Amnesty International: Experts or Ideologues?
Amnesty International claims to have a policy of “impartiality and independence,” central to efforts to “systematically and impartially research the facts of individual cases and patterns of human rights abuses.”1 This claim is important for the integrity of the organization, in particular since Amnesty’s reporting on countries and conflicts around the world has been criticized as lacking credibility and expertise. By stating such a policy, Amnesty tries to establish that its work meets standards of credibility and impartiality.
In direct contrast to Amnesty’s claim, however, a number of researchers and other individuals who work with the International Secretariat and various country branches have clear histories as anti-Israel activists. In turn, they write analyses of Israel that are both inaccurate and blatantly prejudiced, with some referring to Israel as a genocidal-regime at the heart of global conspiracies.
The Amnesty staffers discussed below exemplify the organization’s troubling ideological approach to Israel and retreat from the universal principles of human rights. As long as these individuals are involved in producing research publications, analyses, and other materials relating to Israel, Amnesty cannot be considered a credible or impartial party to the conflict.
International Secretariat Employees
Deborah Hyams was hired in 2010 as “Israel, Occupied Palestinian Territories and Palestinian Authority” researcher. Hyams has an extensive background in radical anti-Israel activism, including acting as a “human shield” in Beit Jala (near Bethlehem) in 2001. In this capacity she occupied a home that was being used as cover for recurrent gunfire and mortar attacks aimed at Jewish civilians in Jerusalem. Her presence in the Beit Jala conflict zone was meant to deter Israel’s military response to these attacks.2 In other words, Hyam was willing to endanger her own life in order to prevent Israel from protecting its citizens from Palestinian terrorists.
Hyams calls Israel “a state founded on terrorism, massacres and the dispossession of another people from their land,”3 and “[some] of Israel’s actions, all the way back to 1948, could be called ‘ethnic cleansing.’”4 Hyams has also justified terrorism and the murders of Jews. In a 2002 Washington Jewish Week article, “[Deborah] Hyams said that while she does not condone suicide bombings, she personally believes they ‘are in response to the occupation.’”5 In another instance she defended violence: “occupation is violence…and the consequence of this action must result in violence [against Israelis].”6
Saleh Hijazi is an Amnesty campaigner on Israel and the OPT. As a Palestinian born in Jerusalem and raised in Ramallah, having Hijazi work on Israel creates an appearance of partiality and bias.7 In fact, he has claimed to be a victim of Israeli violations. On March 9, 2011, Hijazi, then a researcher for Human Rights Watch, spoke at a UN conference where he described how his father was supposedly arrested by the Israeli authorities “when the Israeli military could not find an activist neighbor.”
In further contradiction to Amnesty’s claims of impartiality, Hijazi worked as a Public Relations officer for the Palestinian Authority’s Office of the Ministry of Planning in Ramallah in 2005, and in 2007 he was listed as contact for the NGO “Another Voice” – under the group’s signature “Resist! Boycott! We Are Intifada!” In 2010, Hijazi was an on-campus volunteer at Badil, an extremely anti-Israel group devoted to BDS and a Palestinian “right of return,” via the Al-Quds Human Rights Clinic program.8
The blogger “Elder of Ziyon” revealed that, in 2007, Hijazi’s Facebook profile picture was a photo of Leila Khaled, a PFLP terrorist and airline hijacker, while in 2012, his profile picture was a photo of Khader Adnan, a leader of the Islamic Jihad terror organization. In addition, while studying at Lawrence University in Wisconsin, Hijazi wrote his thesis on “Yasser Arafat: A Palestinian Prophet in the Formation of Palestinian National Identity.”
Country Section Staff
Kate Allen has been Amnesty-UK’s director since 2000. In this position, Allen demonizes Israel, accusing it of violating international law, war crimes, collective punishment, deliberate targeting of Palestinian civilians, and impunity. She has also overseen a policy of allowing Amnesty-UK’s Human Rights Action Centre to be used as a platform by extreme anti-Israel events, including the Russell Tribunal on Palestine in 2010 and presentations by Ben White, author of Israeli Apartheid: A Beginners Guide. (For more information, see NGO Monitor’s report on Amnesty UK’s Human Rights Action Centre.)
