HRW accuses Israel of apartheid for the first time and calls for UN sanctions.

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For the first time in the organization’s 43-year history, the US-based NGO Human Rights Watch has accused Israel of apartheid.

According to a 213-page article titled “A Threshold Crossed: Israeli Authorities and the Crimes of Apartheid and Persecution,” Israel fulfilled the legal definition for apartheid crimes as defined by the Rome Statute.

HRW urged the UN to investigate the allegation and impose a weapons embargo on Israel before verifiable measures are taken to end those crimes.

“Prominent voices have warned for years that apartheid lurks just around the corner if the trajectory of Israel’s rule over Palestinians does not change,” HRW executive director Kenneth Roth said Monday in a press release that accompanied a preview of the report.

“This detailed study shows that Israeli authorities have already turned that corner and today are committing the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution,” he said.

“While much of the world treats Israel’s half-century occupation as a temporary situation that a decades-long ‘peace process’ will soon cure, the oppression of Palestinians there has reached a threshold and a permanence that meets the definitions of the crimes of apartheid and persecution,” Roth said.

The Israeli left-wing NGO B’Tselem issued a similar first-time declaration in January.

The right-wing Israeli group NGO Monitor condemned the apartheid accusations, saying they were part of larger global campaign to discredit Israel and undermine its identity as a Jewish state.

“HRW’s report is part of a concerted NGO campaign over the past 18 months to interject the term ‘apartheid’ into discourse about Israel,” it said. “Indeed, HRW reiterates, cites and quotes many of these NGOs in its publication.”

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“In a broader context, this report is another move in the decades-long series of obsessive attacks against Israel and its legitimacy as the nation-state of the Jewish people,” NGO Monitor said.

HRW’s report distanced its accusation of apartheid from any comparisons with South African apartheid, which is often used to discredit that claim.

Instead, HRW spoke of a three-pronged definition: an intent to maintain racial domination by one group over another; a context of systematic oppression of one group over another; and inhumane acts.

Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, both within and outside sovereign Israel, met this definition of the crimes of apartheid, HRW said.

The report did not take direct issue with Israel’s identity as an ethnically national Jewish state. But as an example of discrimination, it cited Israel’s Law of Return, which grants citizenship to Jews who want to immigrate to Israel. Palestinian refugees and their descendants who had lived on territory now under Israeli sovereignty did not have that same right of return, it said.

HRW took issue with the 2018 Nation State Law that shored up Israel’s identity as a Jewish state without speaking of equity for its minority citizens.

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The report addressed Israeli policies against the Palestinians in the West Bank, including settlement activity, demolition of Palestinian homes and lack of freedom of movement and access for Palestinians.

NGO Monitor said many of the report’s examples were taken out of context and diminished the security threats faced by Israelis and Jews who wanted to immigrate to Israel.

Israel was not the only country with preferential immigration policies, it said, adding that nations such as Ireland, Spain and Germany had similar laws.

The Law of Return was created in the aftermath of the Holocaust to allow Jews to seek a safe haven in Israel from global persecution, NGO Monitor said.

“The sharp rise in physical violence and other forms of antisemitism around the world in recent years only highlights the need for Israel as a safe refuge from persecution,” it said.

The Law of Return was consistent with the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) that allowed certain special measures for racial or ethnic groups to protect fundamental freedoms, NGO Monitor said.

“As noted by the UN Committee, but erased in the HRW report, this provision seeks to remedy ‘inequalities resulting from the circumstances of history’… and to prevent ‘further imbalances from arising,’” it wrote.

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