Amnesty's New Office in Jerusalem…or Maybe Ramallah?
Amnesty International is planning to open a new “OPT regional office” to “shape and develop [its] human rights research and campaigning on Israel, the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and Palestine (State of)”1 as part of its “Global Transition Program.” Previously, Amnesty’s research and advocacy was largely produced and coordinated from its centralized London hub. The organization is now transitioning to regional offices, claiming to move “closer to the ground to ensure we have significantly greater impact in becoming a global movement.” Amnesty explains that by “distributing our teams to 15 Regional Offices in key capitals we will be empowered to act with greater legitimacy, speed, capacity, and relevance as we stand alongside those whose rights are violation, and join with others to build rights-respecting societies.” The program is funded by a $1.15 million grant from the Ford Foundation, which according to Inside Philanthropy is the largest single grant to the organization to date.
For the Israeli/Palestinian office, the organization is recruiting for the positions of “Regional Researcher” and “Team Lead Researcher.” The Team Lead Researcher will be responsible for managing a team of four staff consisting of a “Research, Campaign, and Communications Assistant,” as well as coordinating the work of “temporary staff and team volunteers.”
- Reflecting Amnesty’s political agenda and privileging of Palestinian human rights, according to the job description’s title, the East Jerusalem or Ramallah office will focus specifically on the “OPT (Occupied Palestinian Territories).” Amnesty also lists fluency in English and Arabic as required qualifications for the position, whereas “Hebrew is desirable.
- The original job description stated that the new office would be located in East Jerusalem, but this has now changed to “East Jerusalem or Ramallah.” The conditions in each are very different, with the former being under Israeli jurisdiction and the latter under Palestinian. The change shows Amnesty’s lack of knowledge of the situation on the ground and planning failure.
- The new office will be Amnesty’s second Middle East and North Africa regional office and is in addition to an existing one in Beirut, Lebanon. Amnesty is expanding the Beirut office with four researchers, one each to cover Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Iraq, while the East Jerusalem or Ramallah office will have a staff of at least five whose work will focus only on Israeli/Palestinian topics. This notes a disproportionate focus on Israel compared to other relevant regional countries and issues.
- Under “Purpose” on the job description, Amnesty claims that it “gathers and communicates accurate and action-oriented human rights information globally.” In sharp contrast, NGO Monitor’s detailed reports show that Amnesty’s work on to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict suffers from numerous methodological failures in fact-finding and a lack of credibility. This includes systematic flaws in the reporting of human rights abuses; limited understanding of armed conflict leading to erroneous claims and incorrect analysis; removal of context — particularly the terror attacks targeting Israelis; and violation of the universality of human rights, including a consistent institutionalized bias against Israel through double-standards.
- The job descriptions include a “conflict of interest” paragraph that states:
Public or other activity, affiliation to or support for any group or organization, personal association or other factor which may generate a real or perceived conflict of interest with Amnesty International’s principles (specifically independence and impartiality), or raise a security concern, or otherwise prevent the candidate from carrying out key functions of the specific post and would therefore disqualify the candidate from being appointed.
Despite this standard independence and impartiality clause in Amnesty job descriptions, the NGO has, nevertheless, historically hired individuals with blatant conflicts of interest regarding Israel-related issues. For instance, Deborah Hymans, an “Israel, Occupied Palestinian Territories, and the Palestinian Authority” researcher, previously worked at Alternative Information Center (AIC), Jews for Justice in Palestine and Israel (JPPI), Rachel Corrie Foundation, and Ma’an Network. Hymans also volunteered as a “human shield” in Beit Jala (near Bethlehem), to deter Israeli military responses to recurrent gunfire and mortars targeting Jewish civilians in Jerusalem. Similarly, Saleh Hijazi, a researcher on Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, was a Public Relations officer for the Palestinian Authority’s Office of the Ministry of Planning in Ramallah.
In light of the above, NGO Monitor has the following questions for Amnesty International:
- Will the new office, as reflected in the job description and Amnesty’s previous work on the conflict, privilege the rights of Palestinians over those of Israelis and continue to erase context?
- How will the location of the new office, either in East Jerusalem or Ramallah, impact the organization’s research capabilities? How will Amnesty compensate for the limitations of either location?
- As noted above, Amnesty already has at least two “Israel, Occupied Palestinian Territories, and the Palestinian Authority” researchers based in London. Will they be continuing in their jobs? Will the International Secretariat continue to hire and direct researchers? If so, is the “Global Transition Program” a substantive change?
- How will Amnesty investigate and report on allegations of human rights abuses in the region as a whole if the researcher(s) only speak one of the two regional languages?
- In contrast to previous hires relating to Israel, will Amnesty rigorously enforce the “independence and impartiality” clause in the job description?
- What steps will Amnesty International take to address previous methodological failures in its research on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?