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Why is Amnesty International Sponsoring a U.S. Tour for a Palestinian Promoter of the Blood Libel?

Bassem Tamimi has addressed American third graders on Israel and Palestine. He also shares anti-Semitic propaganda on social media.

Yair Rosenberg
October 16, 2015

In April, Amnesty International came under fire when it rejected, by a vote of 468-461, a resolution calling for the organization to combat anti-Semitism in Britain. This refusal led many to question Amnesty’s commitment to fighting anti-Jewish prejudice. Now, the group’s American arm has added further fuel to the fire by sponsoring a U.S. speaking tour—including a stop in a third-grade classroom—for a Palestinian activist who promotes anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.

On his website, Bassem Tamimi is described as “an internationally recognized Palestinian human rights activist from the West Bank farming village of Nabi Selah” and “a beacon of hope and an inspiration to all who believe in freedom.” Detained repeatedly by Israeli authorities, Tamimi has been dubbed a “prisoner of conscience” by Amnesty, which subsequently co-sponsored an American speaking tour for him that began in September. Since then, Tamimi has spoken in 10 states, including multiple stops in New York and California and a plenary appearance at the annual conference of the U.S. Campaign to End the Occupation, where he advocated the boycott of Israel.

Tamimi’s tour and its sponsorship by Amnesty have already drawn substantial criticism, given his radical views. In particular, objections were raised when Tamimi was brought in to address third-graders at the Beverly J. Martin School in Ithaca, New York. Luvelle Brown, Ithaca’s superintendent of schools, later denounced Tamimi’s remarks as “politically skewed, inflammatory, and not endorsed by the Ithaca City School District.” Amnesty, however, defended Tamimi’s appearance, dismissing the criticism as a “smear campaign” and “bullying and intimidation.”

But while perhaps that controversy could be chalked up to differences of political opinions, the latest one swirling around Tamimi cannot. On Wednesday, as reported by Cornell’s William Jacobson, Tamimi reposted a viral anti-Semitic meme on his Facebook page, alleging Israelis detain Palestinian children to steal their organs, and that Zionists control the media to suppress this information:

The post, which has been shared over 1,500 times in the last few days, links to the organization “If Americans Knew,” which other pro-Palestinian groups—including the U.S. Campaign to End the Occupation and Jewish Voice for Peace—recently severed ties with due to its overt anti-Semitism. The picture in the post is a stock photo that appears in numerous outlets and apparently has nothing to do with Israel. In the past, critics have pointed to other social media activity by Tamimi and his family glorifying anti-Israel violence, suggesting he is not the peace activist Amnesty presents him to be. But Tamimi’s latest posting is by far the most blatant evidence. He has updated his Facebook several times without removing it–even after the post received likes and comments like “May Allah burn them [the Israelis] from within, and grant them hardship with their own offspring“–so the bigoted material was clearly not shared in error.

Tamimi’s post was quickly condemned by the Anti-Defamation League. “Shame on Bassem Tamimi and shame on Amnesty International for supporting him while he spreads the anti-Semitic blood libel on Facebook,” said ADL National Director Jonathan Greenblatt. “If indeed Amnesty is a sponsor of his tour, we expect them to condemn Tamimi’s propagation of the anti-Semitic blood libel on social media and remove their endorsement. There can be no justification or support for this type of hate and incitement. There are people out there who are promoting reconciliation and moderation. These are the voices who should be elevated.”

Indeed, what makes the situation so tragic—beyond the spectacle of a purported human rights organization promoting a purveyor of ancient anti-Jewish invective—is that there are truly inspiring and genuine Palestinian advocates for peace and coexistence who Amnesty could have sponsored instead.

Take for instance Professor Mohammed Dajani, who famously took his students to Auschwitz to better understand the Jewish experience and debunk the Holocaust denial that too often prevails in the Middle East. Or take Dajani’s Palestinian students, who are similarly impressive in their passionate advocacy for mutual understanding and tolerance, despite so many years of conflict and mistrust. Or consider Arab-Israeli reporter Lucy Aharish, who has spoken out eloquently against both Jewish and Arab racism in Israeli political discourse. And then there’s Palestinian activist Thanaa Jawabreh, who took to Facebook earlier this month to publicly condemn a recent terrorist attack that left an Israeli couple dead, writing, “Murder only brings murder, and bloodshed on one side leads to more bloodshed on the other.”

These courageous individuals deserve funding, publicity, and support. It’s a shame Amnesty didn’t put any of them on tour instead.

Yair Rosenberg is a senior writer at Tablet. Subscribe to his newsletter, listen to his music, and follow him on Twitter and Facebook.