The events come one after another: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in his first official meeting with his British counterpart, Theresa May, calls for Britain to stop funding Breaking the Silence, which her government does not even fund. Netanyahu orders a reprimand of Belgium’s ambassador to Israel because Prime Minister Charles Michel dared to meet with representatives of Breaking the Silence and B’Tselem in Jerusalem. A Jerusalem art gallery, Barbur, was closed by the city because it dared to host an event with representatives of Breaking the Silence; and Jennifer Gorovitz, a vice president of the New Israel Fund, was delayed for questioning at Ben-Gurion International Airport, where she was mocked and insulted.
This bevy of reports from the past few days seems more appropriate to the annals of a dark regime than a state whose democratic pretensions are an avowed international asset. Each incident reflects the current zeitgeist: complete intolerance for alternative organizations and viewpoints, a witch hunt after anything that looks like an opposing idea, a smear campaign against legitimate groups and the pursuit of opponents of the regime and dissidents, just as in tyrannical regimes.
Britain has the right — the duty, even — to donate to human-rights organizations throughout the world, including ones that fight against the Israeli occupation. Belgium’s prime minister may meet with any Israeli figure he chooses. A Jerusalem gallery can hold as many political seminars as it desires. A vice president of the New Israel Fund is a welcome guest in Israel, and her plans here are not the business of the authorities.
Furthermore, B’Tselem and Breaking the Silence are not only legitimate organizations, they should be a source of pride for Israel. They help Israel to retain the shreds of its international image. Without them, Israel would be worse and would look worse.
These fundamental truths, the acid test for any democracy, have been blurred and distorted beyond recognition since the right came to power. Human-rights organizations have been turned into enemies of the state, and foreign leaders who do not accept the Israeli occupation have been turned into haters of Israel.
Israel is increasingly isolating itself from its critics abroad and opponents of the regime at home, and the house is growing ever-darker.
The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.