Israel Seeks Ways to Silence Human Rights Groups

First Goal is to Stop Gaza War Crimes Revelations

In a bid to staunch the flow of damaging evidence of war crimes committed during Israel’s winter assault on Gaza, the Israeli government has launched a campaign to clamp down on human rights groups, both in Israel and abroad.

It has begun by targeting one of the world’s leading rights organisations, the US-based Human Rights Watch (HRW), as well as a local group of dissident army veterans, Breaking the Silence, which last month published the testimonies of 26 combat soldiers who served in Gaza.

Additionally, according to the Israeli media, the government is planning a “much more aggressive stance” towards human rights groups working to help the Palestinians.

Officials have questioned the sources of funding received by the organisations and threatened legislation to ban support from foreign governments, particularly in Europe.

Breaking the Silence and other Israeli activists have responded by accusing the government of a “witch hunt” designed to intimidate them and starve them of the funds needed to pursue their investigations.

“This is a very dangerous step,” said Mikhael Mannekin, one of the directors of Breaking the Silence. “Israel is moving in a very anti-democratic direction.”

The campaign is reported to be the brainchild of the far-right foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, currently facing corruption charges, but has the backing of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Early last month, Mr Lieberman used a press conference to accuse non-government organisations, or NGOs, of replacing diplomats in setting the international community’s agenda in relation to Israel. He also threatened reforms to curb the groups’ influence.

A week later, Mr Netanyahu’s office weighed in against Human Rights Watch, heavily criticising the organisation for its recent fund-raising activities in Saudi Arabia.

HRW has pointed out that it only accepts private donations, and has not accepted Saudi government funds, but Israeli officials say all Saudi money is tainted and will compromise HRW’s impartiality as a human rights watchdog in its treatment of Israel.

“A human rights organisation raising money in Saudi Arabia is like a women’s rights group asking the Taliban for a donation,” Mark Regev, a government spokesman, told the right-wing Israeli daily newspaper the Jerusalem Post.

HRW recently published reports arguing that the Israeli army had committed war crimes in Gaza, including the use of white phosphorus and attacking civilian targets.

HRW is now facing concerted pressure from Jewish lobby groups and from leading Jewish journalists in the US to sever its ties with Saudi donors. According to the Israeli media, some Jewish donors in the US have also specified that their money be used for human rights investigations that do not include Israel.

Meanwhile, Israel’s foreign ministry is putting pressure on European governments to stop funding many of Israel’s human rights groups. As a prelude to a clampdown, it has issued instructions to all its embassies abroad to question their host governments about whether they fund such activities.

Last week the foreign ministry complained to British, Dutch and Spanish diplomats about their support for Breaking the Silence.

The testimonies collected from soldiers suggested the Israeli army had committed many war crimes in Gaza, including using Palestinians as human shields and firing white phosphorus shells over civilian areas. One soldier called the army’s use of firepower “insane”.

The Dutch government paid nearly 20,000 euros to the group to compile its Gaza report, while Britain funded its work last year to the tune of £40,000.

Israeli officials are reported to be discussing ways either to make it illegal for foreign governments to fund “political” organisations in Israel or to force such groups to declare themselves as “agents of a foreign government”.

“Just as it would be unacceptable for European governments to support anti-war NGOs in the US, it is unacceptable for the Europeans to support local NGOs opposed to the policies of Israel’s democratically elected government,” said Ron Dermer, a senior official in Mr Netanyahu’s office.

He added that many of the groups were “working to delegitimise the Jewish state”.

Jeff Halper, the head of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, said the government’s position was opposed to decades-old developments in human rights monitoring.

“Every dictator, from Hitler to Milosevic, has said that there must be no interference in their sovereign affairs, and that everyone else should butt out. But international law says human rights are universal and cannot be left to individual governments to interpret. The idea behind the Geneva Conventions is that the international community has a duty to be the watchdog on human rights abuses wherever they occur.”

Mr Halper, whose organisation last year received 80,000 euros from Spain to rebuild demolished Palestinian homes, was arrested last year for sailing to Gaza with peace activists to break the siege of Gaza.

