Seeks Ways to Silence Human Rights Groups Israel
First Goal is to Stop Gaza War Crimes Revelations
In a bid to staunch the flow of damaging evidence of war crimes committed during
It has begun by targeting one of the world’s leading rights organisations, the US-based Human Rights Watch (HRW), as well as a local group of dissident army veterans, Breaking the Silence, which last month published the testimonies of 26 combat soldiers who served in Gaza.
Additionally, according to the Israeli media, the government is planning a “much more aggressive stance” towards human rights groups working to help the Palestinians.
Officials have questioned the sources of funding received by the organisations and threatened legislation to ban support from foreign governments, particularly in
Breaking the Silence and other Israeli activists have responded by accusing the government of a “witch hunt” designed to intimidate them and starve them of the funds needed to pursue their investigations.
“This is a very dangerous step,” said Mikhael Mannekin, one of the directors of Breaking the Silence. “
The campaign is reported to be the brainchild of the far-right foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, currently facing corruption charges, but has the backing of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Early last month, Mr Lieberman used a press conference to accuse non-government organisations, or NGOs, of replacing diplomats in setting the international community’s agenda in relation to
A week later, Mr Netanyahu’s office weighed in against Human Rights Watch, heavily criticising the organisation for its recent fund-raising activities in
HRW has pointed out that it only accepts private donations, and has not accepted Saudi government funds, but Israeli officials say all Saudi money is tainted and will compromise HRW’s impartiality as a human rights watchdog in its treatment of
“A human rights organisation raising money in Saudi Arabia is like a women’s rights group asking the Taliban for a donation,” Mark Regev, a government spokesman, told the right-wing Israeli daily newspaper the Jerusalem Post.
HRW recently published reports arguing that the Israeli army had committed war crimes in Gaza, including the use of white phosphorus and attacking civilian targets.
HRW is now facing concerted pressure from Jewish lobby groups and from leading Jewish journalists in the
Last week the foreign ministry complained to British, Dutch and Spanish diplomats about their support for Breaking the Silence.
The testimonies collected from soldiers suggested the Israeli army had committed many war crimes in
The Dutch government paid nearly 20,000 euros to the group to compile its
Israeli officials are reported to be discussing ways either to make it illegal for foreign governments to fund “political” organisations in
“Just as it would be unacceptable for European governments to support anti-war NGOs in the US, it is unacceptable for the Europeans to support local NGOs opposed to the policies of Israel’s democratically elected government,” said Ron Dermer, a senior official in Mr Netanyahu’s office.
He added that many of the groups were “working to delegitimise the Jewish state”.
Jeff Halper, the head of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, said the government’s position was opposed to decades-old developments in human rights monitoring.
“Every dictator, from Hitler to Milosevic, has said that there must be no interference in their sovereign affairs, and that everyone else should butt out. But international law says human rights are universal and cannot be left to individual governments to interpret. The idea behind the
Mr Halper, whose organisation last year received 80,000 euros from Spain to rebuild demolished Palestinian homes, was arrested last year for sailing to
Other groups reported to be in the foreign ministry’s sights are: B’Tselem, whose activities include providing Palestinians with cameras to record abuses by settlers and the army; Peace Now, which monitors settlement building; Machsom Watch, whose activists observe soldiers at the checkpoints; and Physicians for Human Rights, which has recently examined doctors’ complicity in torture.
The government’s new approach mirrors a long-running campaign against leftwing and Arab human rights groups inside
NGO Monitor has also targeted international organisations such as Oxfam and Amnesty, but has shown a particular obsession with HRW. Mr Steinberg recently boasted that HRW’s trip to
In an article in the Jerusalem Post on Sunday, Mr Steinberg claimed that European governments treated their funding of Israeli human rights organisations “as ‘top secret’, reflecting the realization that such activities lack legitimacy”.
Mr Mannekin said the Breaking the Silence report listed donors on the first page. “We are far more transparent than NGO Monitor. We don’t know who funds them.”
NGO Monitor, which according to its website is chiefly funded by the shadowy Wechsler Family Foundation in the US, is closely linked to Dore Gold, a hawkish former adviser to Ariel
Mr Mannekin added: “The government cannot suppress information about what happened in
The government’s current campaign follows a police raid on the homes of six Israeli women peace activists in April.
The women, all members of New Profile, a feminist organisation that opposes the militarisation of Israeli society, were arrested and accused of helping Israeli youngsters to evade the draft. The women are still waiting to learn whether they will be prosecuted.
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"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs