When Amnesty International issued a report that accused Israel of being an “apartheid state,” it was “sad” and “frustrating,” according to Yinam Cohen, the consul general of Israel to the Midwest.
Cohen commented on the Amnesty International report and other issues during a Feb. 2, 2022, interview with the Chronicle, as he was in Wisconsin for meetings with interfaith and Jewish community leaders.
“You know, Amnesty International used to be a very respected human rights organization, an advocate for global human rights,” Cohen said. “Unfortunately, it was hijacked by radical elements.”
Amnesty International accused Israel of “domination” in the Feb. 1, 2022 report, but Cohen pointed out that Israel today has the most diverse government in its history.
“It has for the first time an Arab Muslim party as a member of the government in the coalition. It is a party that is representative of a much larger movement in the region, the Islamic Brotherhood. This movement is forbidden and illegal in many Arab countries,” he said, noting that this forbidden party is operating freely in Israel.
“This report does not cast criticism on Israeli policy. That is totally legitimate,” he said. “It questions the basic legitimacy of Israel, of Israel’s existence as the homeland of the Jewish people. And this is flirting with antisemitism for me.”
Human rights are a very important issue, he said. “Does Israel have room for improvement in terms of human rights? Of course, it has. Can America improve on human rights issues? Of course, it can,” he said. “But hijacking this important value and turning it into radical politics, it is frustrating, and it is, more than anything, sad.”
The Biden administration rejected the Amnesty International report, as did all the major Jewish movements, he added.
“I’m very thankful to law enforcement, both in Texas and in Chicago,” Cohen said, referring to recent antisemitic graffiti in Chicago and hostage-taking in a Colleyville, Texas synagogue.
Regarding the rise of antisemitism in recent years, Cohen said it is not just a problem for the Jewish community, but for all of society. If Jews are attacked today, others can be attacked tomorrow.
“I think the most important thing is to unite forces, as a community,” he said, and that’s part of why he met with interfaith leaders in Milwaukee during his two-day February visit.
Visit to Milwaukee
The Consulate General of Israel to the Midwest office is in Chicago. The office processes Israeli passports, issues tourist visas, accepts information from Israelis abroad like a change of name, and so forth. Cohen leads the office and seeks to encourage cooperation and business ventures connecting the Midwest and Israel.
Cohen’s visit to the Milwaukee area included meeting with Milwaukee Jewish Federation leadership and representatives of the Federation’s Jewish Community Relations Council.
Also, the timing allowed Cohen to attend a Milwaukee Bucks game with his friend Emmanuel Koubarakis, the consul general of Greece in Chicago.
It was an opportunity for Koubarakis to watch Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Greek professional basketball player who has become an international sports star, and for Cohen to see the Washington Wizards’ Deni Avdija, an Israeli.
“So it was for us a small celebration of Greek-Israeli-American relations, which are very important and very good,” Cohen said.