Other groups reported to be in the foreign ministry’s sights are: B’Tselem, whose activities include providing Palestinians with cameras to record abuses by settlers and the army; Peace Now, which monitors settlement building; Machsom Watch, whose activists observe soldiers at the checkpoints; and Physicians for Human Rights, which has recently examined doctors’ complicity in torture.

The government’s new approach mirrors a long-running campaign against leftwing and Arab human rights groups inside Israel conducted by NGO Monitor, a rightwing lobby group led by Gerald Steinberg, a professor at Bar Ilan University, near Tel Aviv.

NGO Monitor has also targeted international organisations such as Oxfam and Amnesty, but has shown a particular obsession with HRW. Mr Steinberg recently boasted that HRW’s trip to Saudi Arabia in May reflected the loss of major Jewish sponsors in the US following the publication of its Gaza reports.

In an article in the Jerusalem Post on Sunday, Mr Steinberg claimed that European governments treated their funding of Israeli human rights organisations “as ‘top secret’, reflecting the realization that such activities lack legitimacy”.

Mr Mannekin said the Breaking the Silence report listed donors on the first page. “We are far more transparent than NGO Monitor. We don’t know who funds them.”

NGO Monitor, which according to its website is chiefly funded by the shadowy Wechsler Family Foundation in the US, is closely linked to Dore Gold, a hawkish former adviser to Ariel Sharon.

Mr Mannekin added: “The government cannot suppress information about what happened in Gaza by shutting us down. You can’t send 10,000 soldiers into battle and not expect that some of the details will come out. If it’s not us doing it, it’ll be someone else.”

The government’s current campaign follows a police raid on the homes of six Israeli women peace activists in April.

The women, all members of New Profile, a feminist organisation that opposes the militarisation of Israeli society, were arrested and accused of helping Israeli youngsters to evade the draft. The women are still waiting to learn whether they will be prosecuted.

Jonathan Cook, based in Nazareth, Israel is a winner of the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East (Pluto Press) and Disappearing Palestine: Israel's Experiments in Human Despair (Zed Books). Read other articles by Jonathan, or visit Jonathan's website.

12 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Annie Ladysmith said on August 4th, 2009 at 6:43pm #

    It’s good people are waking up to ‘the agenda’. It’s a bit late due to the complete control of ‘the money’, as in paper, but better late than never. But, really, this human rights group, that human rights group, the Dutch, the American Jewish donors, tell me, WHAT ARE ANY OF THESE GROUPS GOING TO DO ABOUT ANY OF IT, when the rouge US War Machine is backing ‘the agenda’???

  2. mary said on August 5th, 2009 at 3:58am #

    Further silencing , this time in Scotland.

    August 04, 2009
    Boycott on trial or Israel on trial in Scotland?
    Here’s a note from the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign:

    Scottish boycott in political show trial for ‘racism’ (Fri 7th Aug)

    Five SPSC members are facing trial on Friday for boycotting Israeli state-sponsored cultural ambassadors, the Jerusalem Quartet. The Israeli musicians, in the words of their admirers, believe that ‘a rifle in one hand and a violin in the other is the ultimate Zionist statement.’

    In the wake of the Israeli massacres in Gaza early this year, the original Breach of the Peace charge was dropped and new charges of “racially aggravated conduct” were issued.

    Boycott helped end South African Apartheid, and can do likewise with Israel. The STUC is pushing the boycott, as are countless other organisations and individuals.

    Help us fight the move to criminalise boycott of criminal Israel. The same British authorities who support the siege of Gaza are working to stifle Israel’s critics here. The five accused are confident this trial will see the Israeli State and its British allies in the dock of the supreme court: the court of public opinion.

    Even if you can only be there for 10 minutes to show your support, please meet outside the court at 9.30am on Friday, and stay for as little or as long as you can.

