Netanyahu Slams Human Rights NGO B'Tselem for Joining 'Chorus of Slander' Against Israel

After human rights NGO participated in informal UN Security Council session, prime minister says he will move to prevent B'Tselem from its allotment of national service volunteers, though the group is only allotted one anyway and the slot is currently unmanned.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attending his weekly cabinet meeting, at his office in Jerusalem, September 27, 2016.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attending his weekly cabinet meeting, at his office in Jerusalem, September 27, 2016. Atef Safadi/Reuters

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused the Israeli human rights groups B’Tselem and American Friends of Peace Now on Saturday of joining the “chorus of slander” against Israel, and said he would take steps to remove B’Tselem from the list of organizations in which young Israelis can do their mandatory national service.

Netanyahu was responding to the participation of the NGOs in a session of the UN Security Council on Friday in which representatives of the two groups slammed Israeli settlements in the West Bank, calling them obstacles to peace.

B’Tselem is entitled to a single national service volunteer, but this slot is currently unmanned. In the past, the National Service Authority has tried to cancel the NGO's allotment of volunteers, but this effort was thwarted by Dina Zilber, a deputy attorney general. It was made clear to the authority that it was unlawful to cancel the organization's allotment since it met all the legal requirements to receive a volunteer.  

On his Facebook page on Saturday, Netanyahu wrote that B’Tselem’s director had urged the Security Council to act against Israel. “What these organizations cannot achieve through democratic elections in Israel, they try to achieve by international coercion,” he said, adding that the groups were “recycling the false claim that ‘the occupation and settlements’” were the reason for the conflict.

“At the start of the new Knesset session, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will act to amend the National Service Law so that it will not be possible to do national service with the B’Tselem organization,” said a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office, adding that Netanyahu had already raised the matter with the attorney general and the coalition head MK David Bitan. B’Tselem is one of many organizations and institutions in which young Israelis volunteer for national service as an alternative to serving in the army.

The executive director of B’Tselem, Hagai El-Ad, said at the UN Security Council session that the occupation controls all aspects of Palestinians’ daily life, and that the Israeli legal system condones the injustice.  

Lara Friedman, director of policy at Americans for Peace Now, the sister organization of the Israeli-based Peace Now, noted at the session that while the meeting deals with human rights, some of the participating states are human rights violators themselves. She added that she agreed to participate because the climate in Israel for rights groups had become so harsh. These groups’ work is too important to be silenced, she said.

The meeting, entitled “Illegal Israeli Settlements: Obstacles to Peace and the Two-State Solution,” did not involve a vote. It was held at the behest of member states Egypt, Venezuela, Malaysia, Senegal and Angola, with a push from the Palestinians. 

“In Israeli democracy fleeting and bizarre organizations like B’Tselem can also express themselves. But most of the public knows the truth. We will continue to defend justice and our state in the face of all international pressure,” the prime minister wrote, adding that “the truth is that the Palestinians attacked Israel for some 50 years, before there was one settlement. They continue to attack Israel from the Gaza Strip even after we left it completely.” ... This proves, Netanyahu continued, that the occupation is not the root cause of the problem but rather “the ongoing Palestinian refusal to recognize a Jewish state in any borders.”

The director of the right-wing NGO Im Tirtzu responded to B’Tselem’s appearance in the Security Council, saying: “The term ‘mole’ still [applies] with regard to the contemptible actions of B’Tselem against the state of Israel, funded by foreign governments and the New Israel Fund.

“History will not forgive those who, in exchange for money, are willing to sell their homeland, their people and their country. We expect the government to announce that it is immediately suspending national civilian service positions to the organization.”

B'Tselem responded to Netanyahu's comments with harsh criticism of their own, saying that the prime minister boasts about Israel's good relations with countries who, in reality, are harsh critics against Israeli settlements in the West Bank. 

"This won't deter B'Tselem and the hundreds of thousands in Israel who oppose the occupation," said B'Tselem. "We will continue to tell the truth in Israel and abroad: The occupation has to end."

Former defense minister Moshe Ya'alon joined ranks with Netanyahu in criticizing the Israeli organizations for their comments at the UN, calling it "disgraceful" in a Twitter post.

MKs from the center-of-left Zionist Union party offered criticism for both Netanyahu and B'Tselem.

"There's no doubt that the policies of Netanyahu and the right are leading Israel into a demographic conflict and a national disaster while the only solution is separation," said MK Itzik Shmuli (Zionist Union). "At the same time, However, a partisan run to biased UN organizations is a serious mistake. It's ineffective because it mostly serves to promote the demonization of Israel in the world and it isn't smart because it increases the alienation in Israel toward those who support the solution here."

MK Ksenia Svetlova (Zionist Union) responded saying "All those that are inciting against B'Tselem and Peace Now have forgotten what freedom of expression and democratic values are. They should direct their protest to those really responsible – the Israeli government. Netanyahu and his government are responsible for Israel's bleak situation on the international stage. They are the problem, and not part of the solution."

MK Tamar Zandberg (Meretz), was the only figure to express support for B'Tselem and its efforts.

"When you've failed as a foreign minister and prime minister ... it's very east to attack those yelling that the process is naked. The thought that we can continue with the occupation and incite against the messenger is childish and harmful. Opposing the occupation is patriotic, and the equation that Bibi tried to create, as if supporting Israel is supporting the occupation, is simply a lie," said Zandberg.

"In reality, human rights organizations are saving Israel when they show her other side and that the one truly making it worse, for so many years already, is Prime Minister Netanyahu." 

Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely (Likud) said that "The settlement of Judea and Samaria is a just and moral act and it's legal according to international law. The root of the conflict is the terror, violence and the Palestinian's refusal to accept Israel's existence as a Jewish state."

Hotovely continued to say that B'Tselem in its views and actions are out of touch with the Israeli public.

MK Yehuda Glick (Likud) also weighed in on the issue, accusing B'Tselem of "giving up on democracy" since they and other leftist groups and parties have been unsuccessful at winning elections. This, said Glick, explains why "they are acting in coordination with Israel's worst enemies against her.

"There's no doubt that the reality in Judea and Samaria is absolutely unacceptable, but the solution is not the creation of another failed Arab state," he continued.

The New Israel Fund criticized Netanyahu for purposefully misrepresenting Americans for Peace Now and B'Tselem's remarks at the Security Council.

"B'Tselem and APN expressed the urgent need to end the occupation. The prime minister is attempting to spin that message as if it were a call for action against Israel," the Fund said in a statement on Sunday.

 "Prime Minister Natanyahu must finally understand that ending the occupation is the most pro-Israel move there is."