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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.

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    1. carmen

      “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.”

      People doing the right thing – working to uphold human and civil rights – evil antisemitic boogey men with shady sponsorship.

      People doing the netanyahoo thing – eliminating bit by bit palestinian access to human and civil rights groups are israeli freedom fighters, upholders of the faith, keepers of the jewish supremacist state – zionist heroes (zeros).

      The israeli right needs to to question who will the next target of netanyahoo’s ethnic cleansing be if he succeeds with removing palestinians from all of their land? There will be more of course, and you’re a fool if you don’t see it already.

      Reply to Comment
    2. JeffB

      As an American, and a Hillary Clinton voter and donor… no I’m sorry Netanyahu is right. “Russian interference” in the election used the social media advertising strategies that Obama for America developed in 2008 and 2012. They used it more effectively than Democrats did in 2016, but OFA was more effective than Republicans in 2012. They did use some techniques that the Republican party would not have been willing to use, and some of those couldn’t be used for legal reasons but that was a small percentage of the “hack” of the American election. Crime is not the main problem. The vast majority of what the Russians did would have been perfectly legal for a campaign PAC to have conducted. The main issue is that they this PAC (essentially) was foreign not domestic.

      The types of collusion that occurs in Israeli politics between foreigners and domestic political bodies is absolutely unheard of and is totally illegal in the USA. There is a very good reason Netanyahu doesn’t get to appoint anyone to the board of AIPAC. It is simply impossible for Israel to have the level of political, cultural, economic and military independence of the United States. Zionism has always been a global movement and Israel is an outward looking country while the USA is inward looking. So I’ll agree to the caveats.

      But if you ignore that caveats and make the analogy… Then it is clear clear. What is normal for NGOs in Israel would be often outright criminal and incredibly disapproved of were it happen in the USA. I think it is unhealthy for the Israeli left to be tied to the European left to the degree they are. I think it is discrediting for leftwing activist. I think it is healthy for Israeli society broadly to reject being subject to European cultural and political imperialism. I also think it is bad for the activists. The reason they are ineffective is because they are unable to convince Israelis of their cause. The Israeli left needs to talk to and convince Israelis. They need to be more Israeli and less European.

      Having said all that, the right is being hypocritical as it ties itself every more tightly to USA agencies which do the same thing. They are behind the left a bit on the integration but as Israel slowly shifts from the European orbit to the American orbit they are going to pick up my country’s craziness. The political and cultural dangers to Israeli democracy from Spanish human rights workers are certainly not less than dangers from American Pentecostals. There are tens of millions of Europeans who want Israel to become a secular democracy after giving up all the post 1967 territory. There are tens of millions of Americans who would be thrilled by a descendent of David back in power as King of Israel overseeing a government led by priests of the now resumed sacrificial cult. Both groups are a danger to a Jewish Democratic state.

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      • Ben

        Just incredibly dishonest, an interesting statement about your values, to casually opine that the Russian interference in the US election was not such a significant crime, to downplay that, and then to make the specious comparison between covert, illegal foreign intelligence service coordinated interference in an election on the one hand and on the other hand some open, declared, meager funding of struggling shoestring operation human rights groups for the most above board and declared and decent purposes. Just incredibly slippery and sneaky. Well, let’s be real, it’s not sneaky actually, it’s brazen—Omer Man already identifies the obvious speciousness in the comparison quite clearly above.

        Reply to Comment
        • JeffB


          Yet again an argument structured as a bunch of name calling followed by because I said so.

          Most Americans agree that what the Russians did was use the mechanism Americans have built for themselves to sell products. That opinion is not even that unusual. And rather it is the reason Facebook, Twitter and Google have been reluctant to cooperate. Because what the Russian hack demonstrates is how social media advertising works to get Americans to change their opinions about products everyday.

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            I called your argument what I think it is: dishonest and specious. I referenced Michael Omer-Man’s argument. “Most Americans agree” with you? Because you said so? Russian hacking of US elections poses a major threat to the United States. For you to be so obviously cavalier about this, JeffB, makes me wonder just where your true loyalties lie. And definitely makes me wonder where your heart lies. You’ve already told us you agree with your Russian born spouse (or something like that) that Vlad Putin doesn’t get a fair shake, that poor Putin’s “policies” are misunderstood. Your argument studiously, assiduously ignores the fact that social media are just that, media, and that those media were infiltrated and co-opted by the foreign intelligence service of an enemy of the United States in order to undermine an absolutely crucial function of a democracy like the United States–the integrity of elections–and in the service of a larger strategy of using disinformation to sow chaos and dissension to weaken the foundations of the West. You know what JeffB? I think most Americans would agree that your argument, studiously, assiduously ignoring that fact, is specious and sneaky to boot. They might even call it slippery. They might call it slippery because it does everything BUT confront the facts squarely and honestly.

            Reply to Comment
          • JeffB


            I find it very interesting that in a thread where you are critical of dark foreign forces you suddenly start making insinuations based on mild foreign sympathy. When I talk about how being connected to European NGOs undermines the left, I suggest you reread your post.

            As for your argument’s structure. Take away the name calling and you don’t have arguments.
            Name calling is not squarely confronting anything.

            Without getting into too much detail I know where Americans stand because I participate regularly in professional conferences about American internet infrastructure and have for many years. In a professional capacity I’m a member of the telecommunications lobby, where we meet the FCC and discuss the direction of America’s telecommunications infrastructure. Foreign penetration or domestic terrorism comes up regularly. The specifics of the “Russian election hack” were creative but not beyond what had been talked about starting in 2007. What is most interesting about this case is that major domestic political figures appear to have cooperated.

            The facts regardless of how much name calling you want to engage in is the Russian utilized America’s advertising infrastructure to advertise their position. They were slightly more aggressive than an American campaign would have been but not much. What they did was not much different than what Obama for America did. American Democracy was not undermined. There is simply no evidence that there were large number of Donald Trump voters who liked Hillary Clinton and agreed with her policies that decided to vote for him on the basis of fake news. No one even claims that. The group of Americans most affected by the Russian were American leftists who had strongly supported Bernie Sanders. They often despised Hillary Clinton and did not want her to be president. They disagreed with policies she had historically supported as well as the role she had played in USA politics particularly in the 1980s with the DLC. On top of that they often found her morally unfit because of dishonesty and disagreed with the policy positions she was likely to support if elected. Putin didn’t create those views, they already existed. Given those views those voters had to decide whether to reconcile with the Democratic party choice of an establishment Democrat, vote a 3rd party or not vote. The Russian propaganda potentially pushed a few million of them into not voting. Assuming this shift occurred (which is difficult to measure) they were convinced through argument, including dishonest argument, mostly towards not voting.

            That’s what happened. That’s all that happened. Americans are going to have to decide given a less regulated media environment how to handle foreign participation in American campaigns. What Russia did is no different than what all sorts of political interest grous do to shape American political opinion and behavior on many issues.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            First of all, let’s get out of the way your calling me a name caller, itself a form of name calling. I find that much of your argumentation consists of carefully, assiduously skirting facts, weaving a narrow pedantic course between them, averting one’s gaze, meant to ignore the obvious facts on the ground with respect to human rights and real people and real issues. The one word that I think captures the character of that tactic or strategy best is “slippery.” As I said, I think what you often do is everything but confront the facts squarely and honestly. I reserve the right to call your tactics what they are, to call it as I see it.

            The values you display are very interesting. You yourself use the words “foreign penetration or domestic terrorism” but cavalierly dismiss its import. Then you do exactly what KGB/FSB man Putin and his allies do by placing “Russian election hack” in ironic, minimizing quotation marks. You couldn’t be less interested in the undermining of the election and the undermining of justice per se. And your cavalier dismissal of the impact on the election is part of that. “There is simply no evidence….” There is quite a lot of evidence that these efforts made the difference in MI, WI, PA and elsewhere.

            No, what you somehow, oddly, deem exculpating or ameliorating is the involvement of “major domestic political figures,” as if this were reassuring rather than even more alarming.

            “What is most interesting about this case is that major domestic political figures appear to have cooperated.”

            Yes indeed it is most interesting. Prosecute them! Last I heard James Comey was looking into just that!

            “the Russian utilized America’s advertising infrastructure to advertise their position”

            A quite breathtaking example of the cynicism and euphemizing and issue-skirting, the outright weaselry!, that I just outlined.

            “What they did was not much different than what Obama for America did.”

            Ditto. Breathtaking! The dishonesty! (I’m happy to have you coldly dismiss my exclamation points as “emoting” and let others judge for themselves where the truth lies.)

            “foreign participation”

            Breathtaking Orwellian doublespeak.

            Reply to Comment
          • JeffB


            And there you go with the name calling. On only one point do you attempt to refute the rest is just stating a negative opinion with no evidence.

            As for the one point you did address. My point was not that the Russian advertising didn’t make a difference. Campaigns do matter. Voter’s opinions can change. But rather that discussing issues with voters so as to influence their eventual vote is what campaigning is. Doing that is not undermining the process it is participating in it. The Bernie Sanders supporting Democrats as I said had to make a complex choice between a variety of possible behaviors and the Russians discouraged one particular option (reconciling with Hillary Clinton). That is what a campaign is.

            You’ve accused me of skirting the issue. That’s the issue. When you cut through the name calling what the Russians did is what American campaigns do regularly with many other blocks of voters.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            “… But rather that discussing issues with voters so as to influence their eventual vote is what campaigning is. Doing that is not undermining the process it is participating in it….”

            It was an illegal, covert campaign of interference and manipulation, undermining the integrity of the elections, meant to sow chaos, by the foreign intelligence service of an enemy state!!! Bent on undermining the United States and the free West! “Participation”?! “Discussing issues with voters”?! Nothing could better illustrate how strangely obtuse you can be!! Unbelievable!!

            Reply to Comment
    3. Brian G

      The Trump election team asked the Russians to get dirt on the Clinton , the democratic candidate. Then Trump condemned Russia for ” interference” after he was elected.
      Palestinian territories? In ’48 England donated its Palestinian colony to the U.N. which proceeded to divide it into 2 COUNTRIES- Palestine and Israel.Since then , the Zionist government of Israel has continually colonized more and more of the country of Palestine until today there is only 2 ghettos left -West Bank and Gaza.
      Since ’48, neither the U.N. nor the Western ” democracies ” have acknowledged Palestine as a country nor the ethnic cleansing of the Palestimian and Bedouin peoples.

      Reply to Comment