Bill will keep Palestinians ‘in cellars of military dictatorship’
The anti-democratic initiatives only strengthen our resolve
Last week the government proposed two bills to limit foreign government funding to organizations like B’Tselem. The Prime Minister has frozen these proposals for the time-being, however they are part of a broader attack on democratic institutions in Israel, like the High Court and the press, and on critics of current government policy.
We are working together with partner organizations to ensure that these bills do not become law. At the same time, we refuse to allow these initiatives to distract us from our work. In fact, I see this precisely as their goal: to silence criticism, whether by actually passing legislation that obstructs our work, or at a minimum by forcing us to divert precious resources in order to defend ourselves from these initiatives.
In response, we have redoubled our efforts to promote human rights in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. This month, our priority is to prevent the forced relocation of some 2,300 people living in communities around the Ma’ale Adumim settlement. We are also expanding our outreach to the Israeli public, through the launch of our Hebrew Facebook page, and regular publication of opinion pieces in the Israeli press, such as this piece last week on Hebron.
Government watchdogs like B’Tselem are an important part of any democratic society. I am proud of B’Tselem’s work to make Israel a more just and equitable society. The media and public attention generated by the Knesset initiatives provide us a valuable opportunity to reinforce this message.
Some members of the government are trying to make it suspect to support B’Tselem. They argue that support from abroad to groups like B’Tselem is akin to interfering in domestic political affairs. In fact, virtually every institution in Israel is dependent on donations from abroad, including donations from foreign governments. European Union support to human rights organizations, for example, constitutes just one percent of the EU’s total grants to Israel. I see it as a badge of honor that individuals, institutions and governments around the world support our work to ensure that all Israelis and Palestinians can live in dignity and in full realization of their rights.
I call on all those who share our commitment to human rights and want to ensure the health and vibrancy of the Israeli democracy to speak up now and help us stop these efforts to stifle Israeli civil society. I have full confidence that, working together, champions of democracy both inside Israel and around the world will overcome these dangerous initiatives.
We must not dismiss the NGO Bill – it truly intends to create a democracy for Jews only; if it were passed, no Arab – whether resident of the territories or Israeli citizen – would have access to the law.
By Yitzhak Laor, Haaretz
The NGO culture is part of globalization: Money flows from financial centers to all kinds of corners, in a mixture of philanthropy and business, idealism and cynicism. The left is being destroyed by this culture, which dictates a rupture between the community in whose name it acts and its coterie of professional activists, whose funding comes from abroad.
The separation between the professional activists and the grass-roots kind and the need to show donors a “return” on their money have given rise to all kinds of fake activity – demonstrations whose participants are activists in or employees of “neighboring” nongovernmental organizations, or, alternatively, free-of-charge “mass” Internet petitions, which no one reads except the signatories (in place of the old-fashioned method – signing people on a petition to the newspaper that involved real communication and raising money from the signatories; in short, genuine political activity ).
The culture of “Europe will pay” has also intensified a kind of nihilism on the left. For instance, from time to time, the Zochrot organization used to put out a journal, Sedek, which was extremely extravagant in its use of color plates. Aside from its political material, it consisted mainly of colorful (and apolitical ) plastic art, thanks to “generous funding,” in the journal’s words, from a Danish organization for… eradicating hunger.
This is also the background to the rise of the executive director, who is chosen via a “human rights” tender. Today, it’s refusing to serve in the army; tomorrow, it’s torture; but it’s all part of the same status quo. That is equally true of the “campaign managers,” aka “media experts” – which means they have a lot of numbers in their cell phone’s memory.
But the epitome is the use of journalists in place of grass-roots activity in the streets. Success is measured by being “mentioned on television” – a reflection of the world of advertising.
Peace Now provides an excellent example of this transformation from a mass political movement into an NGO focused on monitoring: Instead of grass-roots activity, it monitors settlement expansion (though this is important ). This is one of the reasons for the right’s success. The government does as it pleases, while opposition from the left is becoming commercialized, because the left has too many NGOs (to obtain more and more donations ). It has a lot of generals and very few soldiers.
Why nevertheless is the government attending to these NGOs? Because the most important of them represent the Palestinian people in the cellars of the military dictatorship.
B’Tselem is the most noteworthy of these NGOs. It tries to represent the occupied population, which has been without representation during almost 45 years of occupation, against the jackboots. Other NGOs try to find breaches in the law, and, in addition to mobilizing public opinion, take them to the High Court of Justice (which has proven to be a broken reed as far as the territories are concerned ). This is the only representation the Palestinians have in Israeli politics, in which, ostensibly, all are represented, since it is democratic.
This is also the context in which one must view the so-called NGO Bill: It isn’t necessarily an attempt to suppress the left, but rather an attempt to eliminate representation for residents of the territories. And that is why bills to change the composition of the High Court have flowed in the wake of this legislation: Because the destroyers of the constitutional court aren’t concerned over its ethnic make-up, but over the manner in which, on rare occasions, it defends the Palestinians, thanks to B’Tselem, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, Yesh Din or the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel. It’s a kind of broken telephone amid the lawlessness that the Palestinians inhabit, in the absence of the rule of law.
Nor does the work of destruction stop there. In the current fight over various bills relating to the High Court, both sides have tended to forget the most important fact of all: Israel has no constitution that would impede the tyranny of the majority.
It has no constitution because the state continues to deny its Arab citizens equality before the law. They, unlike residents of the territories, can expect help from the High Court from time to time. Yet, ever since the 1995 Katzir ruling, which for the first time told this state without a constitution that communities for Jews only are unconstitutional – or in other words, that apartheid is illegal – the war on this ruling has gathered speed, first in academia, then in the cabinet and Knesset.
Therefore, we must not dismiss the NGO Bill, even if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has reportedly come to his senses and opposed it. This bill truly intends to create a democracy for Jews only. If it were passed, no Arab – whether resident of the territories or Israeli citizen – would have access to the law.
And, therefore, we also shouldn’t make light of the drowning of Begin-style liberalism in the Likud. The goalposts of the right-wing torrent will continue to move. Its horizon also includes annexing the territories; it even has a vision of denying Arab citizens the right to vote in Israel. And at the entrance to this hell – if not beneath it – Meir Kahane and Avigdor Lieberman are waiting.