Don't Mess With Our Occupation

Recent proposed legislation is not intended to fight Israel’s delegitimization in the world, but rather to silence those who object to the government.

MK Bezalel Smotrich at the Knesset, December 2016.
MK Bezalel Smotrich at the Knesset, December 2016. Emil Salman

Israel’s government took its struggle against the imaginary enemy known as “human rights organizations” up a notch this week. This time the Ministerial Legislation Committee passed a bill in the cabinet calling to deny tax breaks on contributions to groups that “act against the state.” These acts include calling for a boycott of Israel (as well as a boycott of the settlements), and corroborating allegations that the state or its soldiers are involved in war crimes.

This proposal is a continuation of endless other legislative initiatives on the Knesset’s agenda, like taking steps against academic institutions if any of their members call for a boycott of the occupied territories; forbidding volunteers to do national service in organizations that receive foreign funding; banning organizations the education minister doesn’t like from entering schools; attempting to tax left­-wing NGOs on freedom of information requests, etc.

Groups or bodies that criticize the government’s policy are subjected to ongoing harassment. For example, the Jerusalem mayor last month decided to shutter the Barbur Gallery in the city because it planned to host an event by Breaking the Silence, an Israeli veterans anti-occupation group, after the culture minister asked the mayor to prevent the event from taking place.

These proposals reflect a deep fear of anyone wishing to criticize the government and its policy, and sometimes even those unconnected to anything of the sort. Last week’s proposal, for example, would deny tax benefits from organizations that don’t deal with Israelis or Diaspora Jews. This could seriously harm groups that work for foreign workers, asylum seekers or even refugees from Syria.

Only a profound moral rot can explain such a stupid attempt to strike at organizations working for the most underprivileged groups, who are most in need of assistance.

When the so-called NGO Law, officially named the Transparency Law, passed in the Knesset last summer, its sponsor, the justice minister, said it was about bringing to light information about NGOs funded by foreign states. But in fact the law targets left-wing and human rights organizations and intends to brand and shame them. Now that the government has marked the “traitors” and “enemies of the state,” it has begun shooting the arrows.

All these proposals are not intended to fight Israel’s delegitimization in the world, but rather to silence those who object to the government. It’s a government that cannot tolerate criticism or deal with the existence of non-consensual opinions. It’s a government that wants to protect its occupation policy and crush democracy without anyone getting in its way.

The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.