Like a bolshie child Israel does not take criticism well. However, unlike a child, Israel does not just stamp its foot and pout when someone criticises it but instead, in order to silence its critics, it arrests those who speak out; places gagging orders on the media; shuts down and bans human rights organisations; and appeals to international institutions and governments worldwide to do the same.
Bill targeting human rights organisations and civil liberties bodies in Israel
If a hallmark of a healthy democracy is freedom of speech, then Israel (which I do not accept is a true democracy in any event) is ill, and critically so. Israel has never been one to take criticism well but recently its refusal to admit itself to public scrutiny has reached new heights and it has succumbed to new levels of paranoia. One of the latest despotic initiatives being employed in Israel to silence its critics is the bill passed through the Israeli Knesset on Monday 5th January (approved by 47 to 16 votes) calling for a parliamentary enquiry "to examine the activities of Israeli organizations involved with the collection of information about soldiers and follow their funding sources". This includes investigating any Israeli NGO and charity that monitors Israel's military activities in the Occupied West Bank, including well established organisations such as B'Tselem, Physicians for Human Rights in Israel and The Association for Civil Rights in Israel.
This bill was put forward by the right wing Yisrael Beiteinu party, a group led by Israel's Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. I suppose we should not be particularly surprised that Avigdor Lieberman does not want NGOs looking into Israel's breaches of international law in the West Bank considering the fact that he himself lives in the occupied territories (in breach of Geneva Convention Article 49)i and furthermore lives in an Israeli settlement (also illegal under international law) and would, presumably, like immunity from public scrutiny. As such, it does not seem cynical to say that Lieberman is using his political clout to disempower NGOs, in part, in order to provide cover for his own nefarious activities. (Hardly surprising that an ex-nightclub bouncer from Moldova would think that it is OK to use his political clout and muscle to silence his critics.)
Instead of facing up to the reality that maybe Israel is being criticised by human rights organisations because it is in constant violation of international humanitarian law, Israel tries to turn the tables and insists that groups which cast such outrageous aspersions must be funded by Arab terrorists! A clear demonstration of this form of paranoia is Lieberman's recent claim that Israeli groups who provided information to the United Nations Goldstone Commission are "net collaborators with terror whose goal is to harm the IDF."
The concerns raised by civil liberty groups over this bill are not because they have anything to hide. B'Tselem for instance, immediately issued a statement which said, "We are proud of our work to promote human rights in the Occupied Territories, which is conducted legally and with complete transparency. Persecution and attempts at silencing will not stop us. In a democracy, criticism of the government is not only legitimate – it is essential." The concern is that this bill is a slippery slope towards an erosion of democratic values and a guise under which to slowly ban all organisations that are critical of the Zionist agenda, no matter how legitimate their concerns.
A small minority of Knesset members have expressed their opposition to this bill. Minister Dan Meridor, for instance, has stated that "the idea that MKs should examine bodies that have different opinions is extremely dangerous… MKs should not be part of a political commission of enquiry." Even Tzipi Livni (current leader of the Opposition Kadmina Party) referred to what is happening under the Netanyahu government, including the passing of this bill, by saying that "an evil spirit has been sweeping over the country". Now, if a person of Livni's warmongering, criminal disrepute refers to an Israeli policy or wave of policies as evil, surely it must be!
This Israeli crackdown on human rights organisations and charities is nothing new. Civil Liberties groups frequently have their offices raided and their members arrested but the targeting of them does seem to be intensifying. In its latest move, Israel has "blacklisted 163 foreign charities suspected of supporting terrorism". This includes Interpal, a leading British charity providing relief and aid to Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza and refugee camps in neighbouring countries. Now, while Israel has banned Interpal, and will arrest any activists belonging to the organisation who risk travelling to or working in the country, Israel has failed to make any credible link between the charity and terrorism of any kind. That is why they are a registered charity in the UK and approved as such by the British Charity Commission. It is clear, therefore, that Israel's concept of links to terrorism is far removed from what the British authorities would consider them to be.
Israel clearly considers itself above reproach and beyond censure in what some have referred to as the Exceptionalism of Zionism. In the last week, following the Israeli destruction of the historic Shepherd hotel in Sheikh Jarrah (in occupied East Jerusalem) the European Union expressed concern over this blatant violation of international law and called for the deployment of international monitors to the area; a very reasonable call which Israel immediately rejected.
Critics of Israel to be banned from entering the country
Compounding this atmosphere of repression, tyranny and potentially attempted censorship is another bill which is being supported by Likud party Knesset member Yariv Levin (in collaboration with the Legal Forum for the Land of Israel). This bill, which has yet to be presented to the Knesset, would bar anyone from Israel who tarnishes the image of Israel by even expressing a simple verbal criticism of the state. They are not just suggesting, as may be reasonable, banning those who incite violence against Israel, but they are talking about banning anyone who verbally criticises the state or anyone, anywhere around the world, who boycotts Israeli goods for instance!
