Under Israeli pressure, France’s Justice Minister Nicole Belloubet did not participate in the ceremony honoring Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem, which received the 2018 Human Rights Prize of the French Republic on Monday.
Sources in the French embassy in Israel said they had heard that the minister was unable to attend, but were not informed of the reason.
Hagai El-Ad, the organization’s executive director, accepted the award on behalf of B’Tselem. In the ceremony, which took place at the French Ministry of Justice, El-Ad thanked the awarding body, the French National Consultative Commission on Human Rights.
“The occupation, in and of itself, is organized, prolonged, state violence, which brings about dispossession, killings, and oppression,” El-Ad said. “All branches of the state are part of it: ministers and judges, officers and planners, parliamentarians and bureaucrats. Those who lead the opposition to this unjust reality are human rights organizations – precisely because we categorically reject violence and harm to civilians.”
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The Israeli government and right-wing organizations lobbied against awarding the prize to B’Tselem.
“This isn’t a prize, it’s a mark of shame. B’Tselem is an organization whose work should be stopped,” Culture Minister Miri Regev said.
“France cannot claim that it is fighting anti-Semitism,” a deputy minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, Michael Oren, added. “Summon the French ambassador for a rebuke,” the Israeli army reservists group My Truth demanded.
Speaking about the pressure that Israeli government officials tried to exert on decision-makers in France, El-Ad said: “The hysterical response by Israeli government officials, attempting to prevent this prize from being awarded, illustrates the reality within which we work: Propaganda, lies, and threats by a government which believes that silencing and cover-ups will enable further human rights violations. In the face of this moral bankruptcy, we are here not only to further expose the truth – but also to bring an end to the injustice.”
The prize this year is going to organizations subjected to pressure in their home countries. Together with B’Tselem, the Palestinian group Al-Haq won, along with human rights groups from China, Colombia, Nigeria and Belarus.