    Fri 7th Aug 9.30am
    Edinburgh Sheriff Court, Chambers Street,
    Edinburgh, EH1 1LB

    Posted by Levi9909 @ 4:02 PM
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~The background

  3. Mulga Mumblebrain said on August 6th, 2009 at 1:48am #

    Scarcely believable. In my opinion McShame is about as detestable as a Sabbat Goy comes. One wonders what hold the Israelis have over him, but it is indisputable, in my opinion, that such fanatic, fascist, bullying support for Israel’s sheer viciousness and brutality must include a strong element of race hatred and contempt for the Palestinians. In that case I believe it is plain that this type of Zio-stooge is hypocritical to such a degree as almost to defy belief. This is one of the most baleful consequences of Zionist malevolence-the manner in which they incite and justify the hatred of Islam, Arabs and the Palestinians that lies not far beneath the surface of so many of their fevered supporters. In this country we are in the midst of an hysterical campaign of xenophobia and hatemongering aimed at Moslems, and at every turn Rightwing Jews are leading the way. Yet even to mention this undeniable reality, let alone see it subjected to anti-vilification law is absolutely verboten. Similarly all news of the suffering in Gaza has been banished, and the papers are daily filled with sheer agit-prop demonising Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas and Syria. The power, the absolute control that the Zionists exercise over the media and our local politicians is total. These people do not believe in debate, they only accept loyal, dog-like devotion as I believe McShame exhibits. Just how far their lust for power and dominance extends is a troubling question, for, at the same time as their cruelty and belligerence grow, so too does their fanatic determination to outlaw any criticism of their vile, racist, fascist state.

  4. mary said on August 6th, 2009 at 3:23am #

    MacShane is actually Polish on his father’s side but has this adopted phoney Scottish sounding name. He pops up all over the place, is a Privy Councillor and is on the council of the hidden lobby group Labour Friends of Israel.


    See and click on Stooges to see the level of this support in the three main parties within the ‘ Mother of Parliaments’ for a foreign government.

    Mulga, why haven’t the Australians ditched their feudal and anacronistic connections to the UK?

  5. kalidas said on August 6th, 2009 at 3:22pm #

    Another “Pole” with a phony name Hebrew sounding name.

    David Gruen (Green) = David Ben-Gurion.

    Wow! One might presume the “Jewish” state’s very first Prime minister would be a Semite.

    One would be wrong…

  6. Mulga Mumblebrain said on August 7th, 2009 at 1:41am #

    mary, because Australia is run by an hereditary caste of cretins, some very Rightwing, some former ‘socialists’ now moderately Rightwing. Our choice is between A and A flat, although real power in the country is in the hands of the likes of Rupert Murdoch, and the local, belligerent and ubiquitous Judaic Lobby. If these worthies decided that the country should become a republic, it would happen in a flash. As it is the parasite elites love the idea of a monarchy, which symbolises their passionate dedication to unmerited, hereditary, privilege, and an unmoveable system of perpetual social stratification.

  7. mary said on August 7th, 2009 at 3:58am #

    Thanks Mulga, Little hope for change then.

    I spotted my earlier spelling mistake. s/be anachronistic

    Here is a link to the latest article in the New Statesman by your countryman, John Pilger.

    As usual, Pilger sums up the shaming truth so well:

    “The suppression of the suffering of Britain’s and America’s colonial victims is an article of media faith, a tradition so ingrained that it requires no instructions.”

  8. Mulga Mumblebrain said on August 9th, 2009 at 1:57am #

    Mary, Pilger, now 70, is one of the few reasons to feel pride in being ‘Austrayan’. Here,of course, he is reviled by evil imbeciles and the morally insane, to please their owners, principally Murdoch-Moloch.

  9. mary said on August 9th, 2009 at 5:24am #

    Yes totally agree. He is a

  10. mary said on August 9th, 2009 at 7:51am #

    sorry hit the wrong button!

    He is a hero of mine as he has shone so many lights into the darknesses of the Empires.

    I was introduced to him when he presented the Martha Gellhorn prizes to Dahr Jamail and Mohammed Omer in London in 2007. I was with my brother David Halpin (who was on the Dignity that was rammed by the Israeli navy and whom Mebosa Ritchie wished dead) knows him. I found myself quite tongue tied in his presence and he is certainly charismatic. When he flashes one of those smiles, well…

  11. Mulga Mumblebrain said on August 12th, 2009 at 2:21am #

    mary, I bet mebosa has a lovely smile too-like a crocodile.

  12. mary said on August 12th, 2009 at 4:09am #

    hA hA

    He is wont to give links to childish you tubes so here is one specially for him. Where is he btw? Holiday in Eilat?