Patriotism Sans Borders

The state prosecution need be reminded something they have forgotten: Israeli human rights organizations promote the interests of the state and enhance its image in the world.

This is actually an article that should never have had to be written. It is a reminder that Israeli human rights organizations promote the interests of the state and enhance its image in the world. One would think that such a thing would need no reminder. This week, however, a lawyer for the state prosecution seems to have forgotten what they presumably taught her in law school.

The lawyer in question is Nira Mashriki, billed as a "senior assistant to the Tel Aviv state prosecutor (civilian affairs)." About two weeks ago, attorney Mashriki wrote to the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court in the matter of an East Jerusalem resident who is seeking access to protocols that he hopes will help him in a damage suit against the Shin Bet security service. The man has received assistance from HaMoked: Center for the Defense of the Individual, which works together with B'Tselem. Both are well-known Israeli human rights organizations.

Not true, Mashriki wrote the court. "HaMoked does not devote itself to 'defending human rights' as it claims, but to defending the rights of Palestinians only."

According to Mashriki, HaMoked is financed by overseas organizations "whose interests differ from those of the State of Israel and sometimes clash with them."

B'Tselem, she writes, publishes newsletters that "besmirch the State of Israel and its security forces, and harm its reputation around the world."

Human rights are anchored in humanistic values that are valid everywhere, and are recognized by international law. Every human being and every society should have an interest in protecting these rights, in the name of public well-being. Those who do so are not harming their country but helping it. This is patriotism without borders. Apparently, Mashriki doesn't know about such things - and she is not alone.

Passengers on Israel's national carrier, El Al, for example, are indoctrinated with an educational warning as they board the plane that sounds as if it were taken from a Bolshevik poster. While they are overseas, Israelis must be "ambassadors" for the country and represent "us" honorably. If Mashriki made the rules, maybe passengers would be asked to sign a paper promising not to tell anyone that Israel continues to systematically violate the human rights of the Palestinians, as the U.S. State Department disclosed this week in its annual report on human rights practices.

This report might have engendered more respect if it were not written in the name of a country that maintains a concentration camp at Guantenamo Bay and other torture centers around the world. Nevertheless, it illustrates that human rights in every country need outside protection, and the best way of providing this is through private organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, as well as through the global media.

It doesn't take much to refute the claim that Israeli human rights organizations are damaging Israel's overseas reputation. The very opposite is true: Along with a handful of Israeli lawyers, they are saving the last vestiges of Israel's good name. Hamoked, which has handled some 50,000 cases to date, receives contributions from countries that regard themselves as friends of Israel. Other funding comes from well-known philanthropic organizations like the Ford Foundation and the New Israel Fund. Much of the harm to Israel's image is done by the state itself, in its sheltering of Israeli army officers summoned to court in a number of law-abiding countries to stand trial for crimes related to the occupation.

Mashriki's argument that Hamoked and B'Tselem do not defend human rights, but only the rights of Palestinians, is appalling and frightening. In her view, either the Palestinians do not fall under the category of persons entitled to human rights, or they are not human beings.

The State Prosecutor's Office has meanwhile dissociated itself from Mashriki's remarks, and would do well to let her go altogether. Don't worry. She can always find a job writing an instruction manual for El Al passengers.