Public letter to PCATI's friends from Ishai Menuchin on the attack on human rights NGOs in Israel:
(Available at http://www.stoptorture.org.il/en/node/1547)
As you may be aware, the Israeli public debate has recently been filled with loud and bitter attacks against the human rights community, emanating from voices in the extreme right and spearheaded by “Im Tirtzu” and other organizations that enjoy the backing of ourright-wing government and parliament members. The right wing of the Israeli political map and its supporters are aiming their campaigns at the backbone of Israeli democracy, attempting to silence dissent and stifle Israel’s human rights and civil society
organizations, through vitriolic and highly personal attacks. It is an ongoing, ultranationalistic campaign, in which the latest and most alarming step is a law proposal introduced in the parliament to outlaw key human rights organizations in Israel. A joint response by the Human Rights Community can be found here.
In addition to these developments, the human rights community is under regular assault by organizations such as “NGO Monitor” and many of us who are both lecturers and human rights activists are directly targeted by “Israel Academia Monitor”. We would like to believe that the efforts of such organizations constitute nothing more than the normal give and take of democratic discourse and deliberation but it seems that they have gone beyond and enlisted Israel's legislature, with Government support, to begin to attack human rights with legislation meant to chill and stall human rights advocacy that is critical of Israeli policy. For example in December 2009, NGO Monitor, together with the “Institute for Zionist Strategies”, held a conference in the Knesset, “Foreign Government Funding for NGO Political Activity in Israel” in order to attack the human rights community. Not long after the conference a law proposal was introduced that would drastically change the status of such organizations, thus affecting our position as civil society organizations and ultimately taxing our donations. Effectively, under the false guise of transparency they would legislate human rights advocacy out of existence. A chilling thought at the very least. Of course there is no such initiative being directed at the countless number of pro-occupation organizations, settler associations who, over the decades have spent vast amounts of public funds to trample the rights of Palestinians, thwart peace and scuttle democracy.
In a recently issued report, a pseudo exposé of Israel’s human rights community, Im Tirtzu directs its attacks at a few key organizations and individuals, among them PCATI and, on an individual level, me. The report incites against human rights organizationsconnected with bringing prosecutions against Israeli officers and politicians in foreign jurisdictions. Im Tirtzu’s message, which I answered in a recently published article in the Israeli daily Maariv, is one of hatred and incitement rather than the presentation of anopposing argument to our position, and brings to mind the darkest days before Rabin's assassination.
Our community cannot be more transparent. Our agendas, financial records and donors are clearly available and never hidden. Our strength is in our efforts to work democratically. In fact, the recent attacks on PCATI reflect the fact that we take a stand at the forefront of the struggle for human rights, justice and democracy.
As human rights defenders in Israel, we are accustomed to operating in a hostile environment. However, we consider the current political climate and the attacks levelled against PCATI and its allies in the fight for justice to be unprecedented. They pose a serious and immediate threat, to the goal of a lasting and sustainable peace in the region, and indeed to our very democracy. A cause of grave concern is what seems to be the growing support that these anti-democratic voices garner among Israelis. This week,
Haaretz reported on a new survey according to which: "more than half of Jewish Israelis think human rights organizations that expose immoral behavior by Israel should not be allowed to operate freely, and think there is too much freedom of expression here…."
These challenges are adding urgency to PCATI's efforts.
At this difficult time, we turn to you for your support in our efforts to push back against the anti-democratic forces we confront. We would be most grateful if you could contact the Israeli Ambassador in your capital in order to register your alarm.
Similarly, with your support we plan to respond this onslaught. We intend to continue to take action in the public sphere, and launch a campaign to address the issues of impunity, international advocacy and human rights dialogue in Israel.
Dr. Ishai Menuchin
Executive Director Public Committee Against Torture in Israel