Last week, a skirmish in the battle to promote Palestinian rights by delegitimizing the state of Israel broke out at the Sierra Club. The venerable environmental organization that is committed to defending the world’s most precious resources suddenly found itself uncomfortably embroiled in the debate over the legitimacy of the Jewish state.
For the past decade, Sierra Club has touted Israel’s biodiversity, desert environments and avian life and sponsored numerous trips there. One such trip was scheduled for this month. Then it wasn’t. Sierra Club explained that the cancellation was because such trips are “providing legitimacy to the Israeli state, which is engaged in apartheid against the Palestinian people.” Reaction was quick, and was overwhelmingly negative. Within days, Sierra Club withdrew the cancellation and promised Israeli trips in the future.
The underlying challenge to the trips was brought by one of Sierra Club’s members who was supported by a host of pro-Palestinian and anti-Zionist groups. In response to the cancellation announcement, several patrons of Sierra Club and major Jewish organizations objected to the decision and questioned why Sierra Club allowed itself to be dragged into a political issue that has no connection to the organization’s mission.
Sierra Club now confirms that it is committed to the enjoyment, exploration and protection of the planet and that it doesn’t take positions on foreign policy matters. We hope that’s true, and that Sierra Club recognizes the folly of allowing its mission and credibility to be hijacked by those whose sole objective is the delegitimization of Israel.
But the naiveté of Sierra Club pales in comparison to the breathtaking chutzpah of the U.S. director of Amnesty International, Paul O’Brien, who told the Women’s National Democratic Club in Washington that Amnesty International is “opposed to the idea … that Israel should be preserved as a state for the Jewish people.” In response to the uproar over the offensiveness of those remarks, O’Brien claimed that what he said didn’t express what he wanted to say. We find that hard to believe since O’Brien continues to assert that he doesn’t trust the polls saying that American Jews support Israel. Instead, O’Brien, who is not Jewish, has the temerity to declare: “My gut tells me that what Jewish people in this country want is to know that there’s a sanctuary that is a safe and sustainable place that the Jews, the Jewish people can call home.” And he posits that “[American Jews] can be convinced over time that the key to sustainability is to adhere to what I see as core Jewish values, which are to be principled and fair and just in creating that space.” O’Brien’s objective is a one-state arrangement where neither Jews nor Palestinians have the right to self-determination.
O’Brien’s ignorance is breathtaking. And we reject his gut-driven declaration that Israel “shouldn’t exist as a Jewish state.” Amnesty International’s continued support of O’Brien confirms that the human rights organization has lost its way and its credibility. Were we to listen to our gut, we would reject Amnesty International until it adheres to core human rights values, which are to be principled and fair and just. pjc