Among Allen’s regular allegations is that Israel deliberately targets civilians, stating that “Israeli soldiers kill civilians in Gaza with near-total impunity, week in week out.”9 During the Summer 2014 Gaza conflict, Allen tweeted, “Israel/Gaza no justification for targeting hospitals,”10 linking to Amnesty press release claiming that “Israel’s continuing bombardment of civilian homes in several areas of the Gaza Strip, as well as the shelling of a hospital, add to the list of possible war crimes.”11 She also demonized Israel by implying that it deliberately targets children, when she tweeted, “17 year old Palestinian activist to me ‘the most dangerous place on earth is next to a child in Gaza’.”12
As an outgrowth of this ideological perception, Allen has been a vocal advocate for an arms embargo against Israel. In an opinion piece in The Independent, “The UK needs to stop selling arms to Israel and open its eyes to the suffering caused by inaction,” she called for the “suspension of all arms to Israel as a first move in a bid to restore some morality to its stance on this dreadful conflict.”13 Allen is also quoted in an Amnesty press release, saying: “The UK must stop granting arms export licenses to countries where weapons are likely to be used to commit abuses…We know that historically equipment supplied by the UK has been used by the Israeli military to commit human rights violations in Gaza.”14
Allen also frequently repeats the NGO “collective punishment” canard, characterizing Israel’s security measures as “a massive program of collective punishment”“15 and brushing aside Israel’s security concern.16 She was quoted in an Amnesty press release, saying: “Sick, traumatised and impoverished people are being collectively punished by a cruel, illegal policy imposed by the Israeli authorities.”17 Allen made similar allegations in an Amnesty press release that accompanied 2010 a report titled “Dashed Hopes: Continuation of the Gaza Blockade,” which called for renewed international pressure on Israel to completely lift the blockade.18
Kristyan Benedict, Amnesty-UK’s Campaign Manager, has an extensive history of anti-Israel activism and bias. Benedict’s criticisms of Israel are without nuance, and avoid a serious treatment of the country in the favor of bizarre and demonizing claims. Benedict sees the Middle East through the prism of broad conspiracy theories, with Israel at the center.
In a February 9, 2011 interview with Labour Friends of Palestine, Benedict claimed:
- “The USA plays both Arab and Israel sides to generate money, power and control. The main reasons are: The Arms Trade: The conflict makes loads of money for the ‘weapons trade’. Israel always pushes the buttons to make all the surrounding Arabic states such as Syria, Lebanon feel insecure. So they then buy weapons off other states and this is a great profit-making industry.”19
- “Israel is now included in the list of stupid dictatorial regimes who abuse peoples’ basic universal rights – along with Burma, North Korea, Iran and Sudan, its government has the same wanton attitude to human beings…. Also, it seems that many in the current coalition are driven by a feeling of ‘ethnic supremacy’.”
- “I also agree with the sentiment of Justice Richard Goldstone in his 2009 UN fact finding mission: ‘The treatment of Palestine is meant to punish, humiliate and terrorize’”
- “The Occupation regime is illegal and unsustainable. Apartheid South Africa and the Soviet Union fell and many people thought they never would.”
In April 2011, Benedict threatened physical violence against a pro-Israel attendee at an event he chaired. As reported and recorded, Benedict said he would “smack me [the attendee] in [his] little bald head.”20 Allegedly, “Amnesty took disciplinary action against Benedict following” the threat.21
Based on these and other examples of bias and demonization, in mid-2012 Jewish groups in the UK objected to Amnesty-UK, noting that Benedict had “regularly shown a partisan approach.” Amnesty-UK officials reacted condescendingly and dismissively to these Jewish groups, ignoring the detailed evidence presented, and replying weakly that all of its staff members adhered “to principles of independence and impartiality in their work.”22
During November 2012’s Operation Pillar of Defense, Benedict again showed anti-Israeli and anti-Jewish tendencies, tweeting23 on November 19, 2012,
The three people he characterized as war-mongers are British Members of Parliament, all of whom are Jewish. This tweet prompted an inquiry into Amnesty by John Mann MP, chair of the UK All-Party Parliamentary Group against Anti-Semitism, seeking clarification on the organization’s policies towards preventing antisemitism. (This was but one of several anti-Israel tweets that Benedict posted during the operation.24)
Amnesty-UK investigated the complaints. In December 2012, a “spokesperson confirmed that the investigation had now been completed and said the charity had decided that ‘the tweet in question was ill-advised and had the potential to be offensive and inflammatory but was not racist or anti-Semitic.’”25 It is unknown upon which criteria Amnesty drew its conclusions.
