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The Israeli government's official 'lawfare' contractor

The Israeli ‘hasbara’ group that once sued Jimmy Carter and Twitter, represents Israeli soldiers accused of excessive force and war crimes and files lawsuits at the behest of the Israeli government, calls itself a ‘human rights organization.’

(Translated from Hebrew by Jordan Michaeli)

Illustrative photo of a judge signing a document. (Photo: Shutterstock.com)

You know Israel’s policy – since no one believes a word it says (and rightfully so) – that the country must operate through third parties supposedly unconnected to it? This has officially been Israeli state policy since 2010, but it seems it was established much earlier.

My Hebrew blog has dealt quite extensively with “Im Tirtzu,” and the fact that it is actually a GONGO (Government Operated Non-Governmental Organization), meaning, an organization pretending to be an independent organization while receiving instructions from the government, and the groups’ ties to the Prime Minister’s Office (Hebrew). Now, thanks to Chelsea Manning – and may we soon see her free – another hasbara organization, Shurat HaDin – Israel Law Center, was exposed as a GONGO.

You may remember Shurat HaDin, which defines itself as a ‘lawfare’ organization and that threatened to sue Twitter for the fact that Hezbollah has a Twitter account, sued former president Jimmy Carter for ‘intentional misrepresentation” of Israel and tried to prevent the Gilad Schalit deal with a petition to the High Court of Justice, among other hasbara tricks.

The organization, which defines itself as a “Jewish human rights organization,” probably in line with [Hebron settler and MK] Orit Struk’s definition, was established in 2003 by Attorney Nitsana Darshan-Leitner. According to the American embassy documents leaked by Manning, Darshan-Leitner told American embassy personal in 2007, as was reported by them, that during its early years (of Shurat HaDin, Y.G.), the organization received instructions from the Israeli government regarding which cases to handle. “The National Security Council (NSC) legal office saw the use of civil courts as a way to do things that they are not authorized to do,” claimed Darshan-Leitner (my emphasis). Darshan-Leitner had of course no problem with that. Among her contacts, she named “Uzi Beshaya” (should be Shaya, Y.G.) from the Mossad and Udi Levy from the National Security Council. Darshan-Leitner told embassy personnel that during one of her trials she requested to impose a lien on a Palestinian imports company. According to her the Mossad provided her with intelligence proving the company was funneling money to the Islamic Jihad movement. The Americans mentioned that similar information was handed over to American officials as well during a classified meeting.

Darshan-Leitner further claimed that today her organization decides independently which cases to handle, but it continues to receive evidence and witnesses from the Israeli intelligence. She bragged that as a result of her lawsuits, the National Westminster Bank runs checkups with the Mossad to find out whether its Islamic charity clients are “kosher.” Undoubtedly, the Mossad will be enthusiastic regarding how effortlessly Darshan-Leitner doles out such information.

Did Darshan-Leitner and her organization, Shurat HaDin, indeed stop receiving instructions from the Israeli government? In 2007, Shurat HaDin filed a lawsuit against the Bank of China, claiming the bank transfers funds to terror organizations. Shurat HaDin told Yediot Ahronot last July that the lawsuit was initiated following an Israeli government request. The Wultz family as well, in whose name Shurat HaDin is acting in court, said that they initiated legal steps after a request by the Israeli government. Recently, after Netanyahu’s visit to China, the Chinese exerted considerable pressure on Netanyahu, and the man that enters every crisis like a weightlifter and finishes like a crumbled candy bar, as Nahum Barnea once said, crumbled this time as well, and forbade Shurat HaDin’s expert witness, Uzi Shaya, from testifying in court. Uzi Shaya, as mentioned, is one of the men Darshan-Leitner named as her contacts within the Israeli government.

It is doubtful that there exists a more cynical organization than Shurat HaDin, one that explicitly talks about “lawfare,” namely the use of legal means to achieve fighting goals – an accusation often thrown at human rights organizations by hasbara hacks such as Ben-Dror Yemini. There’s no doubt Shurat Hadin is pioneering. It’s the first time we’ve encountered an organization receiving a considerable amount of its marching orders from the government and a considerable amount of its information from spooks, and yet dares to define itself as a “human rights organization.” As an example of its activities in the field, Shurat HaDin points to the assistance it provides soldiers brought to trial for using excessive force, its help for Israeli officers accused of war crimes and assistance to Palestinian collaborators. A “human rights organization,” they say?  A you’re-human-and-they’re-not-rights organization would be more accurate. An occupation rights organization.

