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A group of prominent political, academic and Middle East commentators from the international board of the Jerusalem-based NGO Monitor called on Monday for an “independent evaluation of biases in Amnesty’s activities and publications, particularly related to Israel.”
The head of Amnesty International’s Finnish branch, Frank Johansson, sparked outrage last week when he termed Israel a “scum state” on his blog, a statement he has since removed following The Jerusalem Post’s disclosure of his anti-Israel remarks.
When asked about the NGO Monitor statement seeking an independent inquiry, Susanna Flood, a spokeswoman for Amnesty in London, wrote on Tuesday by e-mail to the Post, “Amnesty International had no need to seek an ‘independent evaluation’ to determine that Frank Johansson’s comments, made in his personal capacity, were inappropriate.”
The NGO Monitor statement was signed by Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz; Ruth Wisse, that university’s Martin Peretz Professor of Yiddish Literature and Professor of Comparative Literature; Yehuda Avner, a former ambassador to the UK and Australia; Fiamma Nirenstein, vice president of the Italian Chamber of Deputies’s Committee on Foreign Affairs; Elliott Abrams, a former US deputy national security adviser for global democracy strategy; UCLA’s Prof. Judea Pearl, president of the Daniel Pearl Foundation; Mideast expert and commentator Tom Gross; and Douglas Murray, director of the London-based Centre for Social Cohesion think tank.
“We condemn in the strongest possible terms Mr. Johansson’s recent remarks about Israel. Referring to Israel using offensive terms such as ‘scum state’ is unacceptable, and does not help those that have legitimate human rights grievances,” the NGO Monitor board members wrote.
“Unfortunately, his statement is indicative of the anti-Israeli ideology that has permeated Amnesty International (AI), leading to one-sided calls for an arms embargo against Israel, and false accusations of Israeli ‘war crimes’ and ‘deliberate attacks on civilians,’” they continued.
“We call on Amnesty International’s new secretary-general, Salil Shetty, to condemn this statement and suspend the Finnish branch from active membership in AI until Mr. Johansson resigns.”
Amnesty spokeswoman Flood told the Post that “as we have already made clear, Frank Johansson has apologized fully and publicly for his statement and the offense that it has caused and he has removed his blog containing the offensive statement. We welcome these steps.”
According to Flood, “Amnesty International in Finland has made it clear to Frank Johansson that his comments were not appropriate and its disassociation from them. There is no question of Amnesty International in Finland being asked to suspend its international human rights work because of this matter.”
The NGO Monitor board members said in their statement that “legitimate criticism of Israel is entirely appropriate. But vulgar language, accompanied by the political and legal campaigns that Amnesty and others are waging against Israel, must not be tolerated. Such activities are also contrary to the noble principles and goals on which Amnesty was founded.”
Amnesty International is already roiling from a recent scandal involving one of England’s leading pro-Taliban advocates.
Earlier this year, Gita Sahgal, then head of Amnesty’s Gender Unit, deemed Amnesty’s leadership to be plagued by “ideological bankruptcy” and “misogyny.”
Sahgal was suspended in February for criticizing Amnesty for giving a platform to Moazzam Begg, the director of a campaign group called Cageprisoners, whom she referred to as “Britain’s most famous supporter of the Taliban.” She is no longer employed by Amnesty.
According to a separate letter sent on Monday from NGO Monitor president Gerald Steinberg to Amnesty’s secretary-general Salil Shetty, “Ben White, author of a publication with the grossly immoral title of Israeli Apartheid: A Beginner’s Guide, has been the featured speaker at a number of Amnesty UK events targeting Israel. Such hate speech is further evidence of an Amnesty agenda which is entirely inconsistent with the claim to support ethical principles and universal human rights.”
Amnesty’s “biased agenda ignores systemic human rights violations by the regimes in Saudi Arabia, Libya, Syria, Egypt, Gaza, and many other countries, and violates the core principle of universality in human rights,” Steinberg said.