On July 30, 2015, Benedict retweeted the Hamas Twitter account, which had posted an Amnesty publication and added: “As evidence of Israel’s war crimes amass, tangible steps towards accountability are needed.”
There have been other instances of highly problematic Twitter activity by Benedict. In November 2014, he compared Israel to the Islamic State, by using the hashtag “#JSIL” on Twitter.Y26 The hashtag is used by extreme anti-Israel groups to compare Israel to the Islamic organization famous for beheading Western journalists and other atrocities.
In May 2017, Allie McCracken was named Amnesty-USA’s North American Campaigner. From 2011 until the end of 2016 she was the co-Director27 of CODEPINK,28 a leader of U.S.-based anti-Israel BDS (boycotts, divestments and sanctions)29 campaigns, McCracken is also on the Board of Directors30 of Tree of Life31, an NGO highly active in promoting BDS.
In September 2016, McCracken was scheduled to speak at a Capitol Hill briefing titled “What is BDS?,”32 discussing “why certain corporations and institutions are targeted for BDS actions, and the goals of the BDS movement.” The event was cancelled33 following the withdrawal of congressional sponsorship.
In September 2015, McCracken participated in a US Campaign for Palestinian Rights34 conference, giving a workshop titled “BDS 101: Building a Campaign,”35 providing an “in-depth exploration of campaign building with case studies from campaigns across the country. Curious how organizers have taken on SodaStream, G4S, Remax, Veolia, and more in their own communities? We will look at how to approach research, target selection, creative actions, and more.”
McCracken has also encouraged “direct action” with Congress. In November 2016, McCracken led a training seminar on “how to work with and impact the upcoming Congress.36 This workshop will discuss the best practices in requesting, preparing for, conducting and following up on Congressional meetings. It will also examine escalation tactics, civil disobedience and direct action as other options to engage and impact Congress.”
In October 2014, McCracken called for the U.S. to stop funding Israel’s military37 stating, “Under President Obama, we’ve actually increased U.S. military aid to Israel, up to $3.8 billion every year. That’s about ten point four or five million dollars every single day that we could be using here in the United States to fund our communities, to rebuild infrastructure, to fund education, health care, literally anything else. But instead we’re giving it to Israel, which is using it to buy weapons, mostly from American weapons manufacturers, to kill people in Gaza.”
McCracken has also used “apartheid” rhetoric to describe Israel. In September 2011, McCracken participated in a panel titled “Challenging US Policy: Strategies to End U.S. Support for Israeli Occupation & Apartheid.”38
In September 2017, Raed Jarrar was named Amnesty-USA’s Middle East and North Africa Advocacy Director. Before joining Amnesty, Jarrar acted as Government Relations Manager39 for American Friends Service Committee40 (AFSC), an NGO that promotes (BDS)41 boycotts, divestments, and sanctions campaigns against Israel and encourages Israeli youth to dodge the draft.42
On October 30, 2017, Jarrar was denied entry into Israel. He was scheduled to lead43 an Interfaith Peace-Builders (IFPB)44 delegation from October 28 – November 10, 2017, aimed at “Learn[ing] about threats to the environment, the exploitation of natural resources, and the struggle of Palestinian communities to maintain access to land and water.” IFPB sends “3 – 4 delegations to Israel/Palestine every year,”45 claiming to expose the “everyday violence of war and occupation” and promotes BDS including calling to “End US Military Aid to Israel.”46
According to an Amnesty press release,47 however, Jarrar had flown to Israel for “personal reasons…following the recent death of his father” and was targeted as “retaliation for the organization’s work on human rights violations in the OPT.”
When NGO Monitor confronted Amnesty on their version of events, Allie McCracken, Jarrar’s significant other and Amnesty-USA’s North American Campaigner (and former Co-Director of CODEPINK,48 a leader of U.S.-based anti-Israel BDS campaigns), claimed Jarrar had “cancelled his participation in the IFPB trip49 after his father passed away on Oct 3, we still kept travel plans to visit family.”
