Saturday

23rd Jun 2018

Opinion

Israel needs outside 'interference'

  • Knesset. Liel: 'Legislation about to be voted on ... is strikingly similar to that from Apartheid South Africa' (Photo: Tzipi Livni)

When I took up the Israeli ambassadorship in South Africa in 1992 the tide of history was already turning towards democracy. But numerous Apartheid laws were still in force, albeit no longer strictly applied. I particularly remember those designed to disable civil society, destroy community organizations and stamp out human rights. These include laws to stifle funding to human rights organizations. I recall how alien this seemed to me at the time.

Today those memories come rushing back. Legislation about to be voted on in the Knesset is strikingly similar to that from Apartheid South Africa. The Ministerial Committee on legislation has approved amendments proposed by MKs Kirshenbaum and Akunis which would restrict funding from foreign states to local human rights groups. The enforcement of this law would chill Israeli democracy and what remains of our once-vibrant society.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... our join as a group

In South Africa, the process began with the Schlebusch Commission of Inquiry into Certain Organisations. Israeli MK Kirshenbaum recently proposed a similar committee intended to "probe the finances and legitimacy of Israeli human rights organizations." This is how it usually starts.

Immediately thereafter the South African parliament passed the Affected Organisations Act which aimed to "curb interference by foreign countries on the internal political scene" and to prevent "foreign financial assistance for the furtherance of any particular view." This applied to any group deemed to be an "Affected Organisation." The Israeli amendments speak in almost identical language of "Restricted Association."

The South African law at least guaranteed some form of due process in that a group could not be deemed an "Affected Organisation" unless declared so by the State President following a factual investigation and recommendation by a panel of three magistrates.

The proposed Israeli legislation provides for no equivalent due process. It states simply that "a Restricted Association shall not receive donations from a foreign state entity." This will include any group advocating refusal to do any part of military service or that promotes any form of boycott.

In 1973 the South African deputy minister of justice stated: "The republic defends its borders against political aggression. It must also prevent foreign financial interference in domestic political affairs." Those words would not sound strange if uttered by a present Israeli cabinet minister.

The danger of trying to seal a country off from the world was keenly appreciated by the lone voice of conscience in the South African parliament, a Jewish woman and a personal friend of mine, Helen Suzman. She said: "South Africa is slipping more and more into the control of a growing body of secret men, making secret investigations and reports." But a nationalist parliamentarian argued that the law was necessary to block funds to students who "aligned themselves with the blacks." This scare tactic worked and the South African bill was carried into law.

Like in Israel, the South African law was not targeted at groups involved in violent or illegal activity. Its targets were those consistent voices of conscience which had become a problem for the regime. The National Union of South African Students, the official representatives of all university students, was declared an Affected Organisation by the minister of justice. "What is being attacked" - said the students - "is the right of young people, to determine what is wrong with their society and to embark on creative programmes to counter its ills and to open the possibility for a positive future."

In defending the Fundraising Act of 1978, minister of justice Jimmy Kruger said "the act would be used to take action against fundraising activities aimed at undermining authority or threatening state security," saying that his government knew that large amount of money came to South Africa from abroad "actually intended to ensure our destruction."

Our Israeli politicians justify their actions with identical fears. The basis for the Kirshenbaum-Akunis law is that "organizations, which often refer to themselves as 'human rights organizations'," actually have the "sole purpose to cause harm and to alter Israel's political discourse from within."

The truth, however, is that the organizations likely to be affected are those fighting to preserve what remains of Israeli democracy and the progressive vision of the declaration of independence.

My experience in South Africa told me that such laws end up failing. They fail because a democratic country cannot close itself off from the world without destroying itself. The law intends to protect Israel's public image but in the process Israel's public image is damaged. The enactment of such a law delegitimizes Israel, whilst the importance of such organizations is only made more apparent.

When the Kirshenbaum Committee was suggested the co-director of Breaking the Silence, Mikhael Manekin, explained this dynamic: "They don't need to love us or tell us that we are patriots. They are doing far more damage to this place than we are. Because of them millions of Palestinians live under military occupation. Because of them Palestinian-Israelis do not live in full equality in their own country. And because of them our position in the world is deteriorating day by day."

