The New Israel Fund today released this statement from CEO Daniel Sokatch regarding the Knesset “parliamentary inquiry” into the activities of Israel’s human rights community:

“A healthy democracy respects and protects human rights. It does not engage in continual attempts to put its internationally-respected human rights organizations out of business.  As Attorney General Weinstein said last year: ‘One of the characteristics of a democracy is the protection of human rights. For that reason in Israel, as in every other democracy, human rights organizations are allowed to operate freely.’

Clearly that message has not gotten through to Yisrael Beitenu. The escalating attempts by right-wing factions in the Israeli government to shut down and even criminalize the necessary work of the human rights community delegitimizes Israel’s standing as a democracy in the eyes of its allies in the U.S. and Europe.  Under these circumstances, Likud legislators like Benny Begin, Ruby Rivlin and Micky Eitan, who are defending the right to dissent, are especially praiseworthy.

In identifying human rights abuses, it’s not the Israeli human rights community that gives ammunition to Israel’s detractors; it’s those who commit the abuses in the first place.  The way to take away this fodder for Israel-bashers is not to quiet the human rights community – or attack the army’s Judge Advocate — it’s to stop the abuses.   If there is disagreement with the findings of crimes and abuse, let’s argue about them in the open – not try to shut down, defund and even criminalize the monitors and observers.

The renewed wave of legislation and inquiries against the human rights community is part of an ever-more troubling trend in Israel.  Israel is on a dangerous path – vilifying its legitimate critics, dehumanizing non-Jews and Jews who disagree with ultra-nationalism, poisoning social cohesion and isolating itself from would-be friends and allies. Those of us who love Israel must take responsibility to speak out against the growing dangers to Israel as a democracy and as an open and just society.”