Witch hunts have no place in Israeli politics
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For those who laud Israel as a beacon of democracy in the Middle East, developments in the Knesset last week have proven deeply distressing.
In a 47-16 tally, lawmakers voted to move forward with forming a parliamentary committee to investigate the funding of human rights groups in Israel.
It is not law yet. The proposal must still pass through a few procedural hoops. But once established, these probes could result in criminal charges against nongovernmenal organization critical of the government, such as the New Israel Fund, B’Tselem or any others the patriotism police deem unacceptable.
Notice the inquiries only apply to left-leaning organizations. In 1994 the Israeli government banned the late Meir Kahane’s extreme right wing Kach Party for its subversive, racist incitement. But that was then and this is now.
Whether or not one agrees with the targeted organizations’ positions, there is a term for government probes such as the ones proposed by the Knesset: witch hunt.
An outcry has erupted across the Jewish universe. In this country, criticism has come from organizations such as the American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League, the Religious Action Center and the Union for Reform Judaism. In Israel, an ad hoc group of Israel Prize laureates, political leaders, newspaper editorials and 16 human rights NGOs in Israel have also blasted the Knesset vote.
The URJ issued a statement that said, in part, that the initiative “undermines Israel’s place in the global community.” Kadima Party leader Tzipi Livni (who did not cast a vote) said, “An evil spirit has been sweeping the country, and it is our duty to stand up against this wave.”
These are strong words, but apt. It is chilling to contemplate an Israeli government rooting out, prosecuting and possibly jailing those with whom it disagrees.
Israel does face real enemies. Its legitimacy is challenged daily from many quarters, and there is no shortage of foes who hope to tear down the Jewish state.
This proposed law would do nothing to push back against those forces. Rather, this is all about silencing criticism, something that has no place in an open democracy where free speech reigns, or should.
The hallmarks of the pro-Israel position have always been to fiercely defend Israel’s right to exist and to fight against deligitimization.
There is another hallmark: the freedom to criticize Israeli policies and actions when warranted. This is just such a time. May more reasonable heads prevail in this matter and kill the witch hunts.