Alan Shatter claims ‘apartheid’ over Palestinians a ‘big lie’

Amnesty’s description of Israel’s behaviour and treatment rejected by ex-minister

Former minister for justice Alan Shatter has branded Amnesty International's use of the term apartheid to describe Israel's treatment of Palestinians as a "headline-catching big lie".

Mr Shatter was among members of the Ireland Israel Alliance who criticised Amnesty's recent report entitled "Israel's Apartheid against Palestinians: Cruel System of Domination and Crime against Humanity" at a meeting of the Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs.

The report outlines what Amnesty International calls "Israel's institutionalised and systematic discrimination against Palestinians". The Israeli government has previously rejected the report's findings claiming it is "biased and based on lies spread by terrorist organisations".

Mr Shatter told Tuesday’s committee meeting that “words matter”, they can contribute to peace or they can “exacerbate division, foment hatred and incite and trigger violence, murder and terrorism”. He argued that Amnesty’s report falls into the latter category.

He said the report misrepresents a territorial and political conflict relating to Israeli and Palestinian nationhood and identity as a racial conflict.

‘Israel’s apartheid’

Amnesty Ireland responded to Mr Shatter’s remarks with a statement saying “The claims made against Amnesty today have no basis”, arguing they are “intended to distract from the growing consensus on Israel’s apartheid system”. It highlighted similar views of Human Rights Watch and Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem as being part of this consensus.

Amnesty said: “Claims that naming an apartheid system for what it is will trigger violence are disingenuous.”

During the meeting, Yousef Haddad, an Arab-Israeli citizen, told the committee that Muslim and Christian Arabs make up 20 per cent of Israel’s population and they work as doctors, diplomats, professional athletes and one was recently appointed as a supreme court judge.

“It is true that Israel is a Jewish state but it is also a democratic state,” he said. “While Israel is imperfect and racism exists, it is not systematic but individual.

“Everyday Arabs and Jews are standing side by side working to resolve the problems in our society.”

He added: “You know what doesn’t help our society? White Europeans and Amnesty International telling our sovereign nation of Arabs and Jews how to run our country.”

Amnesty responded to his remarks saying: “If some individuals enjoy more rights and protections than others, as our research found across Israel, the OPT [occupied Palestinian territory] and Palestinian refugees, that does not undo the system of domination and oppression imposed by the apartheid system.”

‘Terrorist atrocities’

Mr Shatter said that the committee – which has been holding meetings on the report in recent weeks – is "on the wrong side of history". He argued that the committee has had nothing positive to say on recent peace deals between Israel and some Arab countries and "nothing also is ever said about Palestinian political parties, terrorist and civil groups celebrating in Gaza, Jerusalem and the West Bank murderous terrorist atrocities". He said such attacks had caused 11 deaths in the last three weeks.

Committee chairman Charlie Flanagan rejected such criticism, saying it was keen to ensure balance and it was giving the Ireland-Israel Alliance an opportunity to rebut the Amnesty report.

Sinn Féin TD Ruairí Ó Murchú raised the issue of Jewish settlements on the West Bank and said Palestinians had been thrown off land, and there had been “home demolitions” and “collective punishment”. He said: “It’s very, very difficult to see if that’s all accepted . . . how Israel isn’t operating an apartheid rule.”

Mr Shatter said a lot of Jewish people living in settlements work with Palestinians and even socialise together. Mr Shatter said: “The settlements are not the obstacle to a resolution of all of this.” He said the obstacle was “the incapacity of people on the Palestinian side to constructively engage” and right-wing Israeli politicians who did not want to engage due the history of attacks from Gaza after Israel pulled out.

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn is a Political Correspondent at The Irish Times

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