B’Tselem calls on world to ‘intervene’ to stop ‘more perfect occupation,’ and Netanyahu goes ballistic

This is an important developing story about Israel’s moral crisis/delegitimization in the eyes of the world.

Last Friday, Hagai El-Ad, the head of the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, spoke at the United Nations Security Council in a special discussion on Israeli settlements and urged it to take action at last against the occupation because, as he explained later, “The reality will not change if the world does not intervene. I suspect that our arrogant government also knows this, so it’s busy fearmongering against such an intervention.”

At the U.N., El-Ad described the administration of the territories as “a legal guise for organized state violence.” He itemized how every aspect of the illegal colonization project receives the legal blessing of Israeli judges and officials, and how human rights atrocities against Palestinians are never investigated.

We have had plenty of time to work towards a more perfect occupation…. Look at the occupation and all the legal pretense surrounding it, and call it for what it is: a legal guise for organized state violence.

And he threw in this challenge to the U.S.

Six-and-a-half years ago US Vice President Joe Biden warned that “the status quo is not sustainable”. … The “status quo” – that ever progressing vector of Israeli interests at the expense of Palestinian rights – has proven not merely sustainable, but in fact thriving.

Lara Friedman of Americans for Peace Now also spoke at the Security Council session and described apartheid-like conditions in the occupied territories (without using the a-word) and said, “I urge you here today to finally take action in the Security Council.”

All weekend Israeli PM Netanyahu lashed out against B’Tselem, and Americans for Peace Now too.

On Facebook Saturday, Netanyahu said that what B’Tselem and Peace Now could not achieve by democratic means, they were trying to achieve by international pressure. They’d “joined the chorus of slander” of Israel, by saying that “the occupation of the west bank settlements” was the reason of conflict, when it’s the Palestinian refusal to recognize “the Jewish state.” Partial translation from Haaretz.

In Israeli democracy fleeting and bizarre organizations like B’Tselem can also express themselves. But most of the public knows the truth. We will continue to defend justice and our state in the face of all international pressure…. the truth is that the Palestinians attacked Israel for some 50 years, before there was one settlement. They continue to attack Israel from the Gaza Strip even after we left it completely.

The State Department yesterday issued a statement in support of B’Tselem:

“We believe that a free and unfettered civil society is a critical component of democracy…we believe it is important that governments protect the freedoms of expression, and create an atmosphere where all voices can be heard.

“We are troubled by instances anywhere in the world where these principles are threatened.”

The New York Times had a good story on the flap yesterday, saying the Netanyahu threat is symbolic:

Mr. Netanyahu’s pronouncement was largely symbolic: Only three volunteers from a program for 18-year-olds exempted from compulsory military service on ideological, religious, health or other grounds have applied to perform national service at B’Tselemin the last seven years. Amit Gilutz, a spokesman for B’Tselem, said no other volunteers were in the pipeline

Facing a firestorm in his country, El-Ad issued a statement about why he spoke at the U.N.– because there must be global intervention:

Intervention by the world against the occupation is just as legitimate as any human-rights issue. It’s all the more so when it involves an issue like our ruling over another people. This is no internal Israeli matter. It is blatantly an international matter.

Here’s another conclusion: There is no chance Israeli society, of its own volition and without any help, will end the nightmare.

The personal parts of his statement are moving:

I spoke at the United Nations against the occupation because I am an Israeli. I have no other country. I have no other citizenship and no other future. I grew up here and will be buried here. I spoke at the UN Security Council against the occupation because I am optimistic, because I am an Israeli, because I was born in Haifa and live in Jerusalem, and because I am no longer a young man and every day of my life has accompanied our control of them. And because it is impossible to carry on like this.

We must not carry on like this. I spoke at the UN Security Council against the occupation because I am striving to be a human being.

El-Ad defended himself in part because a Labor activist filed a treason charge against him! The Times of Israel:

An activist for the Labor party has filed a police complaint for alleged treason against the human rights group B’Tselem, amid anger over a speech by the organization’s director criticizing Israeli settlement policy at a United Nations forum last week.

The complaint… alleges that B’Tselem has worked to damage the sovereignty of the state, give land away to a foreign entity, and has taken steps that could cause a war. The three accusations are listed as clauses in Israel’s criminal code under “Treason.”

David Harris-Gershon makes a fair analogy:

Imagine the being attacked by Obama & charged w/ treason. This is happening in Israel to for exposing human rights abuses.

The B’Tselem confrontation might play into American action, or inaction, at the Security Council in weeks to come. The Washington Post had a strong report on El-Ad’s speech, which cites the role of the harsh U.S. condemnation of a new Israeli settlement, from two weeks back. Daniel Seidemann’s political take:

Netanyahu is leading Israel to a frontal collision w/ the world over occupation. His only response is demonizing those sounding the warning.

The New Israel Fund’s Daniel Sokatch issued a statement last night warning that Netanyahu is inciting violence, and behaving like Donald Trump. He reminds us that B’Tselem has gotten death threats before.

[B]y threatening legislation to retaliate against B’Tselem, the prime minister is acting in a manner that is deeply at odds with democratic values. This is the type of vengeance we might expect from a Donald Trump-controlled government, but not from the elected leader of a truly democratic society….

This rhetoric has consequences. For decades, Israel’s human rights activists didn’t have to worry much about personal security. But, as the incitement against them grew, that changed. You may remember that two years ago NIF had to approve emergency funding to B’Tselem so that they could upgrade their security protocols. We have had to continue that support. Netanyahu’s action this weekend ups the ante and creates more threats that Israel’s human rights community must address.

Sokatch reached an optimistic conclusion that reminds us that liberal Zionists live in never-never land.

I have every reason to be confident in the ability of the Israeli public to understand what’s really going on here, to understand that Netanyahu has over-played his hand, and to reject what he’s trying to do.