One problem with this is that Israel is not just controlling who visits Israel (and the 1.5 million Palestinians who live within the state) but by extension they control who visits the Occupied Palestinian Territories as well. This means that if you are a Palestinian living thousands of miles away and dare to even speak out against Israel, you will never be allowed to visit your home and family again (even in those rare cases where such visits may be temporarily allowed).
The export of Israeli immunity to Europe
The Jewish Chronicle want attention deflected away from criticism of Israel
Criticism of the Guardian
In a way, what is even more disturbing than Israel's own paranoid need to be immune from censure within its own country is its export of similar efforts abroad. There has been a call for Europe too to initiate a parliamentary enquiry into NGO funding in terms of NGOs based in Europe who criticise Israel. In his Op-Ed piece for the Jewish Chronicle for example, Gerald Steinberg, the President of NGO Monitor, argues that "a parliamentary inquiry into abuses of NGO funding would be most useful in the European context, since this is the source of the money provided for lawfare, BDS and other forms of anti-Israel incitement." So Israel clearly is opposed to being monitored itself but is quite happy to pursue the monitoring of organisations that criticise it. Double standards?!
In the UK, the Jewish Chronicle (JC), which is the proud UK based mouthpiece for Israeli intransigence, recently targeted the Guardian Newspaper for its coverage of Israel over the last year. They whined that the Guardian website was "preoccupied with Israel". Counting the number of times Israel was written about they complained that "Israel was the sixth most written about country by the Guardian website in 2010". They lamented that in comparison "despite large scale ethnic violence in Kyrgyzstan last June, Guardian journalists offered only 82 stories related to the Central Asian country." What point is the JC trying to make? That Israel should not be the focus of newspaper articles?
To put into context why Israeli crimes might, and should, interest British readers more so than Kyrgyzstani crimes is that in addition to recently having been accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity by the UN Goldstone report, Israel is one of the largest recipients of financial and military aid from our mutual ally America; Palestine is a former British mandate; Israel is one of the largest trading partners of the European Union; Israel is a signatory to the EU Trade Association along with its Human Rights clauses which obliges us to ensure that Israel complies with if it is to continue reaping the colossal advantages it currently receives as a result of EU trade. The list goes on and despite all of this the Jewish Chronicle would clearly rather that the Guardian focus on more trivial stories.
Jewish Chronicle criticism of Channel 4 – 4 Thought
In addition to this, the JC clearly wants to overstate the amount of outrage that exists in this country when someone criticises Israel. Channel 4 recently aired a short series of two minute videos of people discussing issues around Palestine and Israel. They reported that "Channel 4 has been criticised" for its "one sided" coverage of the issue. However, although it acknowledges that there were only "six complaints in total, three claiming the programmes were pro-Palestinian and the rest accusing them of being pro-Israel" they go on to quote those speakers who were said to be pro-Palestine without doing the same for those who were pro-Israel, despite an equal number of complaints being given about each. They quote Muslim hip-hop artist Kareem Dennis (aka Lowkey) who said, "I believe Israel is largely to blame for the lack of peace in the Middle East. Zionism in its essence is a supremacist ideology. It's definitely racist." This was a simple statement of fact. Anyone who knows anything about history or politics knows this to be true, most right-thinking Jewish people included. Lowkey, in fact, spoke much more sense and in a much less inflammatory manner than Roberta Moore who was far more outrageous in her comments. Ms Moore, who is ex-IDF and the current head of the Jewish division of the English Defence League (EDL), made far more provocative and disturbing statements and yet the JC did not bother to quote her. She claimed that the "West Bank should be returned to Israel and Gaza as well… Palestinians should go to Jordan." This means that Ms Moore is advocating, yet again, the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people, but in their millions this time. Yet no one seems to have picked up on that! Instead, the JC quoted from the three complaints made about the "pro-Palestinian" views including one which they had "demonised Israel".
This is all a part of the wider Zionist effort to highlight criticisms of Palestine and supress and hide criticisms of Israel. Zionists the world over are hovering over their keyboards ready to pounce on articles against Israeli policies and label those who speak out either as anti-Semitic or self-hating Jews. As part of their new war on those who "delegitimise" Israel they are targeting organisations and individuals worldwide. Charities now seem to be the flavour of the month for Israeli targeting. However, their efforts will come to nothing until they realise that it is not the charities, human rights activists and civil rights defenders who delegitimise Israel; Israel and its chosen policies delegitimise itself.
i "The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies."
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.