The Israeli right has worked very hard to erase any distinction between Israel and the occupation — between Ariel and Acre, Hebron and Haifa. Ironically, this is the same thing he accuses Palestinians of trying to do.
Since B’Tselem director Hagai El-Ad spoke at the UN Security Council a week ago calling for an end to Israel’s half-century old occupation, the organization has been subject to vicious attacks and delegitimization, including by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. El-Ad’s very citizenship has been threatened by a senior member of Netanyahu’s Likud party, and thousands of Israelis have incited against him, including death threats. None of this incitement has been condemned by anyone in Israel’s ruling coalition.
Anticipating much of the backlash, El-Ad went on record throughout the Israeli press just 24 hours after his appearance in New York to clarify why he went to the UN: “I didn’t speak against my country, but against the occupation.” On the face of it, such a distinction seems fairly simple. The director of Israel’s largest human rights organization is lobbying for his country to stop policies that violate human rights, to stop exerting systemic violence against a people with no rights; in short, to stop holding the Palestinian people under military occupation.
To the establishment, that makes him subversive, unpatriotic, and anti-Israel. Contrarily, being pro-occupation and pro-settlements is indisputably pro-Israel as far as many Israelis and politicians are concerned. No one questions, for example, the patriotism of those – both in Israeli government and civil society — pushing to retroactively authorize settlement outposts built on private Palestinian land that even the government says are illegal. Nobody questions the patriotism of those who want to illegally annex the West Bank without the consent of the Palestinians who live there.
The message being propagated by Netanyahu and his government, and unchallenged by the majority of Israelis, is clear: fighting to end occupation and fighting for Palestinian human rights is not only slandering the country, it’s tantamount to treason — as far as they are concerned speaking out against occupation is the same as speaking out against Israel. This type of tactic works well to deflect criticism and silence dissent by delegitimizing the critic. Applied long enough and to enough people, such tactics set a precedent for seriously curtailing free speech and political dissent; it is no wonder the U.S. came out in defense of...Read More