ACRI’s Hagai El-Ad on the delegitimization of HR groups in Israel and the essence of democratic life
A Hebrew version of this article appeared on NRG, Maariv website, this afternoon (February 1 2010.) For background, see Noam Sheizaf’s wrap, Hadas Ziv’s critique and an exposé of the funding of the NGO behind the anti-NIF by Pastor Hagee and CUFI.
On the delegitimization of human rights groups in Israel and the essence of democratic life
The ongoing attack on Israel’s human rights organizations is a misunderstanding of the importance of government oversight – and an even more lethal offence to Israel’s image as a democracy
The scandalous report by Ben Caspit in Friday’s Maariv (“Our contribution to the materials out of which the Goldstone Report was made,” January 29, 2010), set a new low in the wave of mudslinging against the human rights and civil society organization in Israel. Many of us saw Caspit’s article, read it and were shocked – by the inflammatory tone, the McCarthyistic style, the impudence and the salacious “charges” based on the “investigation” by the organization, Im Tirtzu. And if that were not enough, they added to that an ugly and shameless personal attack against Prof. Naomi Chazan, President of the New Israel Fund.
This article is too brief to list Chazan’s record in defending human rights, promoting social justice, civic and gender equality, freedom of religion and democracy in Israel. With her leadership Chazan has contributed tremendously toward the creation of a better and more just Israeli society, of which we are all a part. No mudslinging, as ugly as it may be, can take the least bit away from her brave, determined and moral record.
The cliché about patriotism being the last refuge of the scoundrel is unfortunately appropriate for the present assault against the New Israel Fund. Unfortunately, the present slander is not the first – and will probably not be the last. Campaigns of delegitimization against human rights organizations in Israel and against the Arab public have become a painful part of daily life in Israel. Instead of dealing honestly with the tough challenges facing Israeli society, there are many who choose to attack those who dare identify those challenges.
If extreme organizations such as Im Tirtzu, NGO Monitor, Yisrael Beiteinu and their partners succeed, the ones who pay the price will not “only” be the civil society organizations in Israel or human rights activists. The price will be paid by our democracy and its citizens. The harm caused to the future of Israel and those who live in it will be intolerable. What is on the balance is not a matter of image nor is it a passing trend; gradually, the essence of democratic life in Israel is evaporated.
Months of government indecision since Cast Lead
The current assault focuses on the contribution of Israeli human rights organizations, who receive grants from NIF, to the Goldstone report. This is a particularly grim example of the way those who refuse to deal with an uncomfortable reality instead attack the human rights organizations. Had the government listened in the first place to the reasoned arguments of the human rights organizations in Israel right after Cast Lead, as to the need to conduct a credible investigation in Israel, the report by Judge Goldstone’s committee may not have ever come to be.
Im Tirtzu‘s campaign refers extensively to the damage caused by the Goldstone Report to Israel’s public image. This is an embarrassing mistake in the reading of reality: The fundamental damage (including to Israel’s image) was entirely the result of the policy decisions made willingly by the government of Israel, from its management of the war to its refusal to investigate its own actions. Presently, after months of confusion, it appears that the state may decide to conduct an investigation after all. Even the outgoing Attorney General, Menachem Mazuz, openly and unequivocally now supports an investigation. Does Im Tirtzu plan to slander and vilify him as well?
Anyone truly concerned about Israel’s fate would have long ago joined the demand by the human rights organizations in Israel with regard to Cast Lead. Instead, dual damage is caused: both by the ongoing pressure to prevent the necessary investigation that Israel must adhere to – and by defaming NIF for its tremendous contribution to strengthening Israeli democracy.
What is there to “investigate” when everything is transparent?
Particularly troubling is the fact that Im Tirtzu boasts that the “investigation” for its publication “was made for us by Kela Research, established by officers who worked for the military intelligence and were previously engaged in writing intelligence reports about Hamas. Now they wrote an intelligence report about organizations who support Hamas, and NIF” (as quoted by Maariv). First of all, the implied association between Hamas and NIF is a chilling peak of McCarthyism. Moreover, the use of “intelligence” tools in order to substantiate an “investigation” of civil society organizations is essentially fascist.
What is there to expose or investigate, when all of the information is published openly and willingly on the respective NGO’s websites? What was exposed here is not the activity of the human rights organizations or the NIF; these activities are totally transparent. What was exposed is a fundamental misunderstanding of essential government oversight in a functioning democracy, and a dangerous lack of restraint in using techniques that are beginning to bring to mind regimes to which we must not be reduced to.
Despite the defamation, Israel’s human rights organizations will continue to focus on our work for equality, social justice and democracy. Whether they like it or not, our commitment to the future of Israeli society will not be influenced by baseless slander or personal attacks. If Israel still maintains a democratic image in the world, it is thanks to foundations like NIF and the organizations it supports. Anyone who defames NIF may think they are damaging it; but in fact, they are causing tremendous damage to our democracy – and to its image throughout the world.