Last month the Columbia University chapter of Amnesty International invited me to deliver a talk on human rights in the Middle East. I accepted the invitation, anxious to present a balanced view on human rights, focusing on the Israeli-Arab-Palestinian issue. As a supporter of the two-state solution and an opponent of many of Israel's settlement decisions, I regard myself as a moderate on these issues. That was apparently too much for the national office of Amnesty International to tolerate. They demanded that the Columbia chapter of Amnesty International disinvite me. They did not want their members to hear my perspective on human rights.
The excuse they provided were two old and out-of-context quotes suggesting that I favored torture and collective punishment. The truth is that I am adamantly opposed to both. I have written nuanced academic articles on the subject of torture warrants as a way of minimizing the evils of torture, and I have written vehemently against the use of collective punishment of innocent people — whether it be by means of the boycott movement against all Israelis or the use of collective punishment against Palestinians. I do favor holding those who facilitate terrorism responsible for their own actions.
The real reasons Amnesty International tried to censor my speech to its members is that I am a Zionist who supports Israel's right to exist as the nation-state of the Jewish people. As such, I have been somewhat critical of Amnesty International's one-sided approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. For example, I wrote an article criticizing Amnesty International's report on honor killings in the West Bank. An honor killing occurs when a woman has been raped and her family then kills her because of the shame her victimization has brought. Despite massive evidence to the contrary, Amnesty International mendaciously claimed that honor killings had increased in the West Bank since the Israeli occupation, and that the fault for this increase in Arab men killing Arab women lies with Israel. The reality is that there are far fewer honor killings in the West Bank than there are in adjoining Jordan, which is not under Israeli occupation, and that the number of honor killings in the West Bank has been reduced dramatically during the Israeli occupation. But facts mean little to Amnesty International when Israel is involved.
The national office of Amnesty International did not want their members to hear my criticisms of their organization, despite the fact that I was a strong supporter in its early days, before it became so one sided and anti-Israel. They were afraid to have their members hear the truth. They feared an open marketplace of ideas, so they tried to shut me down.
Fortunately, another Columbia student group immediately invited me to give my talk, and some members of Columbia Amnesty, to their credit, came to listen. They asked me hard questions, which I tried to answer with fact and logic. Some agreed with me, while others disagreed. That is the nature of open dialogue that Amnesty International claims to champion — except when it comes to their own organization, in which case it tries to censor speech critical of its policies.
Amnesty International claims to champion freedom of speech and open dialogue, except when it comes to criticism of their own organization. Above, Amnesty International-Turkey protests limits on freedom of expression. (Image source: Amnesty International-Turkey)
In general, Amnesty International — especially its European branch located in London — has abandoned its commitment to human rights in preference for an overtly political and ideological agenda. Its position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has become particularly troubling. In addition to providing an abuse excuse to Palestinian honor killers in the West Bank, it has demonized Israel for its attempts to protect its citizens from Hamas war crimes. In a recent report, it condemns Israel for its military actions in Gaza without even mentioning the Hamas terror tunnels that provoked Israel's defensive actions. These tunnels — I was in one of them just before the war — were built for one purpose and one purpose only: to kill and kidnap Israeli citizens. The tunnel I was in exited right near an Israeli kindergarten with more than 50 children. The sole purpose of the tunnel was to send Hamas death squads into Israel to kill and kidnap as many of these children as possible.
No country in the world would tolerate the existence of such tunnels, and international law permits defensive actions to shut them down. Yet Amnesty International never mentions the tunnels and makes it seem that Israel sent troops into Gaza simply to kill as many Palestinians as possible.
Amnesty International has become an apologist for terrorism and an enemy of democracy. Its failed effort to stifle my free speech and the rights of Columbia students to listen to me is symbolic of what a once great organization has become: a cheerleader for human wrongs rather than human rights.
A shorter version of this article was published in New York Daily News.
Alan Dershowitz's latest e-book is Terror Tunnels: The Case for Israel's Just War Against Hamas (Rosetta Books 2014).