Despite my criticisms of various Israeli governments, I never thought I’d see one emulate the authoritarianism of Vladimir Putin’s security state called Russia. Since Breaking the Silence published a deeply disturbing series of IDF soldiers’ accounts of Israeli misconduct in Gaza, the government has gone on a counter-offensive. The foreign ministry has petitioned the governments of every European country that provided financial support for the report and complained that such support was an insult to Israel and an unwanted interference in its internal affairs.
China (Tibet) and Russia (Chechnya) get away with this sort of crap all the time. But they’re pretty large fellas on the world stage and who’s going to take them on? Burma gets away with it too, but who wants to mess with a bunch of crazy Asian generals? Israel, however, is a different story. It is not a major power (despite what some of its generals and intelligence officials might think) and very much relies on the kindness, not of strangers, but of one particular ally. That makes Israel vulnerable (though again you wouldn’t know this from what some of the self-same generals and nationalist pols would tell you).
It is well known that Israel is preparing for possible war crimes charges being filed against its military officers. A Haaretz op-ed writer links the Breaking the Silence testimonies to this issue:
The fact that soldiers have…testified to BTS about the Gaza operation appear to have caused panic within the government. Apparently, there is concern that these accounts will fuel efforts to charge Israel with war crimes.
Bibi’s response is to come down like a ton of bricks not only on BTS and the EU member states that fund it, but on all potentially offending Israeli political NGOs:
Ron Dermer, chief of policy planning in the Prime Minister’s Office, decried the funding of political NGOs by foreign governments as a “blatant and unacceptable” intervention into Israel’s internal affairs.
“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,” he said.
Moreover, Dermer said, what makes it worse is that some of the NGOs are not merely opposed to specific policies, but “are working to delegitimize the Jewish state.”
This is utter foolishness and no one but Ron Dermer and Israeli apologists would believe a word of it. But what I find especially interesting about the argument is that it almost precisely mirrors the ones used by Putin to outlaw George Soros’ Open Society project and many other NGOs deemed “offensive” by the Russian authorities. Now, it may be that Vladimir Putin can get away with such arch authoritarian repudiation of basic democratic rights. But Israel? I think not.
One of the most obvious fallacies of Dermer’s argument is that the NGOs, while they may not support the policy of the Israeli government (in this case, in Gaza), the EU funders understand that BTS fulfills a critical role within Israeli society by defending human rights when the government has long abandoned any such concerns. Since the Israeli government no longer understands or fulfills its obligations under international law regarding the Occupation, outsiders must play the role of supporting the Israeli insiders who do.
Now, if Israel wants to become Putin’s Russia, be my guest. It will make Israel even more of a world pariah than it is currently. And I don’t think Israel can carry it off with quite the impunity of Putin’s Russia. After all, he can cut off Europe’s winter heating oil supply. What can Israel do? Drop an A-bomb on London?
Ron Kampeas reports that even a few American Jewish organizations have understood that the Israeli government position could be problematic:
…Some Jewish organizational officials counter that a ban on foreign government support of NGOs is more characteristic of a dictatorship, and would undermine U.S. efforts to support NGOs in Iran and other countries with poor human rights records.One senior official at a centrist Jewish organization said such an initiative was profoundly counterintuitive, considering how much the Israeli and Jewish establishments had reaped from Western government backing for NGOs assisting Jews in the Soviet Union during the Cold War — and how such support continues today in Iran and the former Soviet Union.
“It’s a little surprising,” said the official, who spoke anonymously to avoid embarrassing Israel’s government. “All over the world, NGOs are accused of taking other governments’ dollars and being tainted by that — the National Endowment for Democracy, the National Democratic Institute, the National Republican Institute. If the Israeli government says we’re going to only let certain human rights groups operate, it makes it harder to make our case” elsewhere.
Not surprisingly, Abe Foxman, that defender of Israeli democracy and human rights, carries water for the Israelis:
Abraham Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League…said that foreign support for NGOs was simply a means for foreign governments to effect through the back door what Israelis have already rejected.
“There’s too much mischief through Israeli NGOs to try and achieve domestically through foreign money what could not be achieved through the democratic process,” he said.
In other words, Abe believes that BTS is a political organization with goals antithetical to those of the Israeli state. When the truth is that BTS and Israeli NGOs like it seek to have Israel live up to the ethical standards explicitly stated in its Declaration of Independence. The NGOs are Israeli patriots, not subversives nor those who wish to “delegitimize the Jewish state.” But this is too deep for Abe to understand and digresses from the talking points provided to him by the embassy.
I was disappointed to see New Israel Fund’s Larry Garber quoted as undermining the basis for foreign funding of Israeli NGOs:
“Both on developmental and political grounds, you can make the argument [that Israel] shouldn’t be receiving” funds from overseas governments, Garber said.
Of course, this is easy for Larry to say because NIF privately funds many Israeli NGOs and presumably doesn’t use or need foreign funding. What Garber neglects to mention is that there are controversial NGOs like BTS that NIF probably can’t or won’t touch. And it’s precisely for this reason that there MUST be foreign funding in Israel.