The B’Tselem Witch Trial
Redaction of the article, “The B’tselem Witch Trials”
By Noah Pollak
Commentary, May 2011
When the United Nations released the so-called Goldstone Report in September 2009, Israelis and their supporters around the world were astonished by the blunt words near its conclusion: “There is evidence indicating serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law were committed by Israel during the Gaza conflict, and that Israel committed actions amounting to war crimes, and possibly crimes against humanity.”
The report declared that virtually everything Israel had done during Operation Cast Lead—Israel’s attempt in late 2008 and early 2009 to stop Hamas’s rocket war on Israeli civilians—had been a crime. No single written attack on the Jewish state has been as damning, as prominent, or as influential. And yet the South African jurist Richard Goldstone and his team had only a few months to compile a report that runs to nearly 600 pages and makes hundreds of detailed accusations about the Israel Defense Force’s conduct of the war, and Goldstone himself made only a single four-day visit to Gaza.
Where did they secure the evidentiary rope with which to hang Israel? The report was largely compiled from material provided by what is often referred to as Israel’s “human rights community.” This vague euphemism refers to a coterie of groups and individuals that has evolved over the past decade into a highly politicized movement of dozens of nongovernmental organizations that operate in Israel and subject its government, military, laws, and people to relentless scrutiny and accusation.
And, as first pointed out by NGO Monitor, the Goldstone Report relied most heavily on the largest and most prominent among them: the group known as B’Tselem. More footnotes in the report, 56 in all, cite B’Tselem as a source than any other. Indeed, as Jessica Montell, B’Tselem’s executive director, has said, B’Tselem “provided extensive assistance to the UN fact-finding mission headed by Justice Goldstone—escorting them to meet victims in Gaza, providing all of our documentation and correspondence, and meeting the mission in Jordan.”
…The tactics of the ideological war this “human rights community” is waging are unmistakable. The groups relentlessly accuse Israel of committing war crimes, human-rights offenses, and violations of international law. They champion the Palestinian cause and the Palestinian narrative of victimhood and Israeli oppression. They supply the highly massaged “facts” and claims that animate journalistic, diplomatic, and political actmsm against Israel, such as the Goldstone Report.
They advocate for “lawfare” against Israeli officials—that is, prosecuting them for war crimes in European courts. And they argue either openly or by implication that Zionism itself—the existence of a Jewish state—is undemocratic, oppressive and racist.
This war of delegitimization is so dangerous because it is targeted precisely at the heart of Western support for Israel – the belief in Europe and especially in America that Israel is not only a legitimate nation/state but also an exemplar of Western liberal values, deserving of the free world’s support and its protection in the face of constant attacks.
The genius of the NGO movement is its promotion of Israelis themselves to make the case against Israel. Who better to convince Westerners that they are wrong to admire Israel than Jews feigning concern over Israel’s moral standing? The story of those Israeli Jews who have made careers out of attacking Israel’s right to exist, such as Biletzky and Yutachel, illustrates the degradation of the once mighty Israeli peace movement.
Originally the movement sought legitimacy and prominence in Israeli politics, and received it for a time—and because it was part of the political process, it was constrained by the need for electoral support and popular legitimacy. Yet the collapse of the Oslo Accords in 2000 and the Palestinian terror war that followed presented the peace movement with an existential crisis: With whom, exactly, were Israelis supposed to make peace?
The withdrawals from Lebanon in 2000 and Gaza five years later, and the entrenchment in the vacated territories of Iranian-backed terrorist groups further disillusioned Israelis and called into question central proposition of tile peace movement: That is, if Israel makes the right concessions, peace will follow. And so, over the past l5 years, the peace movement has fallen from a position of influence in Israeli politics to one, today, of irrelevance, an anachronism that no longer has realistic answers to Israel’s problems.
What remains of the (so-called) peace movement is a white-hot core of activists who refuse to acknowledge their failure and yet refuse to gracefully recede from the political stage. They have discovered an innovative formula for rebuilding their political relevance completely outside the democratic political arena; reconstitute themselves as NGOs and conceal their political agenda in the apolitical rhetoric of human rights and international law.
In this guise, the peace movement no longer has any need to win elections or offer a serious platform for governance. The NGOs instead position themselves as a blunt opposition force working against mainstream Israeli society, which is viewed as unsophisticated, provincial, racist, and stricken with “security hysteria”
This “human-rights community” has thus not only opposed every consensus Israeli security measure—Operation Defensive Shield during the intifada, the security fence to stop suicide bombers, the targeted killings of terror-group leaders, the Lebanon War, and the Gaza War—but has branded them war crimes and human-rights violations for which Israel should be punished.
In these circumstances, where there is no point in trying to succeed at the ballot box, leftist Israeli activism now directs itself internationally in the hopes that fomenting a narrative of Israeli criminality will invite enough sanction and condemnation from Europe, the United Nations, and America to force Israel to accede to the demands of these other wise powerless radicals.The policies they support would constitute nothing less than Zionism’s destruction. And they apparently have no compunction about seeking its destruction from without, since they have learned to their disappointment and rage that Israel is too strong a nation to allow itself to be destroyed from within.
Noah Pollak is the executive director of the Emergency Committee for Israel. His piece “They’re Doing the J Street Jive” appeared in the April 2009 issue of COMMENTARY.