Techwashing: Hasbara group strikes back after Hawking boycott
NGO Monitor steps up the absurdity of its attacks 

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    1. I would assume that the information provided to these NGOs is either not initially on public record or, if otherwise, is provided by means outside of general public access. This would implicate the government agents doing so if 1) they had significant input into the filing of a suit and 2) the suit is later deemed frivolous or of purely hostile intent by a court. The agents, if motivating the suit, should then be vulnerable to counter suit damages. Moreover, if the State knows of this irregularity and fails to correct itself, the State should also be liable for damages (sovereign immunity generally doesn’t cover willful disregard for the law). I know we are talking about Israeli courts here, but the principle is there: the State should not be involved in civil suit save under its own name. Motivating a suit through classified information leaked to a civilian attorney should be especially heinous; such a leak circumvents both State and agent responsibility, violating the public trust, places State power in private hands, and attempts to immunize those involved in this action against consequences. It is hard to believe Israeli law is silent on this.

      I looked at your link to the Carter case. Anyone who would file suit against a former President over a published book, ignoring the US First Amendment, isn’t all there. The Israeli government should find a higher quality patsy.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Vadim

      Someone from an organization sponsored and directed by foreign states criticizes other organizations that collaborate with the Israeli government.

      They say – “You can’t have your cake and eat it”. You don’t eat it, you swallow it whole.

      Another note – Hasbara simply means Explanation. Presenting Israel in a positive way is not an inherently negative act. Lying is. They are not the same.

      Reply to Comment
      • Yesh Din is not “directed” by foreign states; see the obituary of one of its founders posted 10-22-2013 to see one of its “directors.” Yesh Din applies for grants from foreign sources, including the EU and its States. This only bothers because the aid goes to positions on law you do not like. You are quite happy to accept foreign aid, and allow private Israelis and NGOs to accept such aid, given appropriate ideology.

        The issue at law this post raises is whether the Israeli State should be enabling an NGO or citizen to sue, or whether the State should have to do this up front, itself. The US government does not “suggest” that others sue for it; it sues in court directly. The State must provide information to its public freely and uniformly; the issue herein is whether the Israeli government has, rather, channeled information so as to provide advantage to a specific position on civil matters.

        What you are “swallow[ing] whole” is loss of the distinction between the State and civil action. This is not hasbara, which includes private action to present and support the Israeli government’s position–to gain support from foreigners, thereby making the Israeli government a tool of foreigners! The whole line of foreign control argument is a bit silly, although it certainly makes for righteous indignation.

        Reply to Comment
        • Kolumn9

          Structurally there is no difference between being directed by foreign states and being funded by them. It is like a question whether a whore is being directed by her clients to perform her services or whether she offers her services to whoever is willing to pay. In either case she is still a whore.

          To continue the analogy Yesh Din and similar organizations are whores of the European funding they receive. Arguing that you like the acts that they perform doesn’t change this fact, nor does it deflect the argument that they should not be allowed to be directed/funded by foreign governments whose interests are inevitably politically driven and inevitably different from those of the state of Israel and of her citizens.

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    3. Average American

      We have AIPAC, who avoids foreign intelligence laws by the same mechanism described in this article, but who almost everyone now recognizes is directed by the State of Israel. And yes, we resent it (at least those of us not being bribed by it). Not because it represents a Jewish state, but because it is duplicitous and therefore untrustworthy.

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    4. I think you have just called both the US government and AIPAC pimps whoring the government of Israel. You argument would have some integrity if the national religious right would forswear aid from the US government and private organizations in the US. What you are really saying is that you know what Israel should be and that all alternatives are against the people of Israel and so must be suppressed.

      In the case of Yesh Din, which is the present focus (poor Yossi keeps associating with abominations), you are saying that the reports presented on this site should be suppressed because they harm the foundation of Israel. These reports are about property, bodily, mental, and legal abuses of resident Palestinians under Israeli de facto jurisdiction. This stand says quite a lot about yourself.

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      • Ooops. This should have appeared as reply to K9, above.

        Reply to Comment
      • Kolumn9

        AIPAC operates on the money of rich American Jewish citizens of the United States, not that of foreign governments. Do you see the distinction?

        The national religious right receives no aid from the US government. It certainly receives financial aid from private donors in the United States. At the same time the national religious right doesn’t go around trying to damage Israel internationally or calling for boycotts of the state. It doesn’t show up at international conferences demanding that foreign governments or international bodies take action against Israel. What I am saying is that groups that attempt to cause economic (or other) damage to the citizens of the state of Israel are in fact hostile to the people of Israel. That is hardly a stretch and would be considered common sense in any other situation.

