Renewed attacks on human rights groups in Israel
A campaign planned for Israeli Remembrance Day feeds a growing trend to delegitimize dissent in Israel
A new report and billboard campaign launched by Israeli group Im Tirtzu – the Second Zionist Revolution” accuses at least twelve Israeli human rights groups of support for or involvement in the indictment of Israeli officials for serious violations of international law in courts overseas, under the principle of ‘universal jurisdiction’ (see below).
Launched to coincide with Israeli Remembrance Day on 19 April, and Independence Day on 20 April, the campaign also accuses two grant-making bodies, the New Israel Fund (NIF) and the Ford Foundation, of complicity in these activities.
The report, of which 34 pages have been made available to JNews, was published Friday by reporter Ben Caspit of the Israeli daily Ma’ariv. (Both report and article are in Hebrew.)
Caspit covered the report largely sympathetically, although he objected to the blatant connection to Remembrance Day. According to his article:
“Im Tirtzu are keeping the grand finale of the campaign for Remembrance Day. It will feature a hard-hitting billboard: against the background of a wreath placed on the tomb of a fallen IDF soldier from operation ‘Cast Lead’, with a burning torch in the background, the following text will appear: ‘We salute, They persecute! New Israel Fund and Adalah: Subversives, we’ve had enough of you.’”
The chairperson of Im Tirtzu, Ronen Shoval, is quoted in the article as saying: “This research and its results made us feel sick. Every Hebrew mother should know that while her son stands guard, somewhere there is a lawyer connected to the NIF sitting and thinking how to turn him into a war criminal.”
The latter is a play on a famous quote by David Ben-Gurion, who said that every Hebrew (Jewish) mother should know that her son is in good hands in the army.
Caspit says that the NIF employs a “systematic pattern of action” and that it “establishes and sponsors dozens of radical anti-Zionist organizations.” He adds that the Im Tirtzu campaign aims to expose the “antithesis” to Remembrance Day: “Israelis who ask international courts to conduct ‘targeted assassinations’ against Israeli officers.”
The report points to Gaza-based rights group the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) as the prime mover in legal action against Israeli officials overseas in recent years. It then attempts to describe links between that organization and Israeli human rights groups, the NIF and the Ford Foundation.
The report mentions a plethora of Israeli organizations, including Gisha, Bimkom, Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, HaMoked, B’Tselem, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI), Yesh Din, MachsomWatch, Social TV, Zochrot, Coalition of Women for Peace (CWP), Adalah and Rabbis for Human Rights, but the accusations directed at them are rather broad.
Most of these organizations are castigated for maintaining ongoing relations with PCHR and other Palestinian organizations, exchanging human rights information with them and issuing joint statements against human rights violations. Social TV is also castigated for having organized public debates about the principle of universal jurisdiction.
The report also criticizes Israeli lawyer Michael Sfard (Yesh Din) and Ishai Menuhin (PCATI) for saying that if Israeli officials are not brought to justice in Israel, they should face charges abroad, while the feminist peace group Coalition of Women for Peace (CWP), is attacked for having issued a statement supporting indictment abroad of Israeli officials for crimes committed during the Gaza offensive (2009).
Menuhin is described as having promoted a war crimes case while he was a spokesperson for Israeli antimilitarist group Yesh Gvul, while human rights group Adalah – The Legal Centre for Arab Minority Rights in Israel – is targeted for having provided a legal opinion for one of the legal cases overseas.
The report also examines in detail the history and connections of Jamil Dakwar, a lawyer whose studies were previously funded by the NIF, and is now active in submitting war crimes cases against Israeli policymakers.
Financial relations between these organizations and the NIF, and between the Ford Foundation and the NIF, are also explored in detail.
The latest in a series of attacks on dissent
The report is the second in a series of reports by “Im Tirtzu.” An earlier report, covered by the same reporter in January, accused 16 Israeli organizations and the NIF of providing the UN team headed by Judge Richard Goldstone with much of the evidence it needed in order to describe Israeli human rights violations committed during Israel’s offensive on Gaza in the winter of 2008-2009.
The publication of the first report by this group was followed by a vitriolic public campaignagainst the NIF and the organizations it supports, played out in all major Israeli media outlets, as well as in a billboard campaignthat focused personally on NIF chairperson, former MK Professor Naomi Chazan.
The declared aim of the report and campaign was to expose the activities of Israeli human rights groups that criticize Israel in a manner that delegitimizes the country.
The first report cited an address to the Knesset by Prime Minister Netanyahu, who defined “the Goldstone threat” as “a codeword for an attempt to delegitimize Israel’s right to self defense” and as a strategic threat to the state of Israel.
In February, a proposed lawwas tabled in the Knesset, which, if passed, would require a host of Israeli civil society organizations to re-register as “political entities,” revoke their tax-exempt status and require them to declare any official foreign funding in all public appearances. The law passed a preliminary hearing with 58 MKs voting for and 11 against.
More recently, 23-year-old Israeli whistleblower Anat Kamm, who leaked classified documents on illegal military assassinations to Israeli journalist Uri Blau of Haaretz, has been indicted, amid explosive public debate – and after a prolonged gag order – for “serious espionage with intention of causing grave damage to state security.”
Some Israeli analysts surmise that the severity of the charges against Kamm stems from the fact that her evidence could serve as a basis for arrest warrants against senior military commanders overseas.
Shock in the human rights community in Israel
Israeli human rights organizations have expressed shock at what they call the latest stage in a campaign against dissent in Israel.
Director of Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, Hadas Ziv, pointed out that at no stage does the report attempt to refute or deny the factual allegations made in the war crimes cases overseas. “I would have been happy to see them try to refute the information, but this they cannot do,” she said. “Instead, they prefer to shoot the messenger, and while doing so they undermine our struggle for democratic values and human rights.”
Ziv added, “They think mothers are worried their sons will be prosecuted for war crimes, I say mothers are afraid their sons will be killed, or become war criminals. What better way to avoid this than respecting international law and striving for peace?”
Adalah has called the billboard campaign, slated to be posted in all major towns in Israel, “incitement.” The group’s director, Hassan Jabareen, added that “the campaign waged today against human rights organizations in Israel started after systematic attacks on the Supreme Court, and comes in parallel to attacks against journalists and freedom of the press. This political climate strengthens what Hannah Arendt said of the rise of totalitarianism: it starts when politics wishes to work outside of law and dissenting opinion.”
Eilat Ma’oz, Director of CWP, said: “The Im Tirzu report is a hysterical response to a rising tide of international demands for accountability.” She added that CWP’s appeal for protection of universal jurisdiction had been supported by 98 prominent feminist organizations worldwide, and added that “the silencing of dissident voices inside Israel merely highlights the need for international intervention to achieve justice.”
In recent years, human rights groups have examined the possibility of using the principle of universal jurisdiction in order to hold senior Israeli military and political figures to account for serious violations of human rights.
According to Israeli and Palestinian human rights groups, these attempts were made after years of legal action within the Israeli courts, which failed to bring about significant improvement in Israeli human rights practices in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, and resulted in an atmosphere of impunity among Israel’s security forces.
Israeli governments have responded by exerting political pressure on several countries, including Spainand the UK, to limit or change their laws regarding universal jurisdiction, in order to prevent arrests of Israelis in those countries.
This week, the Spanish Supreme Court shelveda probe of seven senior Israeli military commanders and policymakers regarding an air strike that killedHamas militant Salah Shehadeh together with 14 civilians in 2002. The probe was begun in 2009, after which Spain passed a bill to narrow the scope of its law on universal jurisdiction.
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