Knesset Attempt To Cripple Israeli Civil Society

In the wake of the public row over the attack on the New Israel Fund, many supporters of Israeli civil society are stopping to catch their breath. The support NIF received was quite impressive and speaks very well about the deep and abiding care that Jews and our friends the world over have for the best ideals among Israelis as expressed by a stunning array of groups that seek to improve conditions both in Israel and over the Green line.

But while people recover from that episode, a far more dangerous threat has emerged, this time not coming from an ultra-nationalist private group like Im Tirtzu but from the Knesset itself.

Thousands marched last December in Tel Aviv in Israel's first human rights march

A bill that has passed its preliminary first reading in the Knesset, with the Orwellian name “Bill for the Duty of Disclosure for Someone Supported by a Foreign Political Entity,”purports to close “loopholes” regarding transparency of funding for Israeli non-profit entities.

In practice, the bill selectively targets a wide array of progressive groups and would seriously impact their ability to fund their activities or even to engage in them. Any state programs funded by “foreign political entities” would not be included in the bill’s restrictions; nor would right-wing groups which are universally funded by private money.

Before I explain how this would come about, we should first understand some background about non-profit organizations in Israel. The field there is very different than what most of us are used to.

In the United States, there exists a broad network of foundations and philanthropies, encouraged through tax examptions by the government, to fund various social causes of all sorts. In Europe, government funds are dispersed through various agencies that act much like foundations in the States.

But Israel has none of this; not surprising as Israel was born with the help of support from outside funding sources from the earliest days of the Yishuv through the creation of the state and up to the present day. Thus, Israeli organizations that pursue advocacy, social services and other forms of activism depend on funding from overseas. The government itself gets help from other countries to pursue various projects, as does Israel’s education sector, Israeli settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem and a wide variety of Jewish religious and cultural projects throughout the country. Continue reading

Our Heritage is Multicultural

My latest in Zeek Magazine is a little different than my usual fare as I examine some of the less discussed implications, including some profound historical and cultural ones for Jews, of Bibi Netanyahu’s designation of the Tomb of the Patriarchs and Rachel’s Tomb as National Heritage sites.

Addendum to "The End of Hasbara"

A reader asked me about the use of the word “sabotage” in the Reut report and what i made of that. Since I didn’t include that question in my article, here is my response to that reader.
On sabotage, I don’t think it means what Ali Abunimah at Electronic Intifada thinks it means. It is not referring to physical sabotage, web attacks and the like. In Hebrew, the word is שיבוש which means disruption. In the context of the full paragraph, it seems clear this is referring to causing a split between the “de-legitimizers” and what Reut is referring to as the “critics.” At most, this seems to mean infiltration, and that is the harshest definition that seems at all reasonable to me in the context of the full paragraph. Moreover, in Hebrew, the word for the verb “to sabotage” is לחבל. This word does not appear in the Hebrew version of the report, and if physical sabotage was the intended meaning, I don’t see how they could avoid that word, as the word for disruption would not carry the implication of physical sabotage. Occam’s Razor suggests that the intention is to direct the recommended hasbara toward splitting the various groups along the lines of critics and de-legitimizers, because they seem to feel (probably quite correctly) that without the “critics” the “de-legitimizers” would have little chance of having political impact.

The same reader also posed the following question: Second, and more importantly, although I think this is first-rate analysis (and rhetoric), in one aspect it leaves me scratching my head: you say Israel is failing because it has a strategy with no endgame. But the rump state solution seems like an obvious and even successful strategy. Israel is turning the West Bank into Gaza. Soon it will be a problem capable of being managed, like East Timor, Tibet, or any other pocket of population without national rights. It seems the Israelis have decided recently that this is the best they can hope for.

