Why Oppose a Panel of Inquiry Into Leftist Israeli NGOs?

An interview with Likud minister Dan Meridor, who opposed the bill proposed by Yisrael Beiteinu to set up a Knesset probe of the funding of NGOs.

Intelligence and Atomic Energy Minister Dan Meridor opposed the bill proposed by Yisrael Beiteinu to set up a Knesset probe of human rights organizations. He was joined by three other Likud MKs - Benny Begin, Michael Eitan and Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin. The chairman of Yisrael Beiteinu, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, lashed out at them for this and called them "rhinos" (i.e., conformists") and "feinschmeckers" (epicures). He charged them with responsibility for the inability of the right to really govern.

Dan Meridor (Alon Ron)
Alon Ron

Minister Dan Meridor, conformists and epicures? Were you insulted?

It is not my habit to respond to the remarks of other ministers. That is my worldview and it will not change. The Likud movement is defined as a liberal national movement, not a nationalist movement. That is, human dignity and human freedom are part of this movement's soul. I am convinced that many of my colleagues think like I do, and as do Benny [Begin], Miki [Eitan] and Ruby [Rivlin] do - and I assume that the spirit of Menachem Begin is exactly that spirit.

To my way of thinking, the idea that MKs should examine bodies that have different opinions is extremely dangerous. I can already imagine the scene where MKs sit around the table and investigate. MKs should not be part of a political commission of inquiry; that is reminiscent of phenomena from other places that we don't want to emulate. MKs have to oversee the government, and there is an address for inquiries of that kind, if they are necessary - the attorney general, the state prosecution and the police.

Are you worried about that initiative?

When freedom of expression and the freedom to express an opinion are threatened, then Israeli democracy is also threatened. We have to fight against these phenomena to take care of ourselves so we don't fall into the kind of place I wouldn't want to be in.

The bodies that work on behalf of human rights generally do very important and difficult work because they have to operate in times of fighting and tension between peoples, when there is not a great deal of tolerance for human rights, and that is characteristic not only of us. I also believe we have to protect human dignity and freedom as well as the dignity and freedom of the nation. That is why organizations of this kind, like the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, do such important work in my eyes.

At the same time, there are things being done by private bodies that I find reprehensible - for example, telling people abroad that officers in the Israel Defense Forces should be brought to trial in front of a judicial tribunal that is unsympathetic. That is an ugly phenomenon.

Nevertheless, there were MKs from the Likud who supported the Yisrael Beiteinu bill.

That was a mistake on their part. When the proposal is brought up for a vote again, we shall try to persuade them to oppose it. I hope we'll succeed in keeping the Likud movement a national liberal movement, and that it won't be turned into a nationalist movement.

Does the radicalization in the political system, which was expressed in the bill and in other declarations and initiatives, spring from the desire of politicians to cater to the tastes of a voting public that is becoming more extreme?

That element does exist. Everyone knows where it springs from. The question is what a person must do in order to get elected. In the last elections in the Likud, there was a large group that was called the Feiglins [after Moshe Feiglin], which did not support me. I am proud of that. I represent ways that are different from theirs. I did not change my mind but I was nevertheless chosen.

Is the call to murder deputy state prosecutor Shai Nitzan part of the wave of hatred that is washing over us?

The incitement against Shai Nitzan is grave. I have known him for more than 20 years, from the time when I was justice minister. He is a talented and moral person. He himself is observant. Incitement to murder is a serious criminal offense. It is racist incitement. The term "Arab dogs" is a typical Meir Kahane phrase. That is exactly how Meir Kahane opened his infamous speech in Acre: "Hello Jews, hello dogs." These are revolting phrases and an investigation must be made to find out who is behind them.

So, is it a wave?

It is possible to include in this context the attempts to force the Arabs to take an oath of allegiance to the state - all the attempts to exclude the Arab population from any sense of belonging to the country; the outrageous idea of preventing a person from acquiring an apartment because he is not Jewish; the attacks by some of the rabbis against renting apartments to Arabs. All these proposals were meant to create the feeling that the state does not belong to the Arabs. If the state discriminates, it is not behaving like a Jewish state.

I must say that I am amazed at the way in which the Jews have wiped out our national memory. Are people not shocked? Don't they remember the "Don't sell to Jews" in another language?

We have a rather difficult problem with the world. These phenomena merely serve to describe us in a negative light. It is not just a moral matter, it is also a matter of image. The role of the leadership is to stop phenomena of this kind and to protect the basic values of the State of Israel against racism and discrimination.

Is the leadership doing enough? After all, Lieberman is part of the leadership.

I don't wish to talk about one person or another. We are doing quite a bit, and everyone of us must do everything possible to stop this wave. The government and public leaders must fight the wave with words, with declarations, and by preventing acts of legislation whose only purpose is not for the good. This means the public discourse must welcome that which is different.

You have - and are still dealing - very much with the political process. Are you not concerned about the stagnation [in negotiations]?

The stagnation is not good. The talks must be resumed soon. To my regret, the Palestinians have chosen a different strategy, which rests on three principles - preventing terror, which is good; building a state-to-be; and internationalizing the conflict instead of negotiations, which is a change that is not good. Anyone who recognizes the fact that the 1967 borders are the borders of a Palestinian state, is saying that the Western Wall is not part of the State of Israel. That is not acceptable to me, it is against the most basic interest of Israel. Therefore, it is in our interest to return to the negotiations, despite the difficulties. This is a good period so, to the extent it is dependent on us, we must do everything possible to move forward. The Palestinians also need leadership. It is a dangerous route for everyone.