By Stephen Lendman
On January 5, Israel’s Knesset, by a 47-16 vote, approved forming a parliamentary committee to investigate leftist Israeli organizations. Among them, B’Tselem issuing a same day press release headlined, "B’Tselem proud of its activities and completely transparent. The Knesset’s decision is what harms Israel’s international status," adding:
"We are proud of our work to promote human rights in the Occupied Territories, which is conducted legally and with complete transparency. Persecution and attempts at silencing will not stop us. In a democracy, criticism of the government is not only legitimate – it is essential. B’Tselem calls on all members of the Knesset to hold an informed debate on the information provided by human rights organizations, instead of harassing and smearing those who dare to question and criticize."
The statement continued, saying:
— the inquiry’s purpose isn’t to establish facts; it’s to smear;
— B’Tselem’s donor list is public information, available online;
— its financial reports are available at the NGO Registrar’s office that just awarded B’Tselem a Certification of Proper Administration; and
— if MKs care about Israel’s deteriorating international standing, "they should stop promoting parliamentary initiatives that will only cause it to plummet even further."
Israel’s media are all over this story. In America, major broadsheets like The New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune and Wall Street Journal ignored it, showing their usual one-sided support for Israel’s worst crimes, belligerence and extremism, including by legislators.
Even Israel’s right-wing Jerusalem Post (JP) expressed concern. One article headlined, "Left-wing NGOs mad Knesset to probe foreign funding," said:
"Left-wing NGOs railed on Wednesday evening against the" Knesset vote. "Hours after (its debate), Government Services Minister Michael Eitan (Likud) wrote a letter to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu complaining that Deputy Minister Danny Ayalon had intentionally misled MKs and the public" with information he provided as justification for the probe.
JP’s earlier July 15, 2010 Ruth Eglash article headlined, "Legislation against left-wing NGOs could harm Israelis," saying:
"A spate of legislation aimed at local NGOs critical of Israel could end up limiting freedom of speech and expression of every Israeli," according to Ronit Heyd, Executive Director of SHATIL, The New Israel Fund’s Empowerment and Training Center for Social Change Organizations in Israel, saying:
"The most worrying trend over the last year is that most people do not really understand that our democracy is now under serious threat. Currently it only affects a certain group in society; human rights organizations, (but) in the future it could affect other communities and individuals who do not agree with the mainstream view or the views and policies of the country’s decision-makers."
At the time, besides other extremist Knesset legislation, she referred to a new bill passed its preliminary reading to prohibit Israelis from backing the global BDS movement, or receive money from supportive international organizations.
"There is a serious need for concern when the government is trying to silence dissenting voices, trying to silence any voice in society that criticizes the way the government is working."
Doing so is the essence of despotism, the track Israel, like America, is further along on than most people in either country recognize.
On January 5, Haaretz writer Jonathan Lis headlined, "Leftist groups: ‘Witch hunt’ against us will destroy democracy in Israel," saying:
"Israeli left-wing organizations decried Wednesday(‘s) Knesset plenum decision to support a panel of inquiry to investigate certain groups suspected of ‘delegitimizing’ the Israeli Defense Forces."
The next step involves a Knesset House Committee debate, then a vote on whether foreign states, international organizations or others linked to alleged terrorist groups provide funding.
According to Peace Now Director-General Yariv Oppenheimer:
Knesset approval is "another step on the path toward wiping out democracy in Israel" by trying to persecute critics.
The New Israel Fund (NIF) said the decision "proves how much the stature of Israeli democracy has deteriorated – even in the house of legislators," acting more like despots than legitimate lawmakers. "Democracy cannot function properly without freedom of expression, freedom to sound criticism of the system, and active human rights groups. The political persecution of human rights groups cause great damage to Israel across the world, and this is precisely what will lead to the delegitimization (of Israel) and the representation of it as a McCarthyite state in which a witch hunt is taking place" lawlessly.
The Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI) called the move "authoritarian, immoral and illegitimate," adding that it mourns the "slow but sure death" of Israeli democratic values.
In total, 16 human rights groups signed an open letter in protest, including B’Tselem, the Association of Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), Yesh Din, Machsom Watch, Adalah, Mossawa Center, Ir Amin and Hotline for Migrant Workers.
"Investigate us all, we have nothing to hide," they said. "You are invited to read our reports and our publications. We will be happy if for a change you relate in a germane way to our questions instead of trying to besmirch us. It did not work in the past and it will not work this time."
A second Jonathan Lis article headlined, "Knesset votes to probe Israeli groups accused of ‘delegitimizing’ IDF," saying:
The approval came "after Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein ruled in August that no investigation should be launched against such groups." Opposition MKs and human rights groups vocally disapproved. As a result, the Knesset debate was stormy, "charged, (and) filled with heckling and interruptions." So much so that security guards were present "to prevent physical altercations" between opposing sides.
MK Nitzan Horowitz called the initiative "a shame on the Knesset….The persecution campaign against human rights and citizens rights groups has reached a new low. (It’s) a brutal act of political persecution using a coalition majority and Knesset funding, under the legal guise of an investigation committee. Human rights and citizens rights groups save the honor of Israel in the world and maintain its character as a democratic state." Extremist MKs want to destroy it. "All to whom Israeli democracy is dear must oppose this committee of persecution."
Gideon Levy’s Critical Op-Ed
In Haaretz on January 6, he headlined, "When did it become illegal to be a leftist in Israel," saying:
"The police, the legal system, the Knesset, the Shin Bet, and the IDF have joined forces with the propagandists of the right to act as prosecutors without a trial." Coming next perhaps will be "declar(ing) the left an illegal entity….From then on, whoever thinks left, acts left, demonstrates left or tolerates left will belong in jail."
Israel stands humiliated, shamed and exposed for its extremism. As a result, a "land-stealing settler is a Zionist; a warmongering right-winger is a patriot; an inciting rabbi is a spiritual leader; a racist who expels foreigners is a loyal citizen. Only the leftist is a traitor."
What Knesset members proposed would even make Joe McCarthy and some of today’s American right-wingers blush. Though never finding any, McCarthy targeted alleged communists for political advantage. America’s current Congress pursues terrorists, again for the same purpose and as justification for Washington’s imperial wars.
As a result, personal safety in both countries is jeopardized. The common atmosphere is charged with extremism, racism, militarism, and opposition to anyone challenging state authority, especially its most lawless aspects, targeting innocent people at home while rampaging abroad against groups or nations posing no threat to either country.
In Israel, solidifying occupation control reigns terror against anyone pursuing freedom and justice issues, and without pretext waging all-out war, justifying it as self-defense against terrorism.
For Jews and Israeli Arabs, "(o)ne single law could simplify matters: Let every Israeli know that (it’s) forbidden to believe in a just Israel, forbidden to fight against any of its injustices, forbidden to struggle for its soul."
It begs the question: is Israel’s democracy so anathema that even blowing its cover is acceptable. Targeting human rights defenders proves it.
– Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Contact him at: [email protected] and visit his blog at: sjlendman.blogspot.com.