The new bill meant to “mark” human rights groups with tags when they come to the Knesset, which was just approved for submission to the Knesset by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation, joins the campaign against treacherous “moles” waged by Im Tirtzu, and the verbal assaults on Breaking the Silence by Yair Lapid and others. These are but different versions of the same idea: Shoot the messenger. Instead of contending with the criticism voiced by human rights groups, these steps are geared to diverting the conversation to the groups themselves and to measures that should be taken in opposing them.
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The roots of the events taking place in recent days were planted after Operation Cast Lead, the Gaza war at the turn of 2009, with the publication of the Goldstone report. The goal of the well-orchestrated assault on that report, beginning before the ink on it had dried, was to prevent any discussion of Israeli violations of human rights and the laws of war that had occurred during the fighting. This marked a milestone in a long process in which a growing gap was developing between increased criticism of Israel’s policies, particularly in the occupied territories, and the feeling shared by many Israelis that whatever the state does is justified.
Israel chose to address this gap by presenting any criticism, from home or abroad, as biased, not credible, treasonous and a reflection of the activity of foreign “moles” planted among us. Criticism was viewed as possibly anti-Semitic, and attempts were made to quash it through different means. Thus, United Nations human rights agencies and other similar international bodies were depicted as ones that single out Israel for condemnation, while ignoring other countries, including Arab ones.
There is no denying that several UN institutions are politically biased, but to those in Israel who wonder why a commission of inquiry was only set up to investigate the 2014 Operation Protective Shield conflict, one can say that there is a commission investigating the war in Syria. Moreover, the ostensibly anti-Israel reports did not exculpate the Palestinians for their role in committing war crimes.
The result is that instead of discussing the violation of human rights and of the laws of war in the occupied territories, as documented by members of Breaking the Silence, the discussion revolves around the organization and on whether its overseas activities are legitimate. Instead of debating the ills of the occupation there are discussions of financing by “foreign state entities.”
The goal is to delegitimize human rights groups in order to silence them, or at least to chill their ardor so as to deter them from voicing their criticism, thus, in effect, denying any human rights violations, particularly in relation to the occupation, so that ultimately it will be possible to infringe on these rights without evoking any public protest.
This is expressed by the fact that the proposed law – which also requires these NGOs to declare their foreign funding in all communications with Israeli officials – is directed only at human rights groups and not at other organizations, such as ones supporting settlements, which receive enormous donations from vested parties overseas. Thus, if the law passes it should by right be struck down on the basis of its reflecting an unconstitutional political discrimination, based on its infraction of the right to equality, to freedom of expression and association.
Furthermore, this law is redundant, since the prevailing law governing non-profit organizations already requires these groups to be transparent and to report their funding sources, particularly of donations from “foreign entities,” including on their websites.
The law is therefore a further attempt to terrorize anyone dealing with human rights, anyone who criticizes their violation. In the absence of public criticism such violations will only grow worse. This is the real danger inherent in this law, in that it is one more nail in the coffin of Israeli democracy.
The writer is a member of the governing board of the “Gisha” non-profit organization, one of the targets of the new law.