A panel debate about the United Nations Human Rights Council and Israel organized by the council was scheduled to be held on Wednesday at the offices of Amnesty International UK in London.
A representative of the human-rights NGO who was expected to take part in the debate withdrew several months ago, but the group maintained the offer to host the event in its office space.
Four days before the event was scheduled to take place, the JLC received notice that Amnesty was no longer agreeing to host the event, on the grounds that the NGO was “currently campaigning for all governments around the world to ban the import of goods produced in the illegal Israeli settlements. We do not, therefore, think it appropriate for Amnesty International to host an event by those actively supporting such settlements.”
Responding to the cancellation, JLC chairman Jonathan Goldstein said: “It is disgraceful that a Jewish charity is barred from the offices of Amnesty International UK.”
In the email Amnesty UK sent to the JLC, it stated the event was organized by the JLC and UN Watch. The latter, however, is not an organizer but one of three organizations invited to participate in the event, including Amnesty and UN Watch.
Asked which organization Amnesty was referring to when it said “those actively supporting settlements,” Kerry Moscogiuri, Amnesty International UK’s director of supporter campaigning and communications told The Jerusalem Post: “The presence of UN Watch raised significant concerns with partner organizations. Partners and colleagues – both Israeli and Palestinian – working on the ground felt this connection with Amnesty could put their vital human rights work at risk.”
An email sent to the Post by Amnesty UK said that the presence of UN Watch was its major concern, but it also noted that the JLC and two of its member organizations, the Board of Deputies and the Zionist Federation, “were leaders in a rally in January 2017 against UN resolution 2334, condemning Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories.”
The Jewish Leadership Council is an umbrella body made up of 32 Jewish communal organizations, including synagogues, care organizations, education charities, regional representative councils and the Board of Deputies of British Jews.
“For a long time, our community has been deeply disappointed by Amnesty International UK’s approach to Israel and the Jewish community, yet we had sought positive engagement,” Goldstein remarked.
“By withdrawing their offer to host an event on the role of the UN Human Rights Council, it is clear that Amnesty International UK’s claim ‘to protect freedom of expression,’ is only on their terms,” he added. “We have long argued that the aggressive criticism of Israeli government policy creates an environment where antisemitism thrives, and it is highly regrettable that on this occasion Amnesty International UK’s decision has targeted the Jewish community.”
The panel session, titled “The UNHRC and Israel: How it works, what’s not working, and how it might be repaired,” is to be chaired by Danny Friedman, a renowned human-rights barrister, with speakers including Fred Carver of the UN Association, and Hillel Neuer of UN Watch.
A spokesman for the council stressed that it has no stance on the settlements, but that the organization is made up of members who hold a range of opinions. He also noted that the chairman of the event, Friedman, is on the Board of the UK organization Yachad, which has vocally opposed settlement expansion.
Moscogiuri told the Post: “A wide range of organizations hold their events at our London office, but we reserve the right to withhold permission for our building to be used by organizations whose work runs directly counter to our own.”
“We apologize for any inconvenience that this cancellation may have caused,” she continued. “The decision was made without our normal internal review procedures being followed. Again, we apologize for any inconvenience that this may have caused. Since this occurred, we’ve improved the way we review the hosting of events at Amnesty.”