While at AFSC, Jarrar participated in numerous workshops advocating for BDS. In September 2016, Raed Jarrar participated in a CODEPINK50 workshop titled “Freeing Palestine / Young People Organizing for Peace”51 to discuss “viable alternatives to war and militarism.” In July 2015, Jarrar participated in the AFSC conference titled “Acting in Faith with AFSC”52 and spoke about “Working nonviolently for peace with justice in Israel & Palestine” and how to “support work for just peace in the region through nonviolent boycotts and divestment.”
Jarrar has called for economic warfare against Israel. On July 29, 2015, Jarrar spoke at a “Congressional briefing” titled “Gaza One Year Later: The Quest for Accountability,”53 to “examine Israel’s misuse of U.S.-supplied weapons in Gaza and call on lawmakers to hold Israel accountable for its violations of U.S. and international law.” The briefing featured speakers from US Campaign for Palestinian Rights54 (formerly known as US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation), Adalah,55 and Defense for Children International- Palestine56 (DCI-P). In October 2014, Jarrar wrote a letter to the editor of the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs57 calling for the United States to “stop sending weapons to Israel!” as “Palestinians have paid a horrific price in the ongoing Israeli attack on Gaza, and we are funding this attack with our tax-dollars.”
Edith Garwood serves as Amnesty-USA’s “Country Specialist on Israel, Occupied Palestinian Territories, and Palestinian Authority.” AIUSA’s Country Specialists are unpaid volunteer leaders who provide expertise and strategy for a given country.58 Before joining Amnesty, Garwood volunteered as a member of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM),59 a group dedicated to provoking violent confrontations with Israeli troops and impeding their movements, often during anti-terror operations.
Garwood was also a director of Palestine Media Watch-Charlotte (now seemingly defunct) and a member of Coalition for Peace and Justice (CPWJ).60 CPWJ provides funding to the anti-Israel, pro-BDS NGOs Badil, Israeli Committee against House Demolitions (ICAHD), and Sabeel.61 In 2010, Garwood presented at CPWJ’s Leadership Retreat62; in 2011, Garwood was a co-presenter63 at an event with Mary Lou Leiser Smith from CPWJ.
Given her associations, Garwood’s descriptions of Israel are unsurprisingly one-sided and demonize Israel without recourse to evidence. In Garwood’s worldview, Israel is to blame for all problems in the Middle East: “For me, it all goes back to Palestine, and how it’s been put on the back burner. The Middle East will never settle down until they really resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”64 In 2008, Garwood published an op-ed in the Charlotte Observer, titled “Let the Refugees Return,” claiming:
The Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory, rocket fire into Israel, illegal settlement growth, checkpoints, suicide bombers, the crippled Palestinian economy, The Wall, and the lack of adequate access to medicine, food and clean water require attention, but are only outgrowths of the root problem — the ethnic cleansing of Palestine.” …”[m]ilitias expelled Arabs using home demolitions, massacres, rape, beatings, bombings and widespread threats of terror.65
The day before the delivery of the 2012 court decision of a civil suit filed by the family of Rachel Corrie, Garwood attacked the efficacy of the Israeli court system. Garwood refused to accept the notion that an Israeli court would review the evidence before it and come to an independent decision.
