Netanyahu Didn’t Even Call to Congratulate B'Tselem

The 2018 Human Rights Prize of the French Republic will be awarded to B’Tselem; What’s new and noteworthy is that an Israeli organization is being awarded a prize for being persecuted in its own country

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
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Hagai El-Ad, head of B'Tselem in front of the separation barrier, West Bank, March 24, 2018.
Hagai El-Ad, head of B'Tselem in front of the separation barrier, West Bank, March 24, 2018.Credit: Emil Salman
Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

The prime minister didn’t call to say congratulations. Nor will he. This wasn’t a Eurovision Song Contest win and not even a medal in judo from Azerbaijan. The 2018 Human Rights Prize of the French Republic will be awarded this week to the human rights group B’Tselem. Israeli pride, honor and glory.

And this is how the news was received in Israel: “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; “France cannot claim that it is fighting anti-Semitism” – deputy minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Michael Oren; “shame and moral abandon...the prize for the rights of opponents of the return to Zion” – editor of the editorial page of the daily Israel Hayom, Dror Eydar; “Summon the French ambassador for a rebuke” – the Israeli army reservists group My Truth.

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.

>> The real hero is the B'Tselem chief | Opinion

If anyone needs proof as to why B’Tselem deserves the prize, not only for its important and laudable work, but also as an organization subjected to pressure and persecution in its home country, the responses in Israel provided it. In China, Nigeria, Colombia and Belarus the responses were certainly similar. There too, like in Israel, they don’t like human rights – Israel is in the company of the tyrannies of the world.

There is no need to say anything more about the role played by B’Tselem and the honor it brings the state, more so than that of any judoka or singer. There is no need to even note that Regev, Oren and their ilk will soon be thrown into the trash heap of history, while B’Tselem and others like them will be remembered as the last keepers of the torch. What’s new and noteworthy here is that an Israeli organization is being awarded a prize for being persecuted in its own country. That hasn’t happened before.

Organizations and individuals in Israel have won quite a few international awards for their work in safeguarding human rights under conditions of occupation. Now they are also considered persecuted. Hence the hysterical responses to the prize given to an organization that provides information, whose professionalism and credibility are unassailable and whose research even the Israeli army makes use of. Its critics know this, and therefore they cry out so loudly.

B’Tselem is the last to hold a mirror to Israeli society, a mirror it never wanted to look into. B’Tselem shows Israel today, and so Israel Hayom (“Israel Today”) can’t stand it. Almost every one of B’Tselem’s reports should have been published in the Israeli media, and almost all of them are thrown into the garbage by most of the media.

The sights seen in the B’Tselem mirror are ugly, and so Israel covers its eyes. But until now B’Tselem had not been persecuted and its people, the Jews among them, worked freely. Even the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin wanted a country without B’Tselem (and without the High Court of Justice), but he never acted to bring that about.

Present-day Israel not only wants a country without B’Tselem, it is working to bring that about. Former Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman called the commanders of the Israel Defense Forces, which is quite a brutal army of occupation, “Peace Now.” Clearly he would have fired most of them if he could have. If the right-wing government has another term, steps will be taken.

The interior minister is already working to disqualify the lawfully elected deputy mayor of Haifa merely because of his opinions. The public security minister finds his only comfort, in light of his embarrassing series of failures, in persecuting human rights activists. The traffic police revoke the driver’s license of a left-wing activist solely because of his opinions, as the court determined in the case of Guy Hirschfeld; Ben-Gurion international airport deports tourists just because of their opinions. Without the frog realizing it, the water it’s cooking in is getting gradually hotter and its fate is known.

The great persecution has begun, slowly and with no one to hinder it. The methods will be copied from those used against the Palestinians. Those worked well. Next in line are the Palestinian Israelis and after them the Jewish leftists. Wait for the arrests. No one will stop them.

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