Stand Up For Democracy, Civil and Human Rights In Israel

How pernicious is the campaign against the New Israel Fund (NIF)?

The group that started this, Im Tirtzu, bills itself as a centrist group, although its founder and lead spokesperson, Ronen Shoval, was also a leading activist against the Gaza withdrawal and ran for the Knesset on the ticket of the far-right Habayit Hayehudi (The Jewish Home) party. As the campaign against NIF started to flag, such right-wing all-stars who never let facts get in the way of their ideological programs as Gerald Steinberg and David Bedein jumped into the media pool to try to prop it up.

Im Tirtzu demonstrating at Na'alin, where regular protests against the separation barrier often leave Palestinians injured

But indeed it would be a mistake to see this as a hardcore right-wing attack. The Im Tirtzu campaign is certainly hateful enough, but the real threat came up when a drive in the Knesset began to set up a subcommittee to investigate the NIF. This drive, which failed as well, was not led by a fanatical right-winger, but by Yisrael Hasson and Otniel Schneller of the “centrist” Kadima party (that Kadima can be called the Israeli center realistically says much about the rightward drift in the past decade of Israeli politics, but thatg is a separate matter).

It is also worth noting that there was a lot of opposition to this idea, and it came not only from the left but also from Kadima (by MK Nachman Shai, for example) and from Likud (including such leading figures as Dan Meridor, Benny Begin and Michael Eitan).

The witch-hunters who have set their sights on NIF are not giving up, and Im Tirtzu and their supporters in the media (notably Ben Caspit of Ma’ariv, Israel’s second-leading daily newspaper) are still working to launch governmental probes of NIF and to revive Knesset legislation to prevent Israeli NGOs from receiving foreign funding (no similar action against settlements and settler organizations receiving foreign support is in the offing). Continue reading

AN ELECTION THAT OFFERS LITTLE CHOICE

In my capacity as the Director of B’Tselem’s US Office, I’ve been asked frequently of late about the Israeli elections that are winding down as I write this. In general, B’Tselem stays away from matters of politics. Our credibility is dependent on our being focused on human rights, no matter what the shape of the Israeli, or any other, government may be.

An Israeli ballot box

An Israeli ballot box

But this time, I could answer honestly: It really doesn’t matter. Historically, Israel’s observance of international legal standards regarding the Palestinians, while having its peaks and valleys, has moved independently of the party or Prime Minister in power. And in this case, none of the candidates has offered any hint that they are different from the others.

The exception is not one of the contenders for Prime Minister, and that is Avigdor Lieberman. And all that signifies is how much of a threat Israeli democracy is really facing.

Settlement expansion, lack of law enforcement on the West Bank, ongoing house demolitions, the effects of the Separation Barrier, the massive proliferation of roadblocks…and many other issues, all of them get the silent treatment from all of the major candidates. Continue reading

An Idiotic Initiative

As a matter of course, one might well ignore “peace plans” put forward by Knesset members like MK Benny Elon of the ultra-right Moledet party, a central member of the National Union coalition party. But Elon’s new “Israeli Initiative” bears some examination both because it may unfortunately become a significant part of Israel’s policy planning if Benjamin Netanyahu is elected Prime Minister after the fall of Ehud Olmert and because it has at least one point of interest.
Benny Elon
Under Elon’s initiative, Israel would annex the entire West Bank, placing it all under Israeli sovereignty. But the Palestinians in the West Bank would then become citizens of Jordan, without actually leaving, although those that wished to would be given financing to do so. Elon revives the old right-wing contention that there is already a Palestinian state, and it is Jordan. But he adds to this a fairly bizarre layer wherein Palestinians would be living on sovereign Israeli land, but would be represented by Jordan. Thus, they would be subject to Israeli security arrangements (this is the most basic characteristic of sovereignty, after all) and their only recourse would be to the Jordanian government in hopes it would plead and win a case with Israel. What happens in Gaza is unclear.

Elon either willfully misrepresents or completely misunderstands various polls of Palestinians who say they would move elsewhere if they could. Rather than ascribe this to the obvious, and accurate, cause–the misery, economic devastation and hopelessness of living under occupation–Elon decides this is because they don’t have faith in the Palestinian Authority, hence would not wish to live in an independent Palestinian state that would be led by the PA. He similarly distorts Jordan’s view by saying it sees the emergence of a Palestinian state as a threat, something that might be true if such a state was headed by Hamas, but not if it is headed by Fatah. Continue reading

Help Defeat Legalized Discrimination In Israel

The Knesset has passed the first of three readings of a bill which would allow the Israel Land Authority (ILA) to hold leasing for lands it administers for the Jewish National Fund (JNF) for Jews only. This would bypass a ruling by the Attorney General Menachem Mazuz earlier this year barring such discrimination and also would pre-empt a case coming before the Supreme Court challenging such discrimination.

Mazuz was actually trying to save the JNF’s ability to hold land for Jews. His compromise was that the state would give an equal amount of land directly to the JNF for all land leased or sold to Arab citizens of Israel. This, however, did not satisfy some Knesset members.

The initial vote in the Knesset doesn’t necessarily portend ultimate passage. Only 80 of the 120 Knesset members voted on this bill at all and, while the vote was 64-16, it is not unusual for votes on bills in the Knesset to change sharply in subsequent readings. Thus, this is a case where a real impact can be made by those who believe that Israel must not be a discriminatory state. You can start by signing a petition I helped review here. Continue reading