If the Israeli court rules tomorrow against the Corrie family, it means that shoddy investigations were rubber stamped and that Israeli military impunity has been preserved. Such a verdict would also implicitly declare ‘open season’ not only on nonviolent Palestinian and Israeli human rights activists, but also on international human rights defenders as well.66
Garwood’s description of ISM members as “international human rights defenders” is a personal one, given that she herself volunteered with ISM. Garwood participated on an ISM trip in July 2002, only a few months before Corrie arrived. In a letter to the editor following Corrie’s death, Garwood directed readers to the ISM website for a better understanding of the “facts” regarding Corrie’s death.67
Garwood was also affiliated with the Gaza Ark project, an attempt to build a ship in Gaza and sail it to a European country with goods for export. The intention is to “challeng[e] the illegal and inhumane Israeli blockade of Gaza.”68 Participating in a 2012 conference call on the project, Garwood commented: “Amnesty doesn’t take a position on these initiatives, but personally I come in contact with so many people I’d like to follow this initiative and support where possible.”69
Later, Garwood revealed Amnesty’s caricatured view of Israel’s military and long-term struggle with terrorism:
It’s the position of Amnesty International and other NGOs that Israel would be very capable of keeping weapons from entering the Gaza Strip (at least as well as they are doing now) and to keep in whomever poses a legitimate threat to Israel without the severe restrictions and total closure regime/blockade on the small strip of land.70
Frank Johnansson, head of Amnesty’s Finland branch, referred to Israel a “scum state” in a 2010 blogpost. In response to media inquiries as to “whether there are other countries aside from Israel that, according to him, meet the definition of a ‘scum state,’ Johansson did not specify any, but noted that there are Russian officials’ who meet the criteria.”71 An Amnesty spokesperson attempted to retranslate his comment into “creep state.” As of January 2015, Johansson was still the Executive Director of Amnesty’s Finland branch.72
Amnesty-USA hired Sunjeev Bery in August 2011 as its Middle East and North Africa Advocacy Director. Bery’s previous writings reveal a particular ideological and political approach to Israel and the Arab-Israeli conflict. For instance, he claims that:
Israel has come to depend on having nondemocratic neighbors who rely on US patronage. Israeli policymakers fear that if these autocratic rulers are removed from power, Arab majorities will select leaders who are hostile to Israel.73
Bery also encouraged Israel to make peace with Hamas because “Hamas [had] already taken the first step by offering a long term truce.”74 He also claimed that Hamas, a repressive and violent terror group, “has deeper democratic roots than its competitor Fatah.”75 It is, therefore, unsurprising that Bery blames Israel for undermining peace negotiations,76 since “Hamas appears to be ready for full negotiations.”77
- Inigo Gilmore, “Israel protests as British women join ‘human shield,'” 29 Jul 2001, available at http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/israel/1335737/Israel-protests-as-British-women-join-human-shield.html.
- “We’re not celebrating Israel’s anniversary,” The Guardian, 30 April 2008 available at http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/apr/30/israelandthepalestinians.
- See NGO Monitor, June 04, 2012 “Breaking Its Own Rules: Amnesty’s Researcher Bias and Gov’t Funding,” available at http://www.ngo-monitor.org/article/breaking_its_own_rules_amnesty_s_gov_t_funding_and_researcher_bias.
- See NGO Monitor, June 04, 2012 “Breaking Its Own Rules: Amnesty’s Researcher Bias and Gov’t Funding,” available at http://www.ngo-monitor.org/article/breaking_its_own_rules_amnesty_s_gov_t_funding_and_researcher_bias.
- Cornell Daily Sun, August 30, 2001, “Local Groups Hold Interfaith Forum” available at http://cornellsun.com/blog/2001/08/30/local-groups-hold-interfaith-forum/.
- Amnesty had formerly adopted a policy prohibiting “Work On Own Country” (WOOC) in an attempt to maintain researcher impartiality and credibility. Amnesty officially abandoned WOOC in 2002, but recognized the need to minimize conflicts of interest and the impression of researcher bias. See United Kingdom Employment Appeal Tribunal available at http://www.bailii.org/uk/cases/UKEAT/2009/0447_08_1308.html
- Badil, “Badil 2010 Annual Report,” page 7 available via http://www.badil.org/en/documents/category/56-annual-report.
- Quantitative easing: it’s time for the world to refuse Israel’s ‘easing’ rhetoric on the Gaza blockade” http://foreignpolicy.com/2010/12/07/quantitative-easing-its-time-for-the-world-to-refuse-israels-easing-rhetoric-on-the-gaza-blockade/
- “Gaza’s Civilians ‘Betrayed’ by International Community” http://www.amnesty.ie/our-work/gaza%E2%80%99s-civilians-%E2%80%98betrayed%E2%80%99-international-community
- Richard Millet, Amnesty Event: “Israeli soldier used broken glass to cut Magen David into Palestinian boy’s forearm” April 13, 2011, available at http://richardmillett.wordpress.com/2011/04/13/amnesty-event-israel-soldier-used-broken-glass-to-cut-magen-david-into-palestinian-boys-forearm/.
