Netanyahu compares human rights groups to Russian election interference

The prime minister is trying to turn human rights and anti-occupation groups into a subversive boogie monster, this time by conflating them with Western democracy’s contemporary super-villain — Russian election interference. What if he’s right?

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at an event in Jerusalem, October 15, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90, cropped)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at an event in Jerusalem, October 15, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90, cropped)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu conflated European Union funding for human rights groups in Israel with Russian interference in U.S. elections, according to a report in Haaretz Sunday. The comments came in the context of a government a decision to form a parliamentary committee to investigate the funding of left-wing, mostly human rights organizations.

Asked whether there is any precedent for a parliamentary committee interfering in the affairs of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), “Netanyahu responded affirmatively, citing the example of the U.S. congressional investigation into Russian interference in America’s 2016 presidential election,” according to the report, which cited people who were in the closed meeting.

Israeli rights groups are required by law to fully disclose the sources of their funding, making their activities and backers fully transparent and above-ground; they have not been accused of breaking any laws. Alleged Russian interference in the U.S. presidential elections, on the other hand, was covert and would appear to have violated innumerable American laws.

A more appropriate comparison might be between the strikingly similar ways the Netanyahu and Putin governments vilify NGOs in their respective countries.

The Netanyahu government and the right-wing parties that comprise it have long put their crosshairs on human rights organizations in Israel, which for the most part focus their work on Israel’s 50-year occupation of the Palestinian territories and the human and civil rights violations it leads to.

Numerous right-wing public campaigns over the years — which included selectively targeted legislation — have focused on the fact that most human and civil rights organizations in Israel receive at least some funding from foreign governments (mostly European, but also the United States). These campaigns, and the politicians behind them, have sought to cast Israeli human rights organizations and their employees as foreign agents working to advance the sinister agendas of hostile states, despite the fact that most of the money comes from Israel’s closest allies.

The aim — and the result — has been to portray of human and civil rights as subversive ideas being used by foreign, presumably anti-Semitic powers to undermine the State of Israel itself. That last feat is accomplished by conflating the State of Israel with its occupation of the Palestinian territories, and the right-wing ideology that demands its transformation into an immutable reality.

Of course, human rights and anti-occupation activism can only be subversive to the state if the occupation — including its inherent, myriad violations of Palestinian rights — has indeed become part and parcel of the state, its ethos, and a requisite ingredient for its survival. The main component of that inseparability is the presence of Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, and the permanent military deployment Israel deems necessary to protect them.

Since Donald Trump entered the White House, the Netanyahu government has become far bolder in its intransigence toward the idea that the occupation might one day end and a Palestinian state rise in its place. Whereas Netanyahu once only promised never to withdraw Israeli troops from the West Bank, which itself would preclude a sovereign Palestinian state, now he has begun vowing never to uproot an Israeli settlement.

So given that in Netanyahu’s worldview the occupation is indeed an immutable fact, and considering that the occupation invariably produces daily human rights violations for the millions of stateless, disenfranchised Palestinians living under it, then perhaps advocating for Palestinian human rights is subversive to the State of Israel after all. In which case, somebody should probably establish a parliamentary inquiry to look into that.