Israeli Rights Group B’Tselem Now Off Limits for National Civilian Service

National service chief accuses group of 'acting against the state and its soldiers'; B’Tselem blasts 'dangerous attack by a government authority.’

Gili Cohen
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During the war, B'Tselem highlighted the plight of children in Gaza. Credit: Reuters
Gili Cohen

Young Israelis will no longer be able to choose B’Tselem as a place to do national civilian service instead of army service, the national-service chief said this week after accusing the rights group of acting “against the state and its soldiers.”

In a letter to B’Tselem director Hagai Elad, Sar-Shalom Jerbi said his decision came in the wake of the . B’Tselem, whose full name is B’Tselem: The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, sought to of dead Palestinian children during the 29 days of fighting.   

“I feel obligated to exercise my authority and discontinue state assistance to an organization that acts against the state and its soldiers, who are literally sacrificing their lives in supreme heroism to ensure the welfare and security of all citizens from all sectors suffering for years from firing on their homes,” Jerbi wrote.

National civilian service has slots for volunteers at organizations on both sides of the political spectrum, such as anti-abortion group Efrat on the right and Hotline for Migrant Workers on the left. B’Tselem has one slot for a national-service volunteer, which it received in 2012.

During discussions on a bill in January, Jerbi said national civilian service would be available “only to bodies that do not subvert the existence of the state as a Jewish and democratic state.”

In his letter to Elad, Jerbi added that “there is a clear line separating a legitimate political opinion in the Israeli political discourse and the dissemination and publication of lies and slander in Israel and worldwide .... Therefore I see no possibility of continuing to approve your organization as a participating body in the national civilian service, which receives assistance from the State of Israel.”

B’Tselem said Jerbi’s move “increases the flames of intolerance.”

“The announcement by Sar-Shalom Jerbi, which we doubt was authoritative, reflects a negative exploitation of his administrative job for the purpose of improper political persecution. This is a dangerous attack by a government authority on a human-rights organization,” B’Tselem said.

“Mr. Jerbi goes too far and calls the dissemination of information about human-rights violations during wartime ‘treason,” and increases the flames of intolerance that have poisoned the public atmosphere in Israel. By doing so, Mr. Jerbi joins the dubious club of those inciting to harm anyone who expresses opinions that could be interpreted as criticism.”

According to B’Tselem, “the significance of Mr. Jerbi’s grave act is to give the government permission to forbid the employment of national-service volunteers by any organization whose opinions he doesn’t like.”

The legal adviser to the Association for Civil Rights in Israel sent a letter to Jerbi warning that if he did not reverse his decision, ACRI would challenge it before the High Court of Justice.

"The cancellation of B'Tselem's [National Service] authorization violates basic legal principles and harms the vital defense of human rights," wrote attorney Dan Yakir in the letter to Jerbi. "It should be noted that the decision also violates basic principles of administrative law and the right to due process, as it was taken without B'Tselem having the opportunity to respond to the evidence on which the decision was based, and in violation of clause 17 of the National-Civilian Service Law (2014), We hereby demand that you announce without delay the cancellation of your decision, in order to avoid a petition to the High Court of Justice."