- Marcus Dysch, December 20, 2012 “Amnesty International orders official Kristyan Benedict to apologise for ‘antisemitic’ tweet,” The Jewish Chronicle, available at http://www.thejc.com/news/uk-news/94787/amnesty-international-orders-official-kristyan-benedict-apologise-antisemitic-twe.
- Marcus Dysch, “Amnesty International defends official accused of anti-Israel bias,” The Jewish Chronicle, July 19, 2012, available at http://www.thejc.com/news/uk-news/70222/amnesty-international-defends-official-accused-anti-israel-bias.
- @KreaseChan, Twitter, November 19, 2012.
- For a list of other tweets, please see NGO Monitor, November 21, 2012. “NGO Warfare Update: Amnesty Launches Frontal Attacks” available at http://www.ngo-monitor.org/article/ngo_warfare_update_amnesty_launches_frontal_attacks_.
- Marcus Dysch, “Amnesty International orders official Kristyan Benedict to apologise for ‘antisemitic’ tweet,” The Jewish Chronicle, December 20, 2012, available at http://www.thejc.com/news/uk-news/94787/amnesty-international-orders-official-kristyan-benedict-apologise-antisemitic-twe.
- net News, “Senior Amnesty International official compares Israel to Islamic State on Twitter,” November 5, 2014, available at http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4588465,00.html
- AIUSA, Country Specialist Job Description, available at http://www.amnestyusa.org/sites/default/files/countryspecialist_jobd.pdf.
- See Edith Garwood, “Policy on Iraq Exposes Hypocrisy About Israel,” Oct 23, 2002, Miftah.org, available at http://www.miftah.org/display.cfm?DocId=1148&CategoryId=5, specifically her Bio.
- According to Id. This seems to now function under the title Coalition for Peace With Justice.
- The Coalition for Peace with Justice, “Who We Are” available at http://peace-with-justice.org/about/.
- Blaise Strenn, Events for the Week of January 10, available at http://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/ncsudemocrats/conversations/topics/595.
- Action Center For Justice, “Oct. 12: ‘Reality on the Ground: What About Human Rights’” available at http://charlotteaction.blogspot.co.il/2011/10/oct-12-on-ground-what-about-human.html.
- Edith Garwood, “Let the Refugees Return,” Charlotte Observer, April 11, 2008.
- Edith Garwood, “Verdict Expected in Death of Rachel Corrie,” 27 August 2012 available at http://blog.amnestyusa.org/middle-east/verdict-expected-in-death-of-rachel-corrie/.
- Creative Loafing, April 30, 2003, Letter to the Editor available at http://m.clclt.com/charlotte/going-postal/Content?oid=2351209.
- Gaza’s Ark, “Who We Are,” http://www.gazaark.org/about-us/who-we-are/.
- Email to GazaArkUS Google group, 24 May 2012, on file with NGO Monitor.
- Email to GazaArkUS Google group, 12 June 2012, on file with NGO Monitor.
- Benjamin Weinthal, Jerusalem Post, “Amnesty Int’l Finland: Israel scum state,” 08/24/2010 available at http://www.jpost.com/International/Amnesty-Intl-Finland-Israel-scum-state.
- Sanjeev Bery, February 14, 2011, “Arab Freedom Is Good for Israel,” available at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sanjeev-bery/arab-freedom-is-good-for-_b_821739.html.
- Sanjeev Bery, June 18, 2009, “Israel’s Ban On Crayons,” available at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sanjeev-bery/israels-ban-on-crayons_b_217215.html
- Sanjeev Bery, October 4, 2010, “Turkish Foreign Minister Slams Israeli Settlements in Harvard Speech,” available at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sanjeev-bery/harvard-turkish-foreign-m_b_744767.html.
- Sanjeev Bery, June 18, 2009, “Israel’s Ban On Crayons,” available at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sanjeev-bery/israels-ban-on-crayons_b_217215.html.
In the Media
- Amnesty Defends Campaigns Manager After Retweet of Hamas Account Jewish News01/01/1970
- Israeli Embassy Complains to Amnesty Over Manager's Hamas Retweet Jewish News01/01/1970