A controversial video produced by right-wing group Im Tirtzu accusing the heads of four of Israel’s leading human rights organizations of being foreign agents funded by Europe and supporting Palestinians “involved in terrorism” has been roundly condemned by Israeli and international rights groups, with calls for the attorney-general to investigate its producers for incitement.
Titled “The Foreign Agents – Revealed!” the 68-second widely viewed video accuses the organizations’ members of working to defend Palestinians over and above Israel, and says the Netherlands, Germany, Norway and the European Union, all of which provide funding to Israeli NGOs, are complicit. The groups accused are B’Tselem; the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel; Breaking the Silence, which collects anonymous testimony from Israeli soldiers; and the Center for the Defense of the Individual.
EU Ambassador to Israel Lars Faaborg-Andersen appealed to the Foreign Ministry on Wednesday to distance itself from the video and expressed concern over its content, a Foreign Ministry official said, adding that the ministry had not yet formulated its reaction to the video.
The video opens with dramatic, staged footage of a Palestinian- looking man drawing a knife on the street and moving to plunge it into a passerby.
“They live here with us and are implants,” the narrator says, urging supporters to back legislation being proposed by a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government that would restrict foreign funding to NGOs.
“While we fight terror, they fight us,” the narrator says in Hebrew, accompanied by English subtitles and pictures of the human rights workers.
The clip has been viewed nearly 200,000 times on Facebook and YouTube.
Hagai El-Ad, director of B’Tselem, described the film as “disgusting.”
“Let’s drop these games by Im Tirtzu,” El-Ad wrote on Facebook.
“The voice is the voice of Im Tirtzu, the hands are those of the government.”
Sari Bashi, the director of Human Rights Watch in Israel and the Palestinian territories, described the clip as incendiary and urged those featured in it to pursue their work.
“You are heroes – keep defending human rights,” she wrote on Twitter.
In a letter to Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein, the Hamoked organization called on the Justice Ministry to open an investigation into Im Tirtzu for incitement to murder.
Im Tirtzu has long aimed harsh criticism at liberal Israeli activists. In 2010, it accused the New Israel Fund of bearing responsibility for the Goldstone Report, which criticized Israel’s conduct of the 2008-09 Gaza war. An advertisement the organization took out in Israeli newspapers depicted Naomi Chazan, NIF president at the time, with a horn.
The NIF issued a statement Wednesday night slamming the video, saying “the new campaign by the extremist Im Tirtzu group, naming and inciting against four human rights leaders, is designed to further delegitimize the proper work of human rights organizations while endangering the personal safety of these leaders who are our friends and allies.”
The NIF said further it is “deeply concerned by the latest attacks on the organizations we support,” and added: “In the long run Israelis will not sacrifice their Jewish and democratic homeland to extremists.... We will protect ourselves and our friends, we will continue our fight for Israeli democracy, and we will not – not one of us – be silenced.”
Likud MK Yoav Kisch, who has said he plans to advance legislation to brand organizations heavily funded by foreign countries as “moles,” effectively barring them from meeting with government officials and the IDF and potentially fining and dismantling such groups for anti-Israeli activities, distanced himself from the Im Tirtzu video.
While stressing his support for the so-called Agent Provocateur legislation, Kisch criticized the “aggressive way of personalizing in the [video] campaign from Im Tirtzu.” He also said that his bill and the campaign have nothing to do with each other.
MK Tzipi Livni (Zionist Union) opposed the measure. “I will resist every attempt for sectors of the public to be declared illegitimate because they represent other positions that I don’t share,” she said.
“I am for transparency for all positions as well as for transparency for all organizations,” Livni said.
In a statement, the liberal American lobby group J Street called on American Jews to tell Im Tirtzu it has “crossed every conceivable line of decency and acceptance in the Jewish community.”
The organization NGO Monitor issued a statement objecting to Kisch’s proposed legislation, calling it “counterproductive” and cautioning that such a measure would “increase the power of NGOs engaged in counter-peace activities, as well as the influence of the countries funding them.
“Proposed legislative measures that depart from the core democratic principles of transparency and accountability are ineffective. They are often unenforceable, and damage Israel’s vital interests,” NGO Monitor’s statement also said.
“The issue of large-scale and unprecedented NGO funding from foreign governments to manipulate Israeli politics is a serious issue,” Prof. Gerald Steinberg, president of NGO Monitor, said.
“When countries like Holland, Denmark or Germany use NGO funding instead of the accepted diplomatic channels for relations between states, not only do they hurt the legitimacy of civil society, they attack Israeli sovereignty,” Steinberg said.
Steinberg also alleged that “funds for NGOs operating under the facade of human rights are used to oppose peace efforts, through such initiatives as the pro-BDS [Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions] campaigns, and in some cases endorse and promote anti-Semitic themes.”
NGO Monitor further urged “fringe groups from both the Left and Right” to tone down their disputes.
“Over the past few years, the Israeli debate on foreign funding for political NGOs has become increasingly intense.
As a result, there is a need for professional, in-depth research in order to avoid confusion and understand the details,” Steinberg said.
“The name-calling from Left and Right – using terms like ‘traitors,’ ‘fascists,’ ‘agents’ or ‘McCarthyism’ – and demonization campaigns or personal attacks do not contribute to a healthy public debate. This uncivil discourse is antithetical to Israel’s democratic values.”
Volker Beck, a German Green Party MP and head of the German-Israel parliamentary group in the parliament, told The Jerusalem Post
," I think Israel’s government should not, through a legislative initiative like [Justice Minister Ayelet] Shaked’s NGO-bill, become part of a such a campaign.”
He added, “That would add damage to Israel’s reputation as a Jewish and democratic state.“ Shaked advocates an NGO bill that would label NGOs, and only apply to those whose funding from foreign governments is over 50 percent of their budget.Lahav Harkov, Udi Shaham and JTA contributed to this report.
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