Vi­cious? We’re the op­po­site!

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE -

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


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