Dear Jewish Americans, can we talk…about apartheid?

Dear Jewish Americans, can we talk…about apartheid? February 10, 2022

Amnesty International just released a carefully researched, copiously documented report entitled “Israel’s apartheid against Palestinians: a look into decades of oppression and domination.” Some Jewish (and non-Jewish) leaders immediately dismissed the report, labeling it “antisemitic.”

Were they right? Or should we take Amnesty’s findings seriously? You don’t have to be Jewish to ask these questions.

Dear Jewish Americans,

Last week as you no doubt heard, Amnesty International published a report declaring Israel an apartheid state. It was the third such report by a respected human rights org in 14 months (and let’s face it, probably not the last).

Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti Defamation League (ADL) has testified that Amnesty’s report would, “I promise you,” result in cyberbullying and intimidation of Jews by “anti-Israel types.”

report by Amnesty International on Israeli apartheid
report by Amnesty International on Israeli apartheid

Last May, Israel and the leaders of Gaza battled for 11 days, during which Israeli airstrikes killed 260 Palestinians (66 children) and Gazan rockets killed 13 Israelis (2 children).

(Israel, one of the world’s military superpowers, has forbidden Palestinians to possess any weapons – but Gazans have found a way to make homemade rockets. In over 20 years, these rockets have killed about forty Israelis. During the same time period, airstrikes from Israel have killed about 4,000 Gazan Palestinians.)

During the May conflict, ADL reported a spike in antisemitic incidents around the world.

Why did the situation in Israel and Gaza cause such a spike? And why does ADL’s CEO expect another spike in the wake of the Amnesty International report?

For one thing, “antisemitic incidents” are not always antisemitic. ADL refuses to disclose the number of incidents that have to do not with Jewish religion/ethnicity, but with Israel (for example, an account of someone criticizing Israel or waving a Palestinian flag is counted as “antisemitic”). So any “spike” reported by ADL must be taken with a large grain of salt.

But there’s another reason for these fluctuations.

Lessons learned

We have been instructed for years – by Jewish (and non-Jewish) American and Israeli leaders– that “Israel is the homeland of all the world’s Jews.” Whether this statement is accurate or not, it’s what we have been told.

Of course, for decades, Jewish leaders have declared that Jews need their own state – a Jewish state.

Former PM Benjamin Netanyahu told the world that Israel is the state for all Jews.

The Israeli Nation-State Law, passed in 2018, codified Jewish supremacy in Israel:

“The right to exercise national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish people.”

Many major Jewish organizations promote the same philosophy.

The millions of American members of Christians United for Israel (CUFI) have been taught that Israel “is the homeland for all Jews”; millions more evangelical Christians believe that God gave Israel (and Palestine) to the Jewish people as a whole (all of this is based on a spurious and myopic interpretation of Scripture).

Bottom line: Israel = Judaism.

That is to say, right-wing Jewish (and non-Jewish) leaders are by their words tying all Jews to Israel, making all Jews seemingly complicit in Israel’s actions.

(Commercial: if you question “business as usual” in Christianity – or want to question it – subscribe to my newsletter, and we can journey together!)


You can see how some people may have jumped to the (incorrect) conclusion that all Jews share in the blame for the deaths of 260 Palestinians, and how, as Jonathan Greenblatt predicts, some may surmise that all Jews have a hand in apartheid.

Obviously these conclusions are wrong. They are classic tropes – and can lead to hate or violence, but this is how certain (Zionist*) influencers taught us to think.

Obviously that does not make it ok. We can all agree that attacking innocent bystanders is wrong.

Why do they do it?

The current climate is rooted in anger over severe human rights abuses by a country that you are assumed to be affiliated with. This is an issue of (mistaken) national identity – not “Jew-hatred.”

When you think about it rationally, Amnesty International and the other groups are just trying to end human rights abuses. That is an honorable action – made no less honorable by the fact that the subject happens to be Israel. We can all agree that human rights abuse by anyone or any group is wrong.

The supporters of Gaza back in May – even those who got way too enthusiastic – just wanted a massacre to end. We can all agree that massacres are wrong no matter who is carrying them out.

Is it right for American Jews to feel unsafe? Of course not. But it is Israel’s actions, coupled with the ideology that Judaism is intrinsically bound to Israel, that has put you at risk.


Most Palestinians make the distinction. They harbor no ill will for Jews per se, nor do they want to “push them into the sea.” Even the Hamas Charter names “Zionism*,” not Jews, as the adversary:

Hamas affirms that its conflict is with the Zionist project not with the Jews because of their religion. Hamas does not wage a struggle against the Jews because they are Jewish, but wages a struggle against the Zionists who occupy Palestine. Yet it is the Zionists who constantly identify Judaism and the Jews with their own colonial project and illegal entity.

Allies of Palestinians make a great effort to differentiate between Judaism and Zionism. When we criticize Israel’s policies, we specifically declare that we do not blame Jews. We’re against human rights abuse regardless of who’s carrying it out. We care about injustice regardless of who is perpetrating it.

The real problem

When Amnesty International (or any of a number of other human rights groups) characterizes Israel as an apartheid state, the problem isn’t the label, it’s Israel.

If the reporting of apartheid in Israel causes some American Jews to be fearful, the problem isn’t the reporting, it’s Israel and it’s those Zionist leaders who conflate Zionism with Judaism.

This is not meant to excuse any attack, but merely to explain its likely origin.

You have the power to reverse this.

If you are Jewish and want to see an end to human rights abuses, you might consider rejecting being lumped in with a Zionist project that is destroying the lives of Palestinians.

Join the advocates for justice (many are Jewish). You might start to feel safer.

*Zionism, Zionist – : an international movement originally for the establishment of a Jewish national or religious community in Palestine and later for the support of modern Israel.

(If you are energized by challenges to the evangelical status quo like this, you’d enjoy my blog. Sign up for my free newsletter here!)

(If you would like to comment, please pop over to my Facebook page. All of my posts are there and open to constructive comment! I welcome your thoughts. And don’t forget to subscribe to my newsletter!)


Christian orgs worldwide denounce Israel’s demonization of Palestinian rights groups

UCC leads the Christian march to justice for Palestinians

Evangelicals need to know: another shocking killing by unholy Israel

Palestinians don’t just need peace – they need Just Peace

“When I was hungry, you handcuffed me” – see Jesus in Palestinian children

Israel, Palestine, and Covid 19: a travesty

Browse Our Archives