In Israel, Persecuting the Messenger

Next week two initiatives will be launched in the Knesset aimed at silencing opponents of the occupation

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem, Sunday, Oct. 15, 2017.
Abir Sultan/AP

Next week two initiatives will be launched in the Knesset aimed at silencing opponents of the occupation. One is to establish a parliamentary committee of inquiry to look into the funding that foreign countries provide non-governmental organizations that work “against Israel Defense Force soldiers.” The second would add a provision to the new “NGO Law” that the coalition is advancing that would allow the state to shut down NGOs that, in the words of Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, works to “have IDF soldiers tried under international law.”

These bills, which are aimed at left-wing organizations in general and against Breaking the Silence in particular, are an additional stage in the campaign of incitement that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his government are leading in an effort to portray the left as a dangerous domestic enemy. Netanyahu wasn’t ashamed to justify the establishment of the parliamentary committee through a despicable comparison with the U.S. Congressional committee that is investigating Russian involvement in the American presidential election.

The Knesset’s legal adviser, Eyal Yinon, has determined that, as he put it: “The Knesset does not have authority to establish a committee of inquiry on such a subject, or any committee of inquiry involving the ideological investigation of civil society entities in Israel on the right or the left.” But the heavy-handed government coalition is attempting a legal manipulation that would allow it to give these initiatives the cover of principle that would stand up in the High Court of Justice, and at the same time only harm left-wing organizations.

The person seeking to put such political persecution into practice is Minister Levin, who made it a matter of principle that “anyone whose activity is liable to bring about the trial of an IDF soldier under international law or similar acts would have the activity prohibited.” How ironic that it is none other than the State of Israel which fits such a criterion – because its insistence on continuing the occupation is liable to result in the trial of soldiers under international law.

This is a transparent, hopeless attempt “to shoot the messenger.” Instead of dealing with violations of human rights and the laws of war in the territories, the Knesset is deliberating over left-wing organizations and whether it is legitimate for them also to operate abroad. Instead of dealing with the injustices of the occupation, the Knesset is dealing with the question of funding by foreign countries. In the process, the Knesset and the cabinet are adding insult to injury, writing another shameful chapter in the annals of the country and its laws.

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