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Amnesty International's USA director says Israel 'shouldn't exist as a Jewish state'

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Loredana Sangiuliano/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Nonprofit human rights group Amnesty International's USA director, Paul O'Brien, told an audience Wednesday that Israel "shouldn't exist as a Jewish state" and argued that most American Jews want the country to be "a safe Jewish space" based on "core Jewish values."

O'Brien, who is not Jewish, made the comments at a Women's National Democratic Club lunch event, speaking in front of about 20 people in person and another 30 virtual attendees, Jewish Insider reported. He was discussing a recent report published by his organization that accused Israel of "apartheid" in its treatment of Palestinians. The purpose of the report was to "collectively change the conversation" regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, O'Brien reportedly said.

Addressing support for Israel among American Jews, O'Brien rejected the results of a 2020 survey conducted by the Ruderman Family Foundation that found that eight in 10 Jewish Americans identify as "pro-Israel" and two-thirds feel emotionally "attached" or "very attached" to the world's lone Jewish state, according to Jewish Insider.

“I actually don’t believe that to be true,” O'Brien reportedly said of the survey results. “I believe 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.”

He argued that American Jews want "a safe Jewish space" rather than a Jewish state. "I think they 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 reportedly said.

Jewish Insider interpreted these remarks as an argument for the "one-state solution" to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, noting that the pro-Israel community rejects such arguments as "a cover for the dissolution of a Jewish state."

O'Brien affirmed that Israel "shouldn't exist as a Jewish state," according to Jewish Insider, although he added that "Amnesty takes no political views on any question, including the right of the State of Israel to survive."

“The right of the people to self-determination and to be protected is without a doubt something that we believe in, and I personally believe that,” O'Brien reportedly said. But he added, “We are opposed to the idea — and this, I think, is an existential part of the debate — that Israel should be preserved as a state for the Jewish people.”

Amnesty International, a nonprofit international human rights group, has consistently criticized Israel and in its 2022 report accused the Jewish nation of maintaining "an institutionalized regime of oppression and domination of the Palestinian population for the benefit of Jewish Israelis." The report was slammed by Israel's foreign ministry, which said it "absolutely rejects all the false allegations" and accused Amnesty of regurgitating "lies, inconsistencies, and unfounded assertions that originate from well-known anti-Israeli hate organizations."

"The report denies the State of Israel's right to exist as the nation state of the Jewish people. Its extremist language and distortion of historical context were designed to demonize Israel and pour fuel onto the fire of anti-Semitism," Israel's foreign ministry said in a statement.

The Palestinian government, on the other hand, embraced the report and said it was a "detailed affirmation of the cruel reality of entrenched racism, exclusion, oppression, colonialism, apartheid, and attempted erasure that the Palestinian people have endured."

U.S. President Joe Biden's administration rejected the claim that Israel has committed apartheid through its actions towards the Palestinians.

"We think that it is important as the world’s only Jewish state that the Jewish people must not be denied their right to self-determination, and we must ensure there isn’t a double standard being applied,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters in February.

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