Are Israeli Human Rights Groups Terror Organizations?

'We have the opportunity to show the world that the State of Israel defends democracy yet is proud, sane and normal,' says Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov.

Tomorrow the Knesset is expected to vote on the proposal by MKs Fania Kirshenbaum (Yisrael Beiteinu ) and Danny Danon (Likud ) to set up an investigatory committee to examine human rights groups' funding sources. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said last week he's against the proposal, and the governing coalition is expected to allow its members to vote their consciences. Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov, also of Yisrael Beiteinu, is working to advance his party's proposal, in addition to a series of proposals linking loyalty to the country with citizenship.

Stas Misezhnikov, the head of your party, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, has defined Israeli human rights groups as terror organizations. Do you believe that they are terror organizations?

Stas Misezhnikov - Michal Fattal - July 2011
Michal Fattal

I think some of them may well be defined this way, but I don't think all of them are. This fact doesn't prevent them from delegitimizing the State of Israel. Some of them initiated the Goldstone report, in which IDF soldiers defending the homeland were equated with Hamas terrorists.

As a result of actions by such organizations, [Israeli] politicians are being boycotted and can't enter certain countries; for example, [Kadima chairwoman] Tzipi Livni. To me it's strange that Livni doesn't support the establishment of a committee to investigate these groups, just for this reason. There is no doubt that these organizations hide their true faces under the mask of human rights.

All we're asking is to clarify the source of the contributions, which subsidize [the organizations] and give them the opportunity to broadly delegitimize the State of Israel, through an investigatory committee that will not have the power to judge or punish. Some of these groups continue to this day to relay the ID numbers of officers and soldiers to foreign bodies, marking them as having taken part in anti-terror actions.

Doesn't the fact that the committee would be one-sided and include only right-wing representatives turn its activities into political witch hunts?

We don't see these groups as left-wing organizations. We're not talking about a right-wing action against the left wing. [For example], we're against an investigation of the Peace Now movement. Peace Now is a political group that formed a long time ago and has a political agenda. It has the right to express its opinion.

We're talking about associations or groups defined as human rights groups that delegitimize the State of Israel. We're talking about groups such as Adalah [The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel] or Breaking the Silence [a group of army veterans who report on the Israeli army's influence on Palestinian life in the occupied territories]. Breaking the Silence is the group that relays soldiers' ID numbers to prevent them from entering various countries, or so that they will be subject to sanctions from the International Criminal Court in the Hague. We're trying to make the public aware of this subject as a matter of existential importance to the self-defense of democracy.

If the proposal is so fair, why has the prime minister himself announced that he will oppose it?

It's strange to me that the prime minister opposes the proposal to establish an investigatory committee, and I'll explain why. Until a few years ago, we in Yisrael Beiteinu shouted that there were several really bizarre things in Israel that had to be remedied to return the country to sanity and normality.

We asked how a former MK, who fled an investigation, could still be receiving a Knesset pension. We asked how family members of terrorists with Israeli citizenship could continue to receive government welfare stipends. We asked how bodies such as municipalities could recognize the right [to observe] the Nakba and still receive government funding. When we said all these things, we were branded as odd. But these three examples have been corrected in the Knesset by a large majority of the current coalition. Today everyone speaks like this and agrees that these ideas must be destroyed at the roots. We were the leaders of this line.

Perhaps Netanyahu is sacrificing Yisrael Beiteinu and the initiators of "loyalty = citizenship" in order to justify the Boycott Law in the eyes of the world?

I don't think Netanyahu is sacrificing Yisrael Beiteinu. We have a very stable coalition right now. We have a golden opportunity not to go back many years and remove the right wing from the coalition. It's stable because its members try to maintain balance and coalition discipline. There is always a concern that if discipline is broken, such acts will snowball. Yisrael Beiteinu is a loyal partner that also votes for things it doesn't like b ecause of coalition discipline. So we expect that the coalition will support the proposal.

Since Netanyahu said he will oppose the proposal, as have other ministers, and MKs will be able to vote their consciences, it may be assumed that the proposal has only a slim chance of passing. Why bring it to a vote now?

A situation may develop in which the proposal is not passed. But if not, we plan to present it immediately for another vote. We think the establishment of the committee is vital to the defense of the State of Israel. This is our agenda. MKs who earlier called our messages bizarre are now reciting them like a mantra. I imagine that if the coalition allows members to vote their consciences, some will vote against and some will absent themselves from the hall during the vote, as is customary in these parts.

If so, what will you have gained by losing the vote?

We will demand that people vote by name; we want to understand what stands behind the opposition to our proposal and who opposes it. Why do the same people who supported the Boycott Law today oppose the establishment of an investigatory committee that is good for social cohesion in Israel? And in this way the leadership will not abandon its soldiers and officers.

Could you try to explain to those who are against a parliamentary committee why it's not problematic? Why should MKs support the setting up of a committee?

There's no room to consider how to vote on Wednesday. Everyone must vote to establish an investigatory committee that will examine the granting of contributions to these groups. We have an opportunity for social cohesion and to send a message about our national strength. We have the opportunity to show the world that the State of Israel defends democracy yet is proud, sane and normal. We will not allow a fifth column to destroy it from within.

On the other hand, [such a vote] also sends a message of social unity to all those who were boycotted yesterday and who may be boycotted tomorrow. The social message is extremely important - that there are different opinions in Israel, but we are one society facing those who try to delegitimate us.

Aren't you worried about the implications of the establishment of an investigatory committee for Israel's image in the world?

I don't think there's a problem there. The escalation in the world's approach to us followed a very hot debate within Israeli society. We ourselves lit the fire. We don't interest the people who live there so much. They don't get up in the morning and run immediately to the television to see what Israel is doing. But when a hot debate starts here, we start to flog ourselves; we invite criticism from abroad.