        In the case of Yesh Din and similar organizations, it is a travesty that they continue to be funded by foreign governments, which in practice makes anything they write suspect. They are paid to write precisely what they write by foreign governments for reasons that have nothing to do with the welfare of the people of Israel. There are tens of millions of dollars being spent yearly by foreign governments mostly on organizations on the Israeli far-left. Anyone who argues that this kind of massive and continuous investment by foreign governments in what is thus far an entirely fruitless project in terms of practical results is done on the basis of their embrace of human rights is either hopelessly delusional or purposefully lying.

        Were the Saudis to start massively funding extremist anti-French groups working towards a global boycott of France with the intention of eventually overthrowing the democratically elected government of France I would presume that the French would rather quickly put an end to it. I fail to see why I should tolerate the same scenario in Israel when the funds are European. Note that in that scenario the Saudis would probably claim they are just trying to promote tolerance and harmony which is best done with the values of Islam and they would entirely believe what they are saying and yet would be blatantly and inexcusably interfering in the affairs of a foreign state while trying to impose their values and ideology.

        Groups like Yesh Din, in practice, are paid agents of foreign governments. You don’t actually deny this. You just insist that I must tolerate blatant interference by foreign governments in my own country because in your superior opinion my people need to be taught how to behave by the more ‘civilized’ people of the world. The same ‘civilized’ people of the world that… Well, in any case, the entire approach reeks of arrogant short-sighted self-serving hypocrisy. I have not (to my best recollection) called for suppressing these reports or groups, but I refuse to accept the legitimacy of blatant foreign intervention in my country and society which is quite apparently taking place here.

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    5. I’ll give you AIPAC. If you want to work solely with governments, I suspect the US has, in its past if not now, provided grants to NGO’s or Israeli citizens. USAID does that all the time. And I suspect some of the military cooperation involves grants to corporations. Ooops.

      But let us turn to the EU. You are all for grants from the EU. These grants will go to both corporations and Israeli government institutions like universities. If a corporation can apply for a grant, then so can another incorporated Israeli organization, such as Yesh Din. But wait. Your position is not lost. You can still say the EU is interfering, for it allows Yesh Din to work in the West Bank, while grants must be fully spent in the new guidelines in Israel old definition. But you actually don’t care if the research grants are limited to old Israel. Still, you can use the distinction to advocate the silencing, or limiting, of Yesh Din.

      You do not mind foreign government influence. You mind influence you disapprove of. Yesh Din documents legal and human rights abuse under occupation. You never comment on these matters. Instead, you make a marginal organization concerned with the rule of law into an entity trying to abolish the state of Israel. By referencing the advocacy of Boycott (which I can’t see them doing now because of the Boycott law, so that argument actually vanishes), you quash their documentation. By insisting they seek the destruction of Israel, you ignore the obvious fact that they spend much of their effort preparing court cases, courts part of Israel. You call this blatant interference, although Israeli citizens place their reputation on the line. You say they act with no interest in the welfare of the Israeli people, but this is by your definition of that welfare. Others, many posting on this site, have another definition.

      You may say that the research grants of the EU benefit both parties. But so too can this be at least conjectured of the grants requested by and allocated to Yesh Din. Human rights and dignity evolve; legal process evolves; conflict resolution evolves. The EU can have a long term interest in this throughout the world, aiding Yesh Din perhaps because it also aids the Israeli government and corporations in pursuit of the hard siciences. Yesh Din is doing a kind of practical research, just as the grants given and to be given to corporations do. So long as the grant subject is nonviolent these grants are as valid as those you want for Israel’s progress. Again, you simply assert some kinds of progress are not compatible with the welfare of your people, thereby making the left not only irrelevant but actually harmful, like a cancer.

      The sole purpose of this ruse is to label Yesh Din a foreign agent (and Yossi too, who hopes to pay his rent!) so as to nullify whatever it says as dangerous to Israel. You charge foreign agency, not deny content. You deny equal protection, knowing corporations do and will apply for foreign institutional funding. This is not honest at all.

      Lastly, your Saudi example is presented as an extreme not covering Yesh Din; again, by law Yesh Din cannot advocate a Boycott of Israel. I am certain the Saudis fund Islamic activities in France. If such funding supports violent groups or advocates violence within France, they should be regulated. My personal view is that advocacy of a State boycott should not be, but there is no such thing in France now, nor in Israel by present law.

      Deal with the factual assertions of Yesh Din; challenge them, or their use and interpretation of law. Don’t create a chimera of foreign monster as in the American McCarthy era, where thought is replaced by disgust through fear. Recall how that era ended: “Sir, do you have no shame?”

