Human rights groups smeared over actions of one man

Ezra Nawi, a prominent figure in direct-action anti-occupation group Ta’ayush, was secretly recorded talking about having a Palestinian man killed for selling land to Israeli settlers. In response, the prime minister, defense minister and education minister take aim at the entire Israeli Left. 

Ezra Nawi during a solidarity visit to the southern West Bank village of Susiya, October 29, 2009. (Yotam Ronen/
Ezra Nawi during a Ta’ayush solidarity visit to the southern West Bank village of Susiya, October 29, 2009. (Yotam Ronen/

A damning investigative report has Israel’s human rights community in the crosshairs once again. Channel 2’s flagship investigative report show, “Uvda” (“Fact” in Hebrew) aired a 35-minute segment Thursday night featuring the work of a clandestine right-wing group that tries to infiltrate the ranks of Israel’s left-wing NGOs.

The group, named “Ad Kan” (loosely translated to “No More”), arms its members with hidden cameras in order to capture high-profile leftists doing or saying things they probably should not be doing or saying. This way, Ad Kan’s founders claim, it can be proven once and for all that Israeli human rights groups actually care very little about human rights.

Two employees of Ad Kan successfully infiltrated the well known anti-occupation group, Ta’ayush, which brings Jewish and Palestinian volunteers to the West Bank to work alongside Palestinians in nonviolent direct-action activities such as re-building wells that have been destroyed by the army, re-planting olive groves that have been torched or felled by settlers, or escorting Palestinian herders who have been harassed and assaulted by settlers.

A Jewish member of Ta’ayush uses his body to protect Palestinian shepherds from Israeli settlers in the south Hebron Hills, 2008. (Keren Manor/
A Jewish member of Ta’ayush uses his body to protect Palestinian shepherds from Israeli settlers in the south Hebron Hills, 2008. (Keren Manor/

One of the infiltrators, “Arik,” a fake name, eventually grows close to Ezra Nawi, one of the most prominent figures in Ta’ayush and the radical Israeli Left in general. Nawi, an Israeli Jew of Iraqi descent who is openly despised by settlers and generally revered by Israeli activists, tells Arik that he often receives calls from Palestinian land brokers who wish to sell property in the West Bank to Israelis, but who cannot do so on the open market because doing so is a capital offense under Palestinian law.

Nawi is then secretly filmed pretending to act as a middleman, telling “Arik” that is doing so in order to report the Palestinian broker to the PA’s Preventive Security Force, which he says will torture and kill both the seller and middleman.

Throughout the 35-minute report, we see Nawi meet with the middleman, “Musa,” to discuss the details of the deal. Unbeknownst to the latter, however, Nawi has already set up a plan — along with a field worker from Israeli human rights organization, B’Tselem — to turn him in to Palestinian security forces.

Even — or perhaps, especially — for those most loyal to Nawi’s cause, it is difficult to see him laughing with “Arik” about the torture and murder of another person. Musa eventually backs down from the deal and we are later told that nobody was harmed.

The responses to the report were quick to follow. B’Tselem accused Uvda of “choosing to [publish] materials that were gathered in shady ways through impersonations and based on the absurd assumption that Ta’ayush activists are part of a dangerous organization whose activities are illegitimate.The show ignored the power dynamics in the area, as well as the question of who this right-wing group serves and who is behind it.”

If that weren’t enough, the highest echelons of the Israeli government also had something to say about Nawi’s reported actions. But instead of focusing their rage at the person who most certainly appears to deserve it, they leveraged the report to attack and smear the entire spectrum of left-leaning and human rights organizations.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon. (GPO file photo by Haim Zach)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon. (GPO file photo by Haim Zach)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Uvda’s report “revealed the true face of the extremists among us, whose hatred for the settlements drive them crazy and has brought them to the point where they turn in innocents who will undergo torture and the death penalty.”

In true form, Netanyahu went on to chastise the Palestinian Authority for having such a law on its books in the first place, and for the “brutal behavior” that comes as a response to selling land to Jews. (Palestinian law, which is actually a leftover Jordanian law, prohibits selling land to Israelis, not specifically to Jews.) Netanyahu also directed his ire at Nawi, writing that “anyone who supports murder cannot continue to hide behind the hypocrisy of ‘caring for human rights’.”

Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon somehow managed to connect the Uvda report to the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign (BDS), writing on his Facebook page that the majority of “human rights” activists that he has met over the years were busy with sullying Israel’s name as part of the movement to boycott Israel. They’ll do anything to trash the Jewish state, he wrote, even going as far as “endangering the lives of Palestinian land sellers.” According to Ya’alon, these “so-called peace groups” are part of a larger campaign that Israel is struggling against.

But it was Education Minister Naftali Bennett who dedicated three whole Facebook statuses (and counting) in a single day to Uvda’s report.

First Bennett accused the New Israel Fund and the European Union of funding Israeli human rights activists who turn in innocent Palestinians, urging his followers to share the status because the media silences opinions such as these. (Yes, the same media that aired the report in the first place.)

Two hours later, Bennett published a second status in which he claimed he had spoken with both the British and French ambassadors to Israel, urging them to cease transferring funds to Ta’ayush and B’Tselem. Bennett then followed up with yet a third status, in which he attached a three-minute video summary of Uvda’s report, urging the “heads of the Left,” including Isaac Herzog, Tzipi Livni, Yair Lapid, and “even Zehava Galon” to condemn such actions. “Murder is murder is murder,” Bennett wrote.

(While strongly condemning any action, especially by a human rights defender, that intentionally leads to another human being’s torture or death, it is important to note that there is no evidence anybody was actually harmed as a result of the incidents portrayed in the Uvda report. That is not a defense of Nawi’s reported actions, however, which are unjustifiable.)

Instead of simply condemning Nawi’s indefensible actions, Israel’s leadership is exploiting this political moment to its fullest. At a time when human rights organizations are already under concerted attack, for Israeli leaders, Uvda’s report serves as yet further proof that Israeli human rights groups — not individuals — are a threat to the very existence of the state.

It should come as no surprise then that such fear mongering is nearly exclusively aimed at left-wing organizations (Netanyahu, Ya’alon, and Bennett kept mum when human rights activists were the subject of a recent campaign of incitement) and that there is an entire network of organizations, from Ad Kan to the proto-fascist Im Tirzu, that are, if not working in tandem with, then directly inspired by right-wing politicians who seek to quash any and all dissent.

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