Vicious? We’re the opposite!
democracy. Yet the government finds them irksome and is using legislation to erode their voice.
NGOs focusing on civil liberties, the rights of the vulnerable — be they Jewish, Palestinian, or asylum seekers — or that draw attention to activities beyond the green line find themselves misrepresented and attacked.
The vitriol has travelled to this country as articles in the Jewish Chronicle by both Melanie Phillips and Geoffrey Alderman demonstrated last week. The calumnies that NGOs are defaming and demonising Israel, funded by foreign governments in order to represent their interests — which by definition are against Israeli interests — are being spread far and wide in order to label them as foreign moles or fifth columnists.
Inexplicably, Phillips describes Rabbis for Human Rights as having a ‘‘vicious agenda’’. She should look at their work and the list of supportive rabbis around the world before leaping to such an erroneous conclusion.
Alderman says that, last year, Bassam Eid “was reportedly forced out of B’tselem” because he wanted them to investigate Palestinian abuses which the European funders did not want exposed. He is simply wrong. Bassam Eid left B’tselem amicably 20 years ago.
It is a matter of record that B’tselem also investigated humanrights violations by the Palestinian Authority and, while providing information and criticism about violations by the PA and Hamas, as an Israeli organisation it focuses on Israeli governments’ actions.
NGOs seek funding from any legitimate source sharing their core values. Accepting grants from foreign government entities doesn’t entail doing that government’s bidding, but helps develop the NGO’s own work. EU or American funding does not make NGOs foreign agents, just as EU funding in this country does not constitute invasion by stealth.
Ayelet Shaked has introduced a Bill designed to stigmatise humanrights NGOs and, literally, to force them to wear a label in order, she says, to increase transparency.
I am all for transparency — and indeed so is existing Israeli law which already requires all registered NGOs to make mandatory disclosure of donations from any foreign political entity as well as publicise all donations on their website.
Shaked’s proposal does not increase transparency — she is Tensions: But human rights groups believe they can have a positive influence on Israel leaving untouched the opacity surrounding the large private donors who typically give to the right-wing and settlement groups with enormous impact on Israeli society.
The atmosphere of fear currently existing in Israel means that people are susceptible to anything that promises more security but shutting up the voices of conscience will not help.
Neither the flawed legislation under consideration nor the labelling of NGOs as agents of foreign powers will help Israel through this time. Only a strong civil society, public debate and people willing to take on the role of prophecy will keep her, and us, safe. Sylvia Rothschild is a representative of British Friends of Rabbis for Human Rights