      Reply to Comment
      • Kolumn9

        I mind influence when it is directed at groups whose goals are hostile to Israel and that support policies that are meant explicitly to harm the state and people of the state of Israel. This is a common sense position and I see no inconsistency there. Your problem is that I am supposed to be against any and all money coming into Israel. That’s stupid. That is like asking to equate money coming in to fund a hospital or a daycare center for underprivileged kids with money coming in to sponsor “domestically-generated” propaganda against Israel and to support groups that can be used as palatable fig leaves for the campaign for the demonization, boycott and isolation of Israel for the express purpose of damaging the state and the economy.

        You wish to pretend that calling for a boycott of Israel which is explicitly designed to damage the Israeli economy is “not hostile”. By what measuring stick can you make such a ridiculously counterintuitive claim? This isn’t something you can write off as a ‘matter of opinion’. This is quite basic. The explicit goal of such action is to economically damage every single citizen of Israel. This isn’t something I am attributing to these campaigns. This is an explicit f’ing goal of the campaigns.

        You wish to claim that calling for the destruction or ‘elimination’ of Israel is “not hostile”. By what measuring stick can you make such a ridiculously counterintuitive claim? In what other country would you suggest that this is not a “hostile act”?

        If you wish to argue that damaging the Israeli economy and eventually eliminating Israel are positive goals, then by all means do so. But don’t hide behind BS “differences of opinion” when trying to paper over what are explicitly hostile acts against the state and her citizens. These would be hostile acts in any other country and they are hostile acts here. That a state chooses to defend itself through legislative means against foreign interference that is designed to harm it is just common sense. It need not block all foreign aid or money in order to do so.

        Your argument basically boils down to, I am building a house and there is a man over there with a hammer occasionally taking swings at me. That he sometimes hits me and wounds me *may* or *may not* be a hostile act according to you and it is just a matter of opinion. That he happens to belong to a certain ideological stream should according to your logic prevent me from removing the hammer from his hand unless I also remove the hammers of the people standing next to me helping me build my house. All this on the basis of me, the person he is explicitly trying to hurt, being unable to objectively classify him trying to hurt me as being hostile. Oh, and when I try to take away his hammer he insists that making me weaker will eventually be good for me. This is like the medieval use of bloodletting as a supposed cure for sickness based on the metaphysical claim that by doing so the evil spirits will be removed and the patient will get better eventually. It is an insane position to take and I have no idea how any reasonable person would take it.

        This is no ruse. It is a basic and intuitive desire to remove hostile foreign interference in Israeli society and politics. I charge foreign agency because this is foreign agency. These are groups whose budget overwhelmingly derives from shopping around new and creative ways of attacking the state of Israel abroad in order to raise funds. I have friends that work in Israeli non-political NGOS that have been approached by European funds that explicitly tell them that if they start producing reports hostile to Israel (outside their areas of core competence) they will receive additional funding. How are these not hostile acts by foreign governments/organizations and how are NGOs that make themselves available for such funds or explicitly seek them out (like Yesh Din) not in practice basically foreign agents? As for the Boycott Law, it is not being enforced and is likely unenforceable. Don’t hide behind that to pretend that Yesh Din is not an organization that supports the boycotts of Israel. It is.

        In France groups whose ideology consists of trying to overturn the Republic are illegal. In Israel they are not. If we used French laws Yesh Din may or may not be made illegal, but I can guarantee that they would not receive a penny in foreign funds. This obsession with allowing unfettered flow of funds to extreme anti-Israel organizations in Israel is a fundamental case of hypocrisy and double standard. It doesn’t stand up to logic and your attempts to obfuscate the matter with nonsense about trying to equate money going to for-profit corporations for commercial research and money going to political groups doing ‘research’ to generate anti-Israel propaganda is absurd to say the least.

        Last, but not least, I do not deny the content and I have already said that I have no need to deny the content in order to point out that it is generated by organizations that are externally funded in order to skew the political debate in the direction and narrative of the extreme anti-Israeli left. Nor is the external funding denied by these organizations. Nor are the goals of boycotting, isolating and damaging Israel internationally denied by these organizations. Nor are the short-term goals of sponsoring the demonization of Israel denied by their sponsors. Yet the funds still are sent from abroad and the organizations still publish reports designed for external consumption. I need not create a chimera of a foreign monster when the foreign monster does not deny its own existence and is explicitly listed on the websites of the groups that are sponsored, funded, and guided by it.

        That McCarthy went overboard is a fact. That the Soviet Union had a serious campaign of political warfare against the United States is also a fact. If you wish to equate what is being done by Europeans and extreme left organizations against Israel to the campaign of political warfare that the Soviet Union was running against United States, then you are just providing all the more reason to cut that campaign off at the root and not look back, with no shame and no regret whatsoever.

        Reply to Comment