By Andrew Tillett
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has defended Israel against accusations of engaging in apartheid by oppressing Palestinians, saying “no country is perfect”.
In an 182-page report, human rights group Amnesty International outlined what it said were massive seizures of Palestinian land and property, unlawful killings, forcible transfer, drastic movement restrictions, and the denial of nationality and citizenship to Palestinians on part of the Israeli government.
This amounted to apartheid and a crime against humanity under international law, Amnesty said.
Amnesty International secretary-general Agnès Callamard said the international community had an obligation to act.
“There is no possible justification for a system built around the institutionalised and prolonged racist oppression of millions of people,” she said.
“Apartheid has no place in our world, and states which choose to make allowances for Israel will find themselves on the wrong side of history.
“Governments who continue to supply Israel with arms and shield it from accountability at the UN are supporting a system of apartheid, undermining the international legal order, and exacerbating the suffering of the Palestinian people.”
‘One of the closest friends of Israel’
Mr Morrison, a long-standing supporter of Israel who early in his prime ministership flirted with relocating Australia’s embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, brushed off Amnesty’s findings.
“Australia has been one of the closest and strongest friends of Israel of any nation in the world, other than the United States,” he said.
“And we continue to be a very strong friend of Israel. No country is perfect. There are criticisms made of all countries, but I can assure you that Australia and my government, in particular, will remain a staunch friend of Israel.”
A spokesman for Foreign Minister Marise Payne said the government did not agree with the report’s characterisation of Israel.
“The conflict between the Palestinians and Israel must be resolved so that peace and security can become normalised,” he said.
“We are strong supporters of a two-state solution, with Israel and a future Palestinian state establishing internationally recognised borders.
We have always urged all parties to refrain from actions and statements that undermine the prospects for peace.”
Opposition foreign affairs spokeswoman Penny Wong said Labor disagreed with the use of “apartheid” but Amnesty’s findings were concerning and Labor expected the Morrison government to review them.
“[Apartheid is] not a term that’s been found to apply by any international court and is not helpful in progressing the meaningful dialogue and negotiation necessary to achieve a just and enduring peace,” Senator Wong said.
”Australia must stand up for human rights everywhere. To be a credible voice we must call out human rights violations wherever they take place.”
Response echoes US reaction
Australia’s response echoes that of the US, whose ambassador to Israel, Tom Nides, branded the report as “absurd”.
The Australia Palestine Advocacy Network said Amnesty’s report backed the findings of other human rights groups that Israel’s government had engaged in apartheid.
“The importance of the report cannot be understated, with the depth and breadth of research conducted clearly identifying the systemic methods used to oppress and dominate Palestinians,” APAN president Bishop George Browning said.
“It also explains how all Palestinians are impacted by apartheid, whether they live in the diaspora, are citizens of Israel, or reside in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.”
Noting an Arab party was part of Israel’s governing coalition, Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council executive director Colin Rubenstein said Amnesty had been taken over by “ideological extremists” determined to damage, demonise and delegitimise Israel.
“This libellous report is itself a crime – an intellectual crime against truth, and genuine international law, both of which it blatantly distorts to reach its predetermined conclusions,” he said.
“The twisted and legally absurd definition of ‘apartheid’ it employs – which basically makes any state with a national ethnic identity, or any lingering problems with discrimination against minorities, ‘apartheid’ – would damn the vast majority of the world’s countries as apartheid states if applied objectively.
“But of course it is not applied objectively – and that is exactly the problem.”