Silence is golden. So goes the proverb. But silence can be deadly when nongovernmental organizations claiming the mantles of human rights and peace fail to speak out when the lives of millions of Israelis are threatened by indiscriminate rocket fire. Each rocket from Gaza is a war crime, but only after Israel responded forcefully on Nov. 14 did these NGOs suddenly speak.
In the weeks prior to Operation Pillar of Defense, one such group, the Oakland-based Jewish Voice for Peace, lost its voice when Hamas and other terror groups were bombarding southern Israel. JVP was silent as 1 million Israelis were forced into shelters, as dozens were wounded, and children were traumatized.
Only after the Israel Defense Forces responded was JVP’s laryngitis cured. In record time, they created a section on their website called “Take Action for Gaza” complete with links to anti-Israel protests around the world (at the Nov. 16 San Francisco protest promoted on this list, “peace activists” chanted “Zionist scum, your time has come”) and a “Gaza protest toolkit.” The “toolkit” offers downloadable graphics with slogans like “Another Jew Against Attacks on Civilians. Stop the Bombs. Stop the Siege. Stop the Blank Check to the Israeli Military with U.S. Tax Dollars.”
But JVP offers no slogans protesting Hamas war crimes against Israeli civilians.
In a further display of cynically exploiting moral values, JVP’s official press release explicitly blames the Gaza crisis on Israel. Not until the statement’s fourth sentence, without naming Hamas or any other terror group, does JVP “also urge the end of rocket attacks from Gaza into civilian communities in Israel.” Their statement also holds Israel responsible “for the well-being and safety of Palestinian civilians in Gaza.” But JVP fails to hold Hamas responsible for the safety of Israeli civilians. Nor does JVP’s statement demand that Hamas protect Gazans situated near weapons depots and launch sites deliberately placed by Hamas in populated areas.
Amnesty International, which has a history of intense anti-Israeli ideological bias, was also silent during the weeks of Hamas rocket attacks. Like JVP, Amnesty released a statement only after the IDF responded, condemning Israel for placing “civilians in Gaza and southern Israel at grave risk by re-igniting the armed conflict there.” In this warped and immoral logic, it is not Hamas that is guilty of war crimes, but rather the IDF and Israeli officials who are defending their citizens.
The pattern of silence in the face of Israeli civilian suffering, and thunderous condemnation when Israel defends its citizens, is repeated by dozens of other NGOs (primarily funded by the EU, European governments, and in some cases, the New Israel Fund), such as the Alternative Information Center, Oxfam International, Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, Gisha, Palestinian Center for Human Rights, Medical Aid for Palestinians, BADIL, Sabeel, and many more.
This is nothing new. These groups employ the strategy of using human rights language to attack Israel that was adopted during the infamous 2001 U.N. “anti-racism” conference in Durban. At that gathering, some 1,500 NGOs embraced a declaration calling on the “international community to impose a policy of complete and total isolation of Israel.” This declaration of political war, the “Durban strategy,” seeks to undermine the legitimacy of the right of the Jewish people to sovereign equality. The boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign is its main thrust. Many of these NGOs, including JVP, support BDS.
For these NGOs, the rights of millions of Israelis to live in security are secondary to their program of undermining Israel’s right to defend its citizens. In this way these NGOs act, whether by design or by accident, as the de facto soft power arm for Hamas and its ilk.
In the Bay Area, the local manifestation of this anti-Israel NGO network is seen in the numerous anti-Israel rallies outside the Israeli Consulate. These local anti-Israel groups are plugged into the global NGO network. JVP’s posting a link on its website to “global actions” against Israel demonstrates this clearly. This is a case of the Bay Area’s progressive values gone awry. Speaking out against policies with which one does not agree is not the question. Rather, being selective is. Silence when millions of Israelis are under fire has nothing to do with progressive values and everything to do with ideological dogmatism.
The application of anti-democratic double standards and hypocrisy by the anti-Israel NGO network — to which JVP belongs — is incompatible with the moral foundations of universal human rights. If these ideologically motivated groups continue abusing human rights language to attack Israel, the moral foundation governing international law eventually will collapse.
Yitzhak Santis is chief programs officer at NGO Monitor in Jerusalem. He made aliyah two years ago and is the immediate past director of Middle East affairs at the San Francisco-based Jewish Community Relations Council.