Israel prepares for Goldstone report

Interministerial committee set up to deal with what is expected to be highly critical findings, 'Post' learns.

richard goldstone 248 88 ap (photo credit: AP [file])
richard goldstone 248 88 ap
(photo credit: AP [file])
More than a month before Judge Richard Goldstone is expected to present the findings of his UN Human Rights Council mission investigating alleged Israeli war crimes during Operation Cast Lead, Israel - taking a more proactive stance toward the super-critical reports of various NGOs and international bodies - has set up an interministerial committee to deal with the findings in detail, The Jerusalem Post has learned. As the report is expected to be extremely critical, there have already been meetings involving officials from the Prime Minister's Office, the Defense Ministry, the Foreign Ministry and the IDF about how to deal with it. Among the issues under consideration is the creation of a team that will read the report with a "fine-tooth comb" in order to respond to its charges. "This is the way the government will now deal with these types of reports," one government official said. Two weeks ago, amid reports that Human Rights Watch was fundraising in Saudi Arabia on the basis of its work criticizing Israel, officials in the Prime Minister's Office said the country's modus operandi in dealing with these reports would change, and that Israel would take a much more aggressive stance. One measure the government has already adopted is to talk to foreign governments that are funding extremely critical Israeli NGOs. Following a Post report last week that the Dutch and British embassies, as well as the EU and the New Israel Fund, were funding the Breaking the Silence group, Israeli Ambassador to the Netherlands Harry Knei-Tal approached Dutch Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen - who, Knei-Tal had been informed, was angry about the report he had read in the Post - and asked that the funding be terminated. The Dutch government is reportedly currently looking into such a move. Earlier this month, Breaking the Silence presented a report that included testimonies from 26 unnamed soldiers who participated in Operation Cast Lead. It claimed the IDF had used Gazans as human shields, improperly fired incendiary white phosphorous shells over civilian areas and used overwhelming firepower that had caused needless deaths and destruction. The IDF dismissed the report as an attempt to slander the army, not initiate a thorough investigation. The Dutch Embassy in Israel reportedly gave €19,995 to the organization to put together the report. British Ambassador Tom Phillips confirmed Sunday that his embassy also gave money to the organization. However, he said it had not been to finance the report, but for its "informative tours in Hebron. Gerald Steinberg, the executive-director of NGO Monitor, said it was common practice for foreign governments, primarily European ones, to fund NGOs that were engaging in "lawfare" against Israel, a term coined to refer to attempts to use international law to delegitimize Israel. There is little transparency in these payments, and sometimes the money is funneled through government aid agencies that are not carefully monitored, Steinberg said. He named Sweden, Switzerland, Norway and Britain as countries that regularly funneled money - through governmental agencies - to a basket of NGOs that are "fundamentally opposed to the Israeli government, and routinely accuse Israelis of war crimes." These organizations, like Breaking the Silence, get most of their traction overseas, Steinberg said, as the Israeli public knows to be discriminating when analyzing their reports. Among the organizations that get European funding are the Alternative Information Center and Yesh Din, he said. According to NGO Monitor, the Alternative Information Center is a radical political organization founded by members of the Trotskyite anti-Zionist Revolutionary Communist League (Matzpen), and gets money from the Swedish and Irish governments, as well as from the Catalan government in Spain. Yesh Din, meanwhile, has as its stated mission, according to NGO Monitor, "to oppose the continuing violation of Palestinian human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory... documenting and disseminating accurate and up-to-date information about the systematic violation of human rights in the OPT [Occupied Palestinian Territories], by raising public awareness of such violations, and by applying public and legal pressures on government agencies to end them." This group, according to NGO Monitor, is funded by the Dutch, German and UK foreign ministries, the Open Society Institute (USA) and the New Israel Fund. Steinberg said that until now, the Israeli government had not paid attention to details such as who was funding extremely critical NGOs, but that it was now beginning to take notice. One government source, explaining the change in the Israeli approach, said in an understatement that it was "odd" that foreign governments funded political activity inside Israel. "Imagine what an uproar there would be were Israel to fund an organization in Britain calling either for a withdrawal of British troops from Afghanistan, or to deploy more forces there," the source said. Meanwhile, Breaking the Silence issued a statement Sunday regarding the Foreign Ministry's raising the funding issue with the Dutch government, saying that this type of "witch hunt" testified to the erosion of the "democratic culture" in Israel. "Attempts to silence voices in Israeli society is dangerous," the group said. "It appears that the Foreign Ministry is getting ideas from the darkest regimes, where anyone who points to failures is considered a traitor."