Here is my response to that:

On your more important question…
The first problem with the “rump state solution” as you put it is the same as the one we have now–the settlements. Israel can’t turn the West Bank into Gaza without removing the settlements. Their continued presence will mean that the situation cannot be managed a la Tibet or East Timor. Moreover, the comparison to Timor and Tibet fails because China and Indonesia were not stirring up a regional tinderbox with their occupations (ongoing, in China’s case). The human rights issues were just as serious (in the case of Timor, they were far graver, in fact), but the political implications did not begin to compare. No one cared about East Timor. Many care about Palestine, in the region, in Europe and, increasingly, in the USA. So it wouldn’t work.

Then the question is, whether or not it would work, is this what Israel is, in fact, planning? Much of thinking, particularly that advanced by Noam Chomsky, on this question starts with the Allon Plan. But that plan was based in the notion that Jordan would take up the parts of the West Bank that Israel left out–and, perhaps more importantly, the Allon Plan envisioned actually absorbing significant numbers of Palestinians into Israel. Both of those notions are no longer applicable. So if, and I doubt it’s the case, Israel is still pursuing the Allon Plan, the issue i raise remains the same–they no longer have an endgame.

Otherwise, i think your formulation and mine end up in the same place–no real change in the status quo for decades to come until some calamitous event, whether a disaster for the Palestinians or for Israel, changes the conditions of the game. What I see is what I’ve seen for a long time–an occupation regime that sees only as far ahead as the necessity for maintaining the occupation takes it.

The End of Hasbara

In my latest piece for Zeek, I look at the recently release report by the Reut Institute, which looks at the BDS movement around the world. It has some points to it that are actually quite important, but it is fatally flawed, and it revives so many of the mistakes Israel has been making for many years.

Stand Up For Democracy, Civil and Human Rights In Israel

How pernicious is the campaign against the New Israel Fund (NIF)?

The group that started this, Im Tirtzu, bills itself as a centrist group, although its founder and lead spokesperson, Ronen Shoval, was also a leading activist against the Gaza withdrawal and ran for the Knesset on the ticket of the far-right Habayit Hayehudi (The Jewish Home) party. As the campaign against NIF started to flag, such right-wing all-stars who never let facts get in the way of their ideological programs as Gerald Steinberg and David Bedein jumped into the media pool to try to prop it up.

Im Tirtzu demonstrating at Na'alin, where regular protests against the separation barrier often leave Palestinians injured

But indeed it would be a mistake to see this as a hardcore right-wing attack. The Im Tirtzu campaign is certainly hateful enough, but the real threat came up when a drive in the Knesset began to set up a subcommittee to investigate the NIF. This drive, which failed as well, was not led by a fanatical right-winger, but by Yisrael Hasson and Otniel Schneller of the “centrist” Kadima party (that Kadima can be called the Israeli center realistically says much about the rightward drift in the past decade of Israeli politics, but thatg is a separate matter).

It is also worth noting that there was a lot of opposition to this idea, and it came not only from the left but also from Kadima (by MK Nachman Shai, for example) and from Likud (including such leading figures as Dan Meridor, Benny Begin and Michael Eitan).

The witch-hunters who have set their sights on NIF are not giving up, and Im Tirtzu and their supporters in the media (notably Ben Caspit of Ma’ariv, Israel’s second-leading daily newspaper) are still working to launch governmental probes of NIF and to revive Knesset legislation to prevent Israeli NGOs from receiving foreign funding (no similar action against settlements and settler organizations receiving foreign support is in the offing). Continue reading

What Israelis Can Do

In my latest piece for Zeek Magazine, I look at the prospects in the medium term, several years, and what the US, Israel and the Palestinians can do to come back from the brink. Europe is often overlooked in this equation, and I try to bring it in.

The Perversion of Herzl

Delving into the truly horrifying developments in Israel regarding the attacks by the contemptible group Im Tirtzu abetted by some friends of theirs in the Knesset and the daily newspaper, Ma’ariv. Fortunately, in the Knesset, cooler heads seem to have prevailed, but it’s worth noting that the major incitement there came from a Kadima MK while the properly legal view came from ministers further right. The article in Zeek can be found here. And thanks to new friends at PalestineNote.com, you can also follow my articles there.