Israeli Human Rights Organizations Under Fire

Wednesday’s Christian Science Monitor reports on the intensifying campaign being waged by the Israeli right against domestic human rights organizations. The story reports that rightists in the Knesset are calling for “an investigation to determine whether the work of those [human rights] nonprofits undermines Israel’s legitimacy,” with the ultimate goal of outlawing some of these groups for providing evidence that was used in the Goldstone report.

This latest attack on the Israeli human rights sector comes in the context of an ugly smear campaign launched against the New Israel Fund, the leading progressive Israeli funding organization, by the right-wing group Im Tirzu. The lowlight of the campaign was a full-page ad in the Jerusalem Post attacking NIF head Naomi Chazan, the former deputy speaker of the Knesset. The ad — “reminiscent of Der Sturmer,” in Didi Remez’s words — labeled Chazan “Naomi Goldstone-Hazan” and showed her wearing a horn. (Remez and co. have been doing the best reporting on the war against human rights NGOS over at Coteret.)

This stepped-up attack on human rights groups is a reminder of the fundamental disingenuousness of the argument, frequently made by Israel’s hardline apologists, that international human rights groups should butt out due to Israel’s own vibrant human rights sector. Former Human Rights Watch chairman Robert Bernstein, for instance, attacked his former organization last year for its reporting on Israel, arguing that Israel’s open society and plethora of human rights organizations made international investigation redundant and that resources would be better spent on Arab countries.

But although the hardliners may sing the praises of the Israeli human rights sector in the international context in order to discredit the likes of Goldstone and HRW, one finds that — with few exceptions — they tend to be the same people leading the charge domestically against these very same human rights groups. It is not that they believe that criticism of Israel’s human rights record should be left to B’Tselem and Breaking the Silence, rather than Goldstone and HRW; quite obviously, if Gerald Steinberg et al got their way there would be no criticism of Israel’s human rights record whatsoever.

Daniel Luban

Daniel Luban is a postdoctoral associate at Yale University. He holds a PhD in politics from the University of Chicago and was formerly a correspondent in the Washington bureau of Inter Press Service.