A sinister new imperialism
HOW SHOULD liberal democracies defend themselves when faced with existential threats? Is it in order for them to adopt apparently autocratic and arguably suppressive policies, the implementation of which flies in the face of their claim to be liberal democracies?
During the Second World War UK citizens were subject to arrest and even imprisonment without trial. There was no press freedom. The Home Guard – lampooned in the BBC sitcom Dad’s Army – actually resembled a militarised police force that could, and did, shoot on sight.
I make these points in order to inject some context into a public argument raging in Israel, sparked by the determination of Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked to push through the Knesset a so-called “transparency law”. This would require what are termed “non-governmental organisations” (NGOs) that are funded by foreign agencies to declare that fact when they lobby in the Knesset.
You might be puzzled as to why this proposal should have generated controversy. Transparency is a foundation stone of any democracy. In the UK accountability, openness and honesty form three of the seven principles of public life – the so-called “Nolan Principles” — that have since 1995 governed the activities of all who work in government. True, these principles are an expectation, not a law. But any pressure group lobbying at Westminster can expect a very hard time if it fails to declare the ultimate sources of its income.
According to the Jerusalem-based research organisation NGO Monitor, various European governments have provided $100million or so of funding for “human rights NGOs” that operate in the Jewish state. Prominent among these are B’Tselem, Breaking The Silence, Machsom Watch, Yesh Din and “Physicians for Human Rights — Israel”.
Space does not permit me to describe in detail the work of each of these groups. Physicians for Human Rights appears to have been heavily involved in sponsoring a onesided exhibition falsely accusing the IDF of deliberate attacks on civilians and civilian facilities in Gaza, while remaining silent on evidence of Hamas war crimes (principally indiscriminate rocket attacks) against Israel. The website of B’Tselem — “the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories” — is full of accounts of alleged infringements of Arab human rights in Judea and Samaria, but has little to say about the infringement of Jewish rights: for instance, an item (December 16 2015) relating to the stabbing of Jews focuses on what it terms the “unjustified use of lethal force” to neutralise assailants. Breaking The Silence specialises in the publication of accounts purporting to evidence war crimes witnessed or committed by IDF personnel. Since these accounts are anonymised, it is not possible to verify their authenticity.
What all these groups have in common is that, directly or indirectly, they are engaged in propaganda that has as its ultimate effect (and perhaps objective) the discrediting of the state of Israel. But they are also all funded by foreign, mainly European governments. These particular NGOs are not “home grown”. They are foreign agencies. Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked is not proposing these NGOs should be muzzled. Or that they should be prohibited from taking money from foreign governments. But he who pays the piper generally calls the tune.
Last year the prominent Palestinian human rights activist Bassam Eid was reportedly forced out of B’Tselem for asking why it did not investigate human rights abuses by the Palestinian Authority. The word on the street is that it did not do so because its European funders had vetoed the proposal. Justice Minister Shaked is merely insisting that Israel-based NGOs that operate in this way should identify themselves as working on behalf of governments that fund them.
As for the foreign governments that use their taxpayers’ money in this way, I wonder whether we are witnessing a new form of colonial enterprise. These governments clearly do not respect Israel’s sovereignty, which they are intent on undermining. Isn’t this imperialism under another name?
All of these groups are engaged in anti-Israel propaganda