Amnesty International Exposes the Man Behind the Curtain

February 25, 2022 | Shany Mor
About the author: Shany Mor is a lecturer in political thought at Reichman University and a frequent writer on politics, foreign policy, and Israel.

Few who have followed the activity of Amnesty International and other similar organizations in recent years had reason for surprise when it issued a lengthy and tendentious report accusing Israel of implementing systematic “apartheid” against Palestinians. But something deeply revealing happened when the Israeli journalist Lazar Berman interviewed the group’s secretary general, Agnes Callamard, and its Middle East and North Africa research and advocacy director, Philip Luther. While Berman’s questions were straightforward and even predictable, the two interviewees were at a complete loss to answer them cogently.

Shany Mor comments:

Luther . . . says Israel has actually managed to “shut down scrutiny using the power of its relationships” and charges that the UN is actually a locus of inaction because Israel “has influence over powerful allies who then manage to stop it, stop the scrutiny.” And that of course is the appeal of anti-Israel activism in the West: the sincerely held belief that by engaging in it you are somehow standing up to dark, powerful forces at home. There’s a word for this pathology.

Besides the conspiratorial tone (there would be more of that in the interview), it’s an odd claim to make when elsewhere Luther argues that Amnesty can’t investigate other countries for the crime of apartheid precisely because they, unlike Israel, are actually able to stop scrutiny of their actions.

That’s not even the furthest extreme of Luther’s conspiratorial claims. Later in the interview he claims that what makes it hard to see the apartheid in Israel is the “smokescreen” created by Israel’s “democratic system” and “judicial institutions.” These, according to Luther, “make it challenging to disentangle” the picture of the apartheid he and others claim to have found. What he refers to as “the Israeli state” is “a driver of complexity and a driver of resources unnecessarily spent on investigations by anybody.”

These passages were rightfully mocked online, but it’s worth pausing over what he is saying and the psychological process he is describing. He knows Israel—ahem, “the Israeli state”—is guilty of not just committing a grievous crime but of being a grievous crime. But what he observes are a complex set of practices and institutions that don’t quite appear to be the unvarnished evil he knows is there, and to him this is not cause to revisit his assumptions, but actually further proof of just how nefarious the “Israeli state” is.

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