Introduction

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

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

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

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

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.

Edith Garwood

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.27 Before joining Amnesty, Garwood volunteered as a member of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM),28 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).29 CPWJ provides funding to the anti-Israel, pro-BDS NGOs Badil, Israeli Committee against House Demolitions (ICAHD), and Sabeel.30  In 2010, Garwood presented at CPWJ’s Leadership Retreat31; in 2011, Garwood was a co-presenter32 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.”33 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.34

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.35

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.36

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.”37 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.”38

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.39

Frank Johnansson

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.”40 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.41

Sunjeev Bery

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.42

Bery also encouraged Israel to make peace with Hamas because “Hamas [had] already taken the first step by offering a long term truce.”43 He also claimed that Hamas, a repressive and violent terror group, “has deeper democratic roots than its competitor Fatah.”44  It is, therefore, unsurprising that Bery blames Israel for undermining peace negotiations,45 since “Hamas appears to be ready for full negotiations.”46