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Thursday, August 26, 2010

Amnesty's apology leaves a bad aftertaste

I had linked to this story about how the head of Finland's branch of Amnesty International, Frank Johansson repeatedly and unapologetically referred to Israel as a "scum state" in his blog.

Now, under pressure, Johansson has not apologized but claims it was just "poorly worded" and a "mistranslation."

As the Tundra Tabloids blog proves, however, Johansson had many opportunities to clarify his wording and he refused to do so.

A reader emails me with a response that she received from Amnesty when she complained:
Thank you for your email to Amnesty International.

The comments made by Frank Johansson in a blog on the website of the Finnish daily newspaper Iltalehti are personal comments and should not be taken to reflect those of Amnesty International, including Amnesty International Finland, or to be endorsed in any way by Amnesty International.

Amnesty International has never described Israel as a “scum state” or used such terms to describe Israel or any other state and would never do so.

Obviously, we regret not only that this term was used but also that inadequate steps were taken to make clear that Frank Johansson was expressing an entirely personal view and not speaking on behalf of Amnesty International or expressing a view which reflects in any way the view of Amnesty International. Amnesty International totally disassociates itself from the comments expressed by Mr Johansson and has made this clear to him.

We have discussed this issue with Frank Johannson. He has issued a full and open apology for his ill-judged personal comments and for the offence that his comments have caused. This was an important error of judgment but there can be no doubting Frank Johannson’s long and deep commitment to human rights and to working impartially to end human rights abuses worldwide.

Best wishes, Luna

Amnesty accepts his mealy-mouthed pseudo-apology as a "full and open apology." Of course, when the Jerusalem Post reporter asked him to clarify the statements, he made very clear that they reflected exactly how he felt about Israel. Even worse, even though Johannson is very clear about his disgust for the state of Israel, Amnesty is saying as a fact that he is impartial! Meaning that Johansson will continue to work at this formerly prestigious organization as if his personal venom towards Israel is irrelevant to his work there.

Amnesty needs to do better than that.

In some ways, this is worse that Marc Garlasco's hobby of collecting Nazi memorabilia while at HRW. That was at least separate from his activities there; it was a sick indicator of bias but not nearly as direct and explicit as Johansson's. Johannson proudly and publicly displayed his hatred of Israel on a blog where he also publicly identified with Amnesty; Garlasco did not publicize the connection between his HRW human-rights activist persona and the person who was fascinated with Nazi SS jackets and Iron Crosses.

Amnesty, as a purportedly impartial organization, should fire Johannsen immediately. If they are not going to fire someone for such a statement outright, which would already reflect badly on them, they should publicly say that he will never have the slightest input into any of Amnesty's reports about the Middle East, because of his obvious and clear bias.

But this citing of his fake apology, and the facile statement that he is impartial, casts much doubt over Amnesty's commitment to truth.