This law will fail because shooting the messenger does not help. The world knows about the occupation. The waves of disapproval and outrage at this wrongdoing will wash over whatever barriers we erect.

It is imperative that Europe and the rest of the international community make it clear to Israel that the world will not be deterred from helping those Israelis who struggle for a solution based on human rights and justice.

The writer was the Israeli ambassador to South Africa between 1992 and 1994 and the director general of the ministry of foreign affairs of Israel

Europe awakens to Palestinian realities

With Ashton in Israel this week and with fresh EU reports on the realities of Israeli occupation, Europe should not squander its opportunity to build better relations with the rapidly changing Arab world.

Europe's tech race - trying to keep pace with US and China

There is not a single European company among the world's top 10 computer hardware companies. Within the EU, Germany and Sweden rank among world leaders, but Bulgaria and Slovakia among the worst-performing developed nations.

The risks behind the 'green bond' boom

The EU should not overuse the financial system in order to achieve environmental goals, or it risks the emergence of a green bond bubble which would be detrimental to the financial sector and hinder the achievement of climate targets.

EU needs comprehensive 'sexuality education'

The subject is mandatory by law in some form in nearly all EU countries - but it is mostly reproduction- and biology-centred, covering topics such as unwanted pregnancy and sexually-transmitted infections.

Fate of EU refugee deal hangs in the balance

Europe's choice is between unplanned, reactive, fragmented, ineffective migration policy and planned, regulated, documented movements of people, writes International Rescue Committee chief David Miliband.

EU needs comprehensive 'sexuality education'

The subject is mandatory by law in some form in nearly all EU countries - but it is mostly reproduction- and biology-centred, covering topics such as unwanted pregnancy and sexually-transmitted infections.

Long-distance animal transport: unthinkable still happening

A complete overhaul of animal products' supply chains is needed, privileging local food chains including local slaughtering which is proven to benefit the environment, the resilience of our economy, food safety and animal welfare.

News in Brief

  1. Venice Commission: Hungary should repeal NGO law
  2. Trump threatens to slap 20 percent tariff on EU cars
  3. EU closes deficit procedure against France
  4. Romania's ruling party leader gets jail sentence
  5. EU states defer individual decisions on asylum reforms
  6. Commission opens case on Qatar gas flow
  7. EU adopts posted workers directive
  8. EU leaders to call for 'coordinated plan' on AI

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  2. Macedonian Human Rights MovementMHRMI Launches Lawsuits Against Individuals and Countries Involved in Changing Macedonia's Name
  3. IPHRCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  4. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  6. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  8. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordics Could Be First Carbon-Negative Region in World
  10. European Federation of Allergy and AirwaysLife Is Possible for Patients with Severe Asthma
  11. PKEE - Polish Energy AssociationCommon-Sense Approach Needed for EU Energy Reform
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to Lead in Developing and Rolling Out 5G Network

Latest News

  1. Migration row at centre of EU summit This Week
  2. Merkel's woes cast shadow on EU's future
  3. Europe's tech race - trying to keep pace with US and China
  4. Merkel and Juncker's mini-summit risks fiasco
  5. Greece and creditors proclaim 'end of crisis'
  6. How a US firm pushed for EU €2.1trn pension fund
  7. Commission defends Africa migrant plan ahead of summit
  8. Bavaria hijacks EU migration talks

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Economic and Trade Relations Enjoy a Bright Future
  2. ACCAEmpowering Businesses to Engage with Sustainable Finance and the SDGs
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersCooperation in Nordic Electricity Market Considered World Class Model
  4. FIFAGreen Stadiums at the 2018 Fifa World Cup
  5. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Work Together to Promote Sustainable Development
  6. Counter BalanceEuropean Ombudsman Requests More Lending Transparency from European Investment Bank
  7. FIFARecycling at the FIFA World Cup in Russia
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersOECD Report: Gender Equality Boosts GDP Growth in Nordic Region
  9. Centre Maurits Coppieters“Peace and Reconciliation Is a Process That Takes Decades” Dr. Anthony Soares on #Brexit and Northern Ireland
  10. Mission of China to the EUMEPs Positive on China’s New Measures of Opening Up
  11. Macedonian Human Rights MovementOld White Men are Destroying Macedonia by Romanticizing Greece
  12. Counter BalanceControversial EIB-Backed Project Under