When the United Nations released the so-called Goldstone Report in September 2009, Israelis and their supporters around the world were astonished by the blunt words near its conclusion:
“There is evidence indicating serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law were committed by Israel during the Gaza conflict, and that Israel committed actions amounting to war crimes, and possibly crimes against humanity.”The report declared that virtually everything Israel had done during Operation Cast Lead—Israel’s attempt in late 2008 and early 2009 to stop Hamas’s rocket war on Israeli civilians—had been a crime.
|Israel's 'human rights community'|
And, as first pointed out by NGO Monitor, the Goldstone Report relied most heavily on the largest and most prominent among them: the group known as B’Tselem.
In making such a profound contribution to the Goldstone Report, B’Tselem was performing the task to which it has truly dedicated itself: not the defense of human rights in the West Bank and Gaza, but the delegitimization of Israel and its existence as a Jewish state. Biletzky, for one, is proud of her organization’s innovative approach:
In April of 2003, we issued a report called “Landgrab”. It showed how the whole settlement project is a violation of human rights according to international law and the Geneva Convention. . . . It’s amazing because I think that conceptually it’s very creative to think of settlements as being a violation of human rights.Creative it certainly is, especially because the claim is also based on a false premise, namely that every dunam of the West Bank is sovereign Palestinian territory and therefore any Israeli presence there amounts to illegal occupation.
In 2002, after two years of Palestinian suicide bombings had left hundreds of Israelis dead, the IDF entered the West Bank in order to, among other things, protect the human rights of Israeli civilians to not be maimed and murdered. Biletzky responded by organizing a petition of academics “to express our appreciation and support for those of our students and lecturers who refuse to serve as soldiers in the occupied territories” and to “help students who encounter academic, administrative, or economic difficulties as a result of their refusal to serve.”
Later in 2002, as the United States contemplated invading Iraq, Biletzky signed a bizarre petition that read, “We are deeply worried by indications that the ‘fog of war’ [in Iraq] could be exploited by the Israeli government to commit further crimes against the Palestinian people, up to full-fledged ethnic cleansing.” It concluded by calling on the “International Community” to take “concrete measures” to prevent Israeli “crimes against humanity.”
All of this work has certainly paid off. In 2004, as Biletzky told an interviewer, “B’Tselem is trusted by all sides. If the American Embassy wants information, they come to us. If Tom Friedman wants information, he comes to us.” The U.S. State Department can be added to the list of those who not only trust B’Tselem, but rely on the group uncritically. Yet almost its entire annual budget is provided by European governments and American foundations, such as the New Israel Fund and the Ford Foundation.
B’Tselem, in fact, is consciously trying to have it both ways, using human-rights rhetoric to conceal a radical and indeed anti-Zionist political agenda that would be met with far less sympathy were it honestly expressed. It is not an unintelligent strategy.
Anat Biletzky told a small campus audience in 2007 just after she stepped down as the group’s chairman of the board, “B’Tselem is now opening an office in D.C. because we think that there are two main targets here. One is American policymakers. The other is the Jewish community. And the two are not unrelated, as we have seen in Walt and Mearsheimer’s book.”
For reasons that may be disturbing to contemplate, the journalists who eagerly report her organization’s accusations against Israel have never taken her biases into consideration when assessing the veracity of B’Tselem’s accusations. Most telling of all, perhaps, at no point did members of B’Tselem itself—its board, its employees, or its army of supporters—protest the extremism in its own ranks.
The situation is no better today. Biletzsky has been replaced by two people: Gilad Barnea, an attorney who avoids political statements, and Oren Yiftachel, a professor of “political geography” at Ben-Gurion University. Yiftachel is one of Israel’s most outspoken anti-Zionists.
B’Tselem is merely one player, albeit a leading one, in a political movement. It is joined by dozens of other groups in Israel and abroad that operate under the pretense of promoting human rights and civil society. The proliferation of these NGOs appears from the outside to be an independent and organic response to the worsening of real problems in Israel, but in fact the groups are closely allied. They have shared goals, shared funders, coordinate their work closely, defend each other from criticism, and collaborate on campaigns to promote specific accusations.
This war of delegitimization is so dangerous because it is targeted precisely at the heart of Western support for Israel—the belief in Europe and especially in America that Israel is not only a legitimate nation-state but also an exemplar of Western liberal values, deserving of the free world’s support and its protection in the face of constant attacks. The genius of the NGO movement is its promotion of Israelis themselves to make the case against Israel. Who better to convince Westerners that they are wrong to admire Israel than Jews feigning concern over Israel’s moral standing?
And so, over the past 15 years, the peace movement has fallen from a position of influence in Israeli politics to one, today, of irrelevance, an anachronism that no longer has realistic answers to Israel’s problems.
What remains of the peace movement is a white-hot core of activists who refuse to acknowledge their failure and yet cannot gracefully recede from the political stage. They have discovered an innovative formula for rebuilding their political relevance completely outside the democratic political arena: reconstitute themselves as NGOs and conceal their political agenda in the apolitical rhetoric of human rights and international law. In this guise, the peace movement no longer has any need to win elections or offer a serious platform for governance.
In these circumstances, where there is no point in trying to succeed at the ballot box, leftist Israeli activism now directs itself internationally in the hopes that fomenting a narrative of Israeli criminality will invite enough sanction and condemnation from Europe, the United Nations, and America to force Israel to accede to the demands of these otherwise powerless radicals.
The policies they support would constitute nothing less than Zionism’s destruction. And they apparently have no compunction about seeking its destruction from without, since they have learned to their disappointment and rage that Israel is too strong a nation to allow itself to be destroyed from within.
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(heavily) edited by Caped Crusader