Human rights NGOs are ‘hasbara’ assets, not liabilities

The tolerance, nay sanctification, of the right to dissent is what makes this country one of the world’s greatest democracies.

They may not be comfortable in this role, but the dissenters in our society – various NGOs, MKs, journalists, academics and the like – are arguably the best hasbara assets we have. That these organizations and individuals enjoy full civil protections and unfettered liberty of expression in our country is a fact that our most mean-spirited detractors, including some of the dissenters themselves, will never succeed in refuting.
This tolerance, nay sanctification, of the right to dissent is what makes this one of the world’s greatest democracies.
To be sure, many of these dissenters have contributed seriously damaging the country’s good name, advancing boycott, sanctions and divestment initiatives and making national leaders and military personnel (this writer included) into targets for personal harassment, sham legal proceedings and threats to their physical safety. It is only natural that Israelis and their supporters feel outrage and the need to counter this.
Nevertheless, attempts or perceived attempts to curb the freedoms enjoyed by those who disagree with government policy can only be counterproductive.
They will erode what has been until now an unimpeachable hasbara asset – the true openness and democratic nature of our society.
THE LATEST initiative by the Knesset to turn the heat up on certain human rights NGOs hardly signifies the end of our democracy. It reflects a genuine and well-founded concern at the numerous attempts to delegitimize the State of Israel. However, if implemented, it is likely to defeat the very object it sets out to achieve.
This is not to say that we should avoid confronting those who defame and defile. They certainly should be confronted – however, this should take place within the realm of free debate and expression, rather than through state-imposed measures. The state should only step in when national security is involved.
Each time our dissenters besmirch our democracy from within, they shoot themselves in the foot. They are the ultimate testament to the freedoms enjoyed by all in this country.
The writer is an international law consultant and a former IDF legal adviser.