Amnesty recruiting national service volunteers - activists upset

Amnesty International Israel will “definitely be removed from the list” of organizations eligible to recruit national service (sherut leumi) personnel, one expert said.

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February 6, 2019 12:04
4 minute read.
Amnesty International

Activists of Amnesty International demonstrate to show their support with the Syrian people at the Fontaine des Innocentes in Paris May 29, 2012.. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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Amnesty International Israel is recruiting applicants for Sherut Leumi, Israel National Service.

Solicitations for the positions are live on the website of Shlomit, one of four organizations that handles national service applications.

The discovery of the post caused an uproar among some right-wing activists and nationalists. An organization called Betsalmo has registered a formal complaint with the Authority for National Civic Service, calling on the state to immediately prevent national service volunteers from working with the left-wing NGO.

Last month, Amnesty International, the umbrella organization of Amnesty International Israel, came under fire when it published a report titled “Destination: Occupation” that called on the four largest web vacation booking sites – Airbnb, Booking.com, Expedia and TripAdvisor – to boycott West Bank settlements, as well as Jewish listings in east Jerusalem.

In the aftermath of the report, Strategic Affairs and Public Safety Minister Gilad Erdan said he would consider banning non-Israeli Amnesty employees from Israel if the organization continued acting against settlement tourism. He called the report “hypocritical,” saying it spoke in the name of human rights but, in practice, supported an antisemitic and delegitimization campaign against Israel.

Reuven Pinsky, director of the Authority for National Civic Service, acknowledged that he had received these complaints but said, “My hands are tied.”

“It is crazy that these young people are doing national service with an organization like Amnesty,” said Pinsky, “but I cannot stop the organization from recruiting volunteers.”

At least for now.

Pinsky said that beginning in September 2019, Amnesty will “definitely be removed from the list” of organizations eligible to recruit national service personnel. At that time, the March 2017 law that cancels national-service positions in organizations that receive most of their funding from foreign government will come into effect.

The new law initiated by MK Amir Ohana (Likud) was rooted in his efforts to end state funding of organizations that he considers to be undermining Israeli policy with the support of foreign governments. The bill, which ultimately regulates the entire field of national service in Israel, was based on a report by the right-wing NGO Im Tirtzu, which discovered that there were 12 national service positions available in five organizations that receive most of their funding from foreign governments.

The five organizations were B’Tselem-The Israel Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories; the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel; Gisha-Legal Center for Freedom of Movement; Israel Social TV; and the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants.

Amnesty was not on the list. But according to Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Uri Ariel, whose office oversees national service, “It is important to note that the state does not fund Amnesty’s positions. They pay for them on their own.”

Gil Naveh, head of media and communications for Amnesty, told The Jerusalem Post that the organization has used national service volunteers for at least a decade or more. He said the organization pays NIS 1,900 for each workers, with most of the funds paying for Shlomit’s administrative services, and a few hundred shekels per month provided to the volunteers.

Currently, Amnesty has three volunteers working for it. In the past, it has employed as many as six.


The Shlomit advertisement says it is looking for people interested in coordinating activities and trips related to human rights, providing ongoing support for courses in activism, and creating and implementing media.

“The national service workers assist with administration, new media and communications,” Naveh explained.

The organization advertises itself to volunteers by saying, “Amnesty International Israel seeks to prevent the most serious human right violations around the world by means of research, public activism and media and advancing legislation.”

Naveh, who spoke to the Post from a personal perspective, said, “The fact that the director of Sherut Leumi can say in advance that an organization such as Amnesty will have a problem getting national service volunteers – even before we have made our next request, tells us a lot about how politically motivated this is.”

He said the legislation itself is seen by Amnesty as just another step in the “long line of steps the government has taken to silence and hurt anyone who criticizes the Israeli government. If the national service workers are taken away from Amnesty, it will be for political reasons, not bureaucratic or regulatory ones.

“We are not taking this lightly, but we are unphased,” Naveh concluded.

Pinsky said he has tried many times to have the organization removed from the official list of qualified organizations, but failed.

“Israel is a democratic state that places heavy protections around issues of freedom of speech and expression,” he said. “Even Arab MKs are able to speak out against Israel. Criticizing the government is not forbidden by law, and that is why we had to change the law.

“If I could, I would stop it now,” Pinsky added. “It is not a question of desire.”

He noted that the new law was drawn up in such a way as to prevent issues like this from arising in the future.

Said Ariel: “We have made history with the enactment of a national civil service law to benefit the service volunteers and to prevent all inciting bodies from receiving volunteers.”

Sheri Oz contributed to this report.

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