A right-wing NGO has demanded that the Knesset Research and Information Center (RIC) remove documents written by a researcher transferred for publishing left-wing opinion articles.

The demand came in a letter to Knesset legal adviser Eyal Yinon.

Dr. Gilad Natan was removed from his job as an RIC researcher and made an archivist instead earlier this month, after his employers found harsh political opinion pieces he wrote while working in the Knesset, where he is supposed to be objective.

Despite protests from MKs and columnists in several newspapers, including his former colleague Susan Hattis Rolef in The Jerusalem Post, Yinon upheld Natan’s demotion, saying it was for professional – not political – reasons, because his articles were not appropriate for a Knesset worker.

Natan’s paper on illegal African migrants was sent to an external consultant, who found that “the research is not biased or tendentious, and is up to accepted professional standards,” Yinon added.

Eitan – The Israeli Immigration Policy Center found, however, the methodology and conclusions of Natan’s research on illegal African migrants to be problematic, and is demanding that it be removed and replaced by a new report.

One example the NGO gave is that Natan wrote: “Despite the recognizable increase in the number of people who immigrated to Israel in recent years and the increase in people seeking refuge, the State of Israel is not one of the principle target countries for this type of immigration.”

Eitan’s researchers found that Israel took in more illegal migrants than any European Union country in the years 2010 to 2011.

The NGO quoted the report by the external researcher hired by the RIC to examine Natan’s work, Dr. Anabelle Leipzig- Friedlander, as writing, “The criticism of the RIC report, that Israel was not presented in a sharp enough way as one of the important countries for absorbing refugees, and refuge-seekers, as compared to Europe specifically and Western countries in general, is justified.”

“We do not have the ability or the tools to determine if [Natan’s report] was written with an intention to mislead, or just out of a lack of professionalism, but in any case, this is a false presentation that represents the opposite of reality,” Eitan wrote. “In light of this, we do not understand the RIC’s insistence in standing behind the findings in the research.”

The story of Natan’s demotion begins in October, when, at the request of MKs, he prepared a research paper on illegal African migrants. The right-wing news blog Midah found what it said were several factual errors that showed the report was poorly researched. For example, Natan wrote that the crime rate among migrants is lower than that of Israelis, which Midah disputed.

Soon thereafter, Midah published an investigation of Natan, finding columns he wrote in 2009, while he was working at the Knesset, for news site Ynet, in which he compared religious-Zionists to Nazis and called Jewish residents of Hebron “circumcised Cossacks” and “Judeo-pogromists.”

In December, Ma’ariv columnist Kalman Liebskind wrote a scathing article about Natan, saying the RIC’s reports are not reliable. Three weeks later, the researcher was demoted and moved to work in the Knesset archive, but his salary was not cut.

At the time, the Knesset Spokesman’s Office said that no problems were found with his research, but that his articles, which refer to specific parties in the Knesset, made it impossible to leave him in “a sensitive position like RIC researcher, who is supposed to supply research to all MKs.”

The spokesman added that, had Natan remained a researcher, MKs and the public might doubt the veracity of the RIC’s work, because the institution is supposed to be neural and apolitical.

Natan responded on his Facebook page that, as a government worker, he is limited in what he can say, and “it seems like [his] basic right of freedom of speech has been violated.”

He added that he never hid his columns, and was only told not to write them three years after they were published.

“In the over seven years of my work at the RIC of the Knesset, presenting facts in a thorough and clear way without bias to this side or the other has been the basis of my work. Despite all those who attack my research, I don’t serve any agenda or write on behalf of anyone,” he wrote, in reference to Midah and others.

MK Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz), among other lawmakers, wrote a letter to Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin protesting Natan’s demotion.

“Throughout my work in the Knesset Committee on Foreign Workers – as a member and chairman – Dr. Natan showed impressive diligence and extraordinary professionalism, to the last detail,” Horowitz wrote. “Therefore, I was shocked to hear he was removed from his job as a researcher because of political pressures due to positions he expressed in the past.”

Horowitz added that Natan has a right to be left-wing, and that his positions do not influence his work.

“Tomorrow, someone will say a religious person or a settler or an Arab or a right-wing person cannot have a certain job. Stop this, Ruby [Rivlin], and let him keep his job,” the Meretz lawmaker concluded.

Yinon responded in a letter to MKs, in which he wrote that Natan’s opinion columns showed “sharp, vitriolic criticism of MKs and factions, which, in my opinion, deviated from the acceptable level when it comes to Knesset employees in general and RIC workers specifically.”

The Knesset legal adviser brought several examples of such criticism, such as an article in which Natan wrote that the National Union members are fascists who incite to violence against Arabs, and another in which he described Defense Minister Ehud Barak as “the Israeli version of Napoleon.”

“The reason the professional departments of the Knesset exist is to give neutral, apolitical service to MKs from across the political spectrum,” Yinon wrote. “As such, I recommended to the Knesset director-general to move Dr. Natan to a different job in the Knesset that does not involve giving direct services to MKs and writing content for them, while preserving his rights, status and salary.”

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