The representative of a notorious right-wing settler group which campaigns for the demolition of Palestinian villages has been re-invited to London to promote the construction of illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank. The settlements are intended to block the possibility of a future Palestinian state.
Naomi Linder Kahn is the director of the International Division of Regavim, an organisation which claims to advance the cause of peace while “upholding the basic principles of Zionism, protecting Israel’s lands and national resources,” all at the expense of the lives of Palestinian and Bedouin families. Even Britain’s pro-Israel Jewish Chronicle has called Kahn a “controversial speaker”.
She has been invited by a lobby group called UK Lawyers for Israel (UKLfI) to speak at an event in north London on 1 December. The group cancelled a similar programme in August in the face of protests by Jewish and pro-Palestine groups. UKLfI is clearly concerned about possible disruption to the re-arranged programme; reports have surfaced of people being emailed by officials to be asked where they heard about the event. Others have had tickets cancelled and fees refunded with no explanation. It is all very sinister.
While UKLfI claims that it is “not aligned with any particular political viewpoint or party in the UK or Israel,” its actions demonstrate that it is anything but a neutral organisation. It is regarded as “one of the quietest yet most influential Israel lobby actors currently operating in Britain.” Since 2011, it has closely monitored Palestine solidarity movements and worked to repress them, often with significant impact. Its targets include academics, local councils, charities and others which are either critical of Israel or provide essential humanitarian aid to Palestinians.
It is no surprise to anyone that UKLfI describes Regavim as an “Israeli research-based think tank and lobbying group”, when the reality is very different. Regavim is, in fact, an aggressive opponent of Palestinian self-determination which lobbies for the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from the occupied West Bank. Pro-Palestine campaigners in Britain believe that its activities should make Kahn and Regavim unwelcome in the UK for the organisation’s clear violations of and contempt for international law.
As one of the most extreme right-wing groups in Israel today, Regavim presses the government to demolish Palestinian-owned homes and businesses, usually on the spurious grounds that they have been built without a permit from the occupation authorities. Such permits are almost never granted to Palestinians. Settlements which are illegal under international law, meanwhile, are built on occupied land for the benefit of Jews only.
In the past few weeks alone, thanks to Regavim’s lobbying, 80 Palestinians, including 41 children, have been displaced, and the livelihoods of 216 others have been damaged.
Kahn is perhaps best known for seeking the expulsion of the residents of Khan Al-Ahmar, who have lived there since their original displacement by the Israeli army in 1967. According to Kahn, “The village is an illegal outpost built on land which belongs to the State of Israel; and the state is not required by law to provide compensation for the inhabitants but is doing so nonetheless.” Human rights groups have described Khan Al-Ahmar’s predicament as a “war crime”.
Despite its claim to be upholding the law, Regavim is selective about which law. Some Jewish settler “outposts” are also illegal under Israeli law, not just international law, but Regavim has never filed a petition against one built without a permit. This is revealing; the organisation is clearly not intent on upholding Israeli law in the occupied Palestinian territories, but simply wants to destroy and displace Palestinian communities whose only “crime” is that they are not Jews.
A member of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), which monitors Israeli violations in the occupied Palestinian territories, has pointed out that: “Villages targeted by Regavim live with the constant fear of their homes and livelihoods being destroyed. This is not a charity ensuring that the law is upheld; this is a racist group dedicated to the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from their land.”
Established in 2006, Regavim’s co-founder Bezalel Smotrich belongs to the Union of Right Wing Parties and was elected to the Israeli parliament this year. He gained notoriety for encouraging Israeli soldiers to shoot 17-year-old activist Ahed Tamimi, and insisting that the Duma arson attack in which three members of a Palestinian family were killed was not terrorism. Saying otherwise, he claimed, does “mortal and unjustified harm to human and civil rights.” For him, such rights are only intended for Israeli Jews, not even Arab Israeli citizens.
In her article “The European Union: Nurturing Instability and Terrorism in the Middle East”, Naomi Linder Kahn expressed her warped thinking regarding the EU’s support for Palestinians by claiming that all EU-funded construction, agricultural and infrastructure projects in Area C are designed to establish “territorial contiguity for the Palestinian Authority presence, in an attempt to preclude the possibility of annexation or development of these areas by Israel in the future.” Annexation of land gained through war and settling the state’s own population on such land is a war crime. If Kahn cares about the law, why should she be worried about anything which blocks Israeli annexation of Palestinian land?
British journalist and activist Ben White points out that Regavim’s parliamentary advocacy campaigns are “shaped by an anti-Palestinian racism that echoes the rhetoric of the European and North American far-right.”
Given that the US has announced that it no longer considers Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank to be “inconsistent” with international law, the timing of Kahn’s programme in London is fortuitous for settler groups. What is strange, though, is that a group purporting to represent “UK lawyers” should be so keen to promote an organisation which not only has no respect for the law but also breaks it so regularly.
The extreme human rights violations to which Regavim subjects marginalised Palestinians, allegedly because they pose a threat to Israel, do not make it the kind of organisation which Britain should be welcoming. UK Lawyers for Israel claims that this is a “free speech” issue. It is nothing of the kind. Any group which is complicit in war crimes and crimes against humanity is not welcome in Britain. For that reason alone, the UKLfI-Regavim event in London on 1 December should be opposed.
Update: This article was updated at 18.22 GMT on 27 November 2019 – in the 3rd paragraph, it was previously mentioned that officials ‘called’ registrants to ask where they heard about the event.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.