenson read, when travelling on the London Underground in November 1960. He was aghast reading of two Portuguese students who had been arrested and sentenced to seven years’ in jail for drinking a toast to liberty in a cafe in Lisbon during the period of Portugal being ruled by the dictator Antonio Salazar. Incensed, Berenson came up with the idea of a one-year campaign to draw public attention to the plight of the world’s political and religious prisoners.
From such noble beginnings, Berenson would later denounce Amnesty International for its fixation on undermining the Jewish State of Israel. It was a fixation that only hardened after his passing culminating in February 2022 when the UK branch of Amnesty International, a once reputable London-based global human rights group, issued a 280-page report bashing Israel accusing it of practicing “Apartheid”. Riddled with lies and distortions, this infamous report was dissentious endeavouring to show (or rather mislead) that Israeli Arabs – who enjoy full citizenship alongside their Jewish peers serving as doctors, professors, ambassadors, Supreme Court judges and politicians, some of whom are currently serving in a government coalition – are subject to what Amnesty claims is “apartheid.”
“To equate the liberal democratic State of Israel with the system of apartheid in South Africa is nothing short of a canard, a libel,” responded AJC CEO David Harris in a video message.
One can only wonder what Berenson were he alive today have to say about the report that drew denouncements from British, German, and U.S. lawmakers on both sides of the aisle in Washington, D.C.
Amnesty International is behaving so devious in true Machiavellian fashion. Aware that it cannot make the case against Israel being an Apartheid state, it instead tries to change and appropriate the definition of Apartheid in order to delegitimise the world’s only Jewish state. So that when Amnesty labels Israel an Apartheid regime, it’s not accusing Israel of creating the racist laws that characterised South Africa’s white supremacist regime; but rather seeks to contrive Israel as meeting its newly fabricated broadened definition of the term that has no resemblance to what horribly transpired in South Africa.
This amounts to a theft of South Africa’s past to undermine Israel’s future.
Amnesty International’s nefarious intent was emphatically exposed when its Executive Director of its USA chapter, Paul O’Brian said that the organization is opposed to Israel continuing to exist as a Jewish state.
Speaking last month at a luncheon of the Women’s National Democratic Club in Washington D.C. O’Brian said:
“We are opposed to the idea …. that Israel should be preserved as a state for the Jewish people.”
Revealing his true colours and that of the agency he leads in the USA, O’Brian also expressed that he did not believe the polls showing that the vast majority of American Jews support Israel. Calling on O’Brian to apologise, Jonathan Greenblatt, the CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, tweeted:
“Your obsessive, relentless focus on Israel, and the erasure of the Jewish right to self-determination illustrates a dangerous degree of bias.”
It was for these same reasons that Peter Berenson, the founder of the agency that O’Brian now represents, walked away from it.
It no different than the experience of the late Robert Bernstein, who founded Human Rights Watch (HRW) and later slammed its anti-Israel bias.
The ardent American defender of political dissent and freedom of expression who founded Human Rights Watch in 1978 during the Cold War, turned against it, accusing the organization in 2009 of being biased against Israel.
He said the group had condemned “far more” human rights abuses in Israel than in other countries in the Middle East ruled by “authoritarian regimes with appalling human rights records.”
Writing in the Times, Berenson wrote:
“When I stepped aside in 1998, Human Rights Watch was active in 70 countries, most of them closed societies. Now the organization, with increasing frequency, casts aside its important distinction between open and closed societies.”
In April 2021, Human Rights Watch released a similar batch to Amnesty International of lies authored in a report by a longtime anti-Israel activist. Amazing how these organisations don’t even try to appear unbiased. They accept the gullibility of their audience as a given banking on ingrained antisemitism.
The man behind the HRW’s report is none other than its primary author, Omar Shakir, HRW’s Israel/Palestine director, who signed a pledge in 2015 to:
“honour the BDS call”.
And what is the “BDS call”?
One has to look no further that its flagbearer Omar Barghouti who has stated openly that his movement aims to see Israel dismantled as a Jewish state.
An analysis of Shakir’s Twitter activity by the watchdog group NGO Monitor between June 2018 and February 2019 showed 970 tweets on issues relating to the Arab-Israeli conflict. Of those 970 tweets, 18 condemned alleged Israeli attacks on Palestinians, but not one condemned terrorist attacks against Israel.
The animus of organisations like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch is a return to the mindset that fueled the 1975 resolution declaring that Zionism = racism.
Neither consider antisemitism a human rights priority.
When antisemitism violently spiked in the second decade of the new millennium across Europe as Jews were hunted down in a series of traumatic attacks, Amnesty’s main UK branch took a vote in 2016 to not push the British government to combat antisemitism.
Amnesty’s explanation revealed its bias and its hypocrisy.
While it explained that it did not want to single out any form of religious discrimination, several years earlier however, it had no such encumbrance to author a report examining anti-Muslim discrimination.
In other words, Amnesty has a problem with Jews.
For Peter Berenson and Robert Bernstein walking away from the organisations they founded must have been painful, however the alternative would have been untenable. From such grandiose visions, they saw, as Jews, their agencies infused with the oldest prejudice in history – antisemitism.
They realized that in the end that for Amnesty Intranational and Human Rights Watch, the greatest blight on earth was Israel.
And what was Israel’s gravest sin?
We can live with it; but for sure we are no more going to die for it!
As another Jew, Ukraine’s defiant President Vladimir Zelensky said today:
“We will not retreat; this is our land.”
While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves. LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO).