In its annual report released earlier this year, Amnesty International drew attention to the ways that the West — namely, the United States and European countries — exacerbated “double standards” in addressing human rights abuses around the world. Contrasting those governments’ “robust response” to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine with other global challenges, Amnesty’s Secretary General Agnès Callamard lamented “how inconsequential their reactions have been to so many other violations of the UN Charter.”
Along with highlighting the “deafening silences on human rights violations in Saudi Arabia and Egypt” and the “inconsistent responses” to other conflicts, refugee crises, and crimes against humanity, the report also criticized the West’s refusal to confront Israel’s regime over Palestinians, which Amnesty has defined as apartheid. “Rather than demand an end to that system of oppression, many Western governments chose instead to attack those denouncing Israel’s apartheid system,” the report said.
However, while Amnesty International has adopted strong language to counteract such glaring omissions of human rights violations, the organization’s chapter in Germany may be guilty of the very double standards its leadership is criticizing, chiefly around Israel.
One indication of this is on social media. Amnesty Deutschland’s main Twitter account, which has over 213,000 followers, rarely, if ever, refers to issues of Palestinian rights abuses. Analyzing over 1,000 tweets the organization sent between Jan. 1, 2022, and May 5, 2023, I found that the overwhelming majority focus on Iran (mentioned 172 times), the Russia-Ukraine war (87), Qatar (69), Turkey (37), and Afghanistan (30). During this time frame, Israel was mentioned only once, and that was just to share the organization’s apartheid report in early 2022.
Amnesty Deutschland told +972 that they have an alternative Twitter account, Amnesty DE MENA, where they tweet more frequently about Israeli apartheid. That account, however, is not verified and has only 1,300 followers.
In May of this year, Amnesty International published another investigation, “Automated Apartheid,” which shows how Israel’s use of AI facial recognition technology targets Palestinians in the occupied West Bank as part of its wider system of domination. Amnesty Deutschland, however, did not publish the report on their main Twitter channel, and only vaguely referred to Amnesty’s “Unscan MyFace” campaign, a broader global initiative of which the Palestine-Israel report is a part.
Different contexts, one message
Critics argue that Amnesty Deutschland’s social media presence is intentionally staying silent when it comes to Israel’s systematic rights violations — a concerning behavior by the German chapter given the worsening realities on the ground. In addition to the apartheid system itself, human rights groups including Amnesty have pointed out the rising rates of direct violence against Palestinians under occupation. In 2022, for example, according to the UN, over 190 Palestinians were killed across the West Bank and Gaza by Israeli forces or settlers; since the start of January 2023, that number has exceeded 170, including 22 people in June.
+972 had an initial Zoom call with Amnesty Deutschland for this story; however, the organization refused to allow that conversation to become public. Under German law, organizations and individuals reserve the right to authorize given quotes prior to publication.
Instead, Amnesty Deutschland gave a general response via email, saying that they had duly published the apartheid report on their website, adding that “The German section raises the findings and human rights concerns [of the report] in discussions with stakeholders in politics and civil society.”
Amnesty’s MENA regional director, Heba Morayef, did respond to +972’s request for an on-the-record interview. Morayef explained that one of the organization’s primary objectives is to increase public recognition of Israeli apartheid, including among decision makers. “As a movement, our members in Amnesty sections across the world help carry that work forward and the call for the apartheid system to be dismantled,” she said.
“While we recognize that Amnesty sections sometimes need to tailor their communications and campaigning to achieve maximum human rights impact in their countries, we expect sections to be aligned with Amnesty International’s policies and advocacy aims in their work,” Morayef continued. “This would at a minimum include disseminating new research findings and standing by the public call for apartheid to be dismantled, because the entire Amnesty movement is meant to speak with one voice.” Regarding indications of the German chapter’s overwhelming omission of Israel on its pages, Morayef responded: “We are discussing your findings with Amnesty Germany.”
Saleh Hijazi, who worked with Amnesty for 11 years, was formerly the organization’s deputy regional director for the MENA region and a lead researcher on the apartheid report. Now the BDS Movement’s Apartheid-Free Policy Coordinator, Hijazi told +972 that although each individual country’s circumstances are crucial to shaping how one advocates, Amnesty Deutschland cannot be avoidant when it comes to Israel.
“I think it’s only smart to be context-sensitive,” Hijazi explained. “But with that being said, human rights organizations are [supposed to be] confrontational. They have a very significant role in raising awareness, educating people about human rights and how to defend them. So the question is whether Amnesty Germany has a set plan for taking this forward, and if their reservations in public are only a strategic means in reaching their goals.
“Now, there is a certain responsibility, especially in Germany’s context, where advocating for Palestinian human rights can be called antisemitic, which is deeply racist [against Palestinians] and continues to escalate,” Hijazi continued. “So there is even a special responsibility for Amnesty Germany to first and foremost address the human rights violations within their own country, because it not only impacts Palestinians, but infringes on Germans themselves who speak out against apartheid. This is why Amnesty has local chapters — to take into consideration their own geopolitical context, and to portray Amnesty’s message through one voice.”
German progressives turning away
This is not the first time Amnesty Deutschland has been accused of distancing itself from its parent organization. Just one day after Amnesty launched its 2022 report charging Israel with committing the crime of apartheid, the announcement of the report was deleted from the website of the German chapter.
After eventually uploading it again, Amnesty Deutschland posted a disclaimer at the bottom of the page: “The systematic extermination of Jewish people was planned and implemented in Germany. Antisemitism in Germany — violent attacks, property damage, and conspiracy ideologies — is still present and at a disturbing high. This places a special responsibility upon the German section of Amnesty. In the current and historical national context, an objective, fact-based debate on the classification made by the report is difficult. To counteract the danger of instrumentalization or misinterpretation of the report, the German section of Amnesty will not plan or carry out any activities in relation to this report.”
Currently, while the report is still on the site, the disclaimer has since been removed. There has not been an explanation or clarification from the German chapter about these multiple changes, or whether the chapter will continue to avoid any activities or strong language when it comes to Israel as suggested by the now-deleted disclaimer.
Amnesty Deutschland’s reluctance to speak out against Israel on their main social media channels is reflective of a growing chilling effect that exists in Germany, whereby defending Palestinian rights can come at the price of slanderous accusations of antisemitism or being denied access to public funding and spaces.
Michael Sappir, an Israeli writer and organizer based in Germany, told +972 that Amnesty Deutschland’s silence on Israel is expected. “[It] exemplifies mainstream German progressivism’s turn away from universal rights and international solidarity with the oppressed,” he said.
“Just like the Green [Party] Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock uses feminism as justification for German rearmament and increased military action worldwide, many erstwhile progressives have become supporters of apartheid and military power in the name of the supposed protection of Jewish rights against a mythologized Islamic ‘barbarism,’” he explained. “Many German progressives certainly know that what is happening in Palestine is wrong — but like Amnesty [Deutschland], choose to stay silent and support the injustice to protect themselves from apartheid-supporting peers.”
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Morayef, Amnesty’s MENA director, recognizes the political climate at play in the country. “I am not blind to the dynamics in Germany, and understand that Palestinian activists might not see the German section’s actions as anywhere near sufficient. But there is an argument to be made about the tactics Amnesty Germany is using to reach their goals. How we shift the needle differs from section to section, and if we’re interested in impact, and we understand the level of toxicity around this public debate in Germany, then an incremental approach might be justified as long as it’s combined with public reporting on research findings which always include a clear call to dismantle apartheid. The goal is to get as many sections of German society on board with the apartheid framing.”
However, Morayef was unable to comment on Amnesty Deutschland’s decisions to initially remove the 2022 apartheid report from its website. “Amnesty Germany is its own legal and autonomous entity and they would need to respond to this,” she said.
The German office is not the only Amnesty chapter to appear to be trying to distance itself from the organization’s core messaging. Last year, the executive director of Amnesty Israel, Molly Malekar, criticized various aspects of the report and claimed it would only make things worse for the organization’s work in the country, describing the apartheid classification as a “punch to the gut.”
Now, as Israel’s far-right government advances its judicial overhaul and other plans to further control Palestinian land and people, criticism of the apartheid regime is likely to intensify — and, unfortunately, so too will efforts to suppress such speech. If Amnesty Deutschland claims to speak in unison with the global organization, and aims to keep its credibility as a human rights champion, then there needs to be a fundamental pivot in its approach around Israel — one that recognizes that silence only enables the worsening realities on the ground.