Policing the Narrative: Israel & Apartheid in the US Debate


Policing the Narrative: Israel & Apartheid in the US Debate

Wednesday, March 30th, 2022

featuring Paul O’Brien (Amnesty International), Dr. Maha Nassar (University of Arizona), and Peter Beinart (CUNY), in conversation with Lara Friedman (FMEP)

Listen to this event as a podcast

Last month, Amnesty International published a detailed and thorough report examining Israel’s treatment of Palestinians and concluding that it meets the legal definition of the crime of apartheid. With this conclusion, Amnesty joined the ranks of international and Israeli NGOs, including Human Rights Watch, B’Tselem, and Yesh Din, as well as Palestinian organizations and advocates, including Al Haq and Al Mezan, who have likewise concluded that that Israel’s treatment of Palestinians amounts to the crime of apartheid. And just last week, UN Special Rapporteur Michael Lynk articulated the same conclusion in an official report to the UN Security Council.

FMEP has held a number of events exploring the meaning and implications of “apartheid” for understanding the Israeli regime and its treatment of Palestinians: “Talking About Apartheid,” “Gaza, Apartheid, and Challenging Israeli Impunity,” Calling the Thing by its Proper Name: “Apartheid” Between the Jordan River & the Mediterranean Sea,” and “Israeli Apartheid & the Climate Crisis.”

In this week’s webinar, we explored another aspect of this issue: the dynamics and tactics (some new, some old) on display in the responses from defenders of the status quo to the growing use and acceptance of the apartheid framing — including deflection and misdirection aimed at shifting focus away from factual findings and delegitimization and demonization of human rights defenders and Palestinian rights activists.


Paul O’Brien is the Executive Director at Amnesty International USA, based in Washington, DC.  Previously, Paul was at Oxfam America. During the pandemic, Paul co-led Oxfam’s worldwide influencing network’s efforts to change government policies, corporate practice and public opinion. For the last decade, he oversaw Oxfam America’s advocacy with the US government and corporations. He has been an advisor to the President of Afghanistan, the Africa Policy Advisor for CARE, and an organizer in Nairobi’s informal urban settlements. He co-founded a community organizing institution in Kenya and a human rights research consortium in Afghanistan. He was the President of the Echoing Green Foundation, a litigator in New York for Cravath, Swaine and Moore. He has a JD from Harvard Law School and has published on power and rights for more than three decades.  He recently published “Power Switch” How We Can Reverse Extreme Inequality.”

Dr. Maha Nassar is an associate professor in the School of Middle Eastern and North African Studies at the University of Arizona, where she specializes in the cultural and intellectual history of the modern Arab world, and 2022 Fellow at the Foundation for Middle East Peace. Her award-winning book, Brothers Apart: Palestinian Citizens of Israel and the Arab World (Stanford University Press, 2017), examines how Palestinian intellectuals connected to global decolonization movements during the mid-twentieth century. A 2018 Public Voices Fellow with the OpEd Project, Dr. Nassar’s analysis and opinion pieces have appeared in numerous publications, including The Washington Post, +972 Magazine, The Conversation, and The Hill. She lives in Tucson, Arizona, with her husband, son, and daughter, and she is working on her next book, a global history of Palestine’s people. Follow Dr. Nassar on Twitter here: @mtnassar

​​Peter Beinart teaches national reporting and opinion writing at the Newmark J-School and political science at the CUNY Graduate Center. He is editor-at-large for Jewish Currents, a CNN political commentator, and a fellow at the Foundation for Middle East Peace. He is also a nonfiction author and former Rhodes Scholar. His first book, The Good Fight, was published by Harper Collins in 2006. His second book, The Icarus Syndrome, was published by HarperCollins in 2010. His third, The Crisis of Zionism, was published by Times Books in 2012. Twitter: @PeterBeinart

Lara Friedman is the President of the Foundation for Middle East Peace (FMEP). With more than 25 years working in the Middle East foreign policy arena, Lara is a leading authority on U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, with particular expertise on the Israeli-Arab conflict, Israeli settlements, Jerusalem, and the role of the U.S. Congress. She is published widely in the U.S. and international press and is regularly consulted by members of Congress and their staffs, by Washington-based diplomats, by policy-makers in capitals around the world, and by journalists in the U.S. and abroad. In addition to her work at FMEP, Lara is a Contributing Writer at Jewish Currents and a non-resident fellow at the U.S./Middle East Project (USMEP). Prior to joining FMEP, Lara was the Director of Policy and Government Relations at Americans for Peace Now, and before that she was a U.S. Foreign Service Officer, serving in Jerusalem, Washington, Tunis and Beirut. She holds a B.A. from the University of Arizona and a Master’s degree from Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service; in addition to English, Lara speaks French, Arabic, Spanish, (weak) Italian, and muddles through in Hebrew. Lara tweets @LaraFriedmanDC

Resources shared in the webinar: 

Follow our participants on social media: 

Human Rights Organizations’ reports on Apartheid: 

Amnesty International: 

Al Haq: “The Legal Architecture of Apartheid” by Al Haq: https://www.alhaq.org/advocacy/18181.html; “Al-Haq Highlights Israel’s Apartheid Regime and Calls for Accountability at the 46th Session of the Human Rights Council” → https://www.alhaq.org/advocacy/18174.html

Al Mezan: “The Gaza Bantustan: Israeli Apartheid in the Gaza Strip” —> https://www.mezan.org/en/post/24083

B’Tselem: “A Regime of Jewish Supremacy from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea: This is Apartheid” —> https://www.btselem.org/publications/fulltext/202101_this_is_apartheid

Yesh Din: “The Occupation of the West Bank and the Crime of Apartheid: Legal Opinion” → https://www.yesh-din.org/en/the-occupation-of-the-west-bank-and-the-crime-of-apartheid-legal-opinion/

Human Rights Watch: “A Threshold Crossed: Israeli Authorities and the Crimes of Apartheid and Persecution” → https://www.hrw.org/report/2021/04/27/threshold-crossed/israeli-authorities-and-crimes-apartheid-and-persecution

A few FMEP events on Apartheid: 

“Talking About Apartheid,” “Gaza, Apartheid, and Challenging Israeli Impunity,” Calling the Thing by its Proper Name: “Apartheid” Between the Jordan River & the Mediterranean Sea,” and “Israeli Apartheid & the Climate Crisis.”

For more, see our Events Index. 

Palestinian critiques of the apartheid framing: 

Peter Beinart’s articles: 

Paul O’Brien at the Woman’s National Democratic Club: 


Some resources on Israel Apartheid Week: http://apartheidweek.org/ and https://bdsmovement.net/iaw

Ayelet Shaked tweet: “Jewish & Democratic State – 1; State for all its citizens – 0” –> https://fmep.org/wp/wp-content/uploads/Screen-Shot-2022-03-17-at-12.01.04-PM.png

On AIPAC’s endorsements, see this piece by Mitchell Plitnick on +972 —> https://www.972mag.com/aipac-republicans-capitol-riot-israel/

The Benjamin Wittes Twitter thread on Ukrainian sovereignty & the Russian invasion →  https://twitter.com/benjaminwittes/status/1508765976703217665 and Mehdi Hassan’s response: “I don’t necessarily disagree with this take but I do find it amusing given how many years “Westerners” have insisted to Palestinians that they “negotiate” a solution to the end of their occupation (and also give up their land in the process!)” →  https://twitter.com/mehdirhasan/status/1508795773378510855