Right of Reply: Prof. Amnon Rubinstein - you're wrong about ACRI

We're seeing a disturbing failure to understand and appreciate the role of human rights organizations.

amnon rubinstein 298.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
amnon rubinstein 298.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
In "Sensation at the United Nations" (June 6) Prof. Amnon Rubinstein falsely accuses the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) and Adalah of "attacking" Israel in the reports that we submitted to the UN Committee for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination concerning Israel's implementation of the anti-discrimination convention. In another article by Rubinstein also published in this newspaper, he made a series of completely unfounded and highly misleading claims against ACRI ("When 'human rights' groups look the other way" (April 17). These two articles are clear examples of the worrying trend of government officials and public figures lashing out against human rights organizations in a misguided attempt to delegitimize our work. In our report to the UN Committee, ACRI did not "attack" Israel. Rather, we submitted reliable, independent information concerning Israel's compliance with the anti-discrimination treaty, as part of the process of "shadowing" or supplementing the government's official report. This process of shadow reporting is an integral aspect of the international human rights treaty monitoring system, and each year hundreds of non-governmental organizations across the world submit such reports vis- -vis their respective governments. In his appearance before the UN Committee in Geneva in February 2007, the head of the Israeli delegation declared that "Israel has consciously chosen to open ourselves to international scrutiny through interaction with UN human rights treaty bodies, other UN mechanisms, and non-governmental organizations." The Israeli delegation went on to express their pride regarding the vibrant civil society that exists in Israel. MANY OF the signs of progress in countering discrimination that were cited in the Israeli government's report were the direct result of the work of ACRI and other organizations. As Rubinstein writes, "The committee noted a number of positive points in Israel: …the law to prevent discrimination in products and services; the ruling by Israel's Supreme Court in the Qa'adan case (guaranteeing Arab rights to public land); the law mandating signage in the Arab language." All of these achievements were the product of ACRI's intensive work in the legal and policy arenas during the past 15 years: the law prohibiting discrimination in products and services was initiated by ACRI; the landmark ruling on the Qa'adan case was in response to ACRI's petition to the Supreme Court and followed a lengthy legal struggle waged by ACRI on behalf of the Qa'adan family; and the Supreme Court ruling mandating signage in the Arabic language was the result of a petition filed by ACRI and Adalah. Rubinstein also writes, "The ACRI memorandum casts a negative light even on the disengagement from Gaza: The opposition to the disengagement, says ACRI, is indicative of 'significant racist tendencies in Israeli society.'" Once again, this statement is deliberately misleading. ACRI did not in fact "cast a negative light on the disengagement" per se; instead, in the introductory section of our report, written in early 2006, ACRI observed that the jingoistic discourse and behavior of the disengagement opponents stood as testament to the rise in racism within Israeli society. Once again, Rubinstein has chosen to misrepresent, and misquote, the statements made by ACRI and thereby undermine our credibility. In actual fact, both before and during the disengagement, ACRI played an active role in protecting the rights of anti-pullout protesters to demonstrate and express their opposition within the confines of the law. EXAMPLES of this growing phenomenon of condemning the work of human rights organizations in Israel abound. Just last week the State Attorney's Office issued an inflammatory attack against ACRI and Adalah for submitting an amicus brief in the case of the revocation of the permanent residency status of four Hamas officials from East Jerusalem. The state's response reflects a disturbing failure to understand and appreciate the role of human rights organizations in upholding the rule of law and safeguarding democratic principles. Furthermore, such demagogic diatribes by state officials against the legitimate activity of human rights organizations represent a dangerous move toward stifling such activity. Human rights organizations play a vital role in a healthy democracy by holding the government accountable to human rights standards. Israel is right to be proud of its robust civil society, which is helping to build a more democratic and tolerant society. State officials cannot selectively take credit for the work of human rights organizations and then vilify and undermine the work of these same organizations when it suits them. The delegitimization of our work by public officials is a dangerous phenomenon, and must be combated to ensure that Israeli civil society does not lose its credibility and ability to effect positive change. The writer is director of international relations at The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI).