For some time, we have seen a growing climate of intimidation in Israel aimed at silencing non-governmental organizations that monitor human rights and report on the situation in the Palestinian Territory. Such intimidation now even extends to the country’s ceremonial head of state, President Reuven Rivlin, who has been targeted for vicious attack merely for meeting and engaging with a wide spectrum of political opinion, condemning discrimination against Arabs and upholding Israel’s democratic tradition.
However such intimidation has reached truly terrifying level with the release Tuesday of a video explicitly targeting the heads of four Israeli human rights organizations, labeling them as traitors and foreign agents. With the 20th anniversary of the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin fresh in our minds, this is alarming.
The video was released by Im Tirzu, which is well known for its attacks against academics and groups such as Peace Now, The New Israel Fund, Machsom Watch and others who criticize the Occupation. It singles out the leaders of The Public Committee Against Torture in Israel, Breaking the Silence, B’Tselem and Hamoked: The Center for the Defense of the Individual.
The video shows their faces, identifies them by name and accuses them of being plants and stooges of European nations or the European Union and of actively encouraging Palestinians to attack and kill Israelis.
These groups play a vital role in preserving Israel’s democracy, shining a light on what is happening in the Palestinian territory and in Israel, exposing abuses and bringing attention to issues increasingly ignored by the country’s media. Whether one agrees with all they do or not, they are an important part of civil society and Israel’s lively democratic, political life.
The video appears aimed to advance legislation to be considered by the government next week to limit and abridge the activities of left-wing non-governmental organizations that receive funds from foreign governments.
Im Tirzu also receives some of its funds from overseas entities and individuals. In 2009, its largest donor was the John Hagee Ministries (JHM) via the Christians United for Israel (CUFI which provided $100,000 tax deductible support. CUFI has subsequently withdrawn support for the organization which was too extreme even for its tastes. The Central Fund for Israel, a US group owned based in New York which supports and defends Israelis accused or convicted of terrorism, continues to be a major donor, raising tax exempt donations from Americans to fund Im Tirzu. A report from Peace Now says 88 percent of the organization’s money comes from the United States but its sources are not transparent.
Here is an instance where Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu must speak. If he’s serious about combatting incitement, he should denounce this alarming example. The Israeli cabinet also faces a test. It should act to preserve the country’s proud democracy by opposing the pending legislation aimed at throttling NGOs. American-Jewish organizations should also make their views clear – that this kind of intimidation and incitement crosses a line and cannot be tolerated.
Whether we personally agree with the work of Breaking the Silence or the other NGOs targeted or not, there should be near unanimous consensus across the political spectrum that this behavior is outside the bounds of acceptable behavior in a democracy.
There is a democratic and Jewish way to conduct the vital debate we need to have at this critical juncture for Israel, the US and the world. But the hateful way in which Im Tirzu pursues its agenda should have no place and no support from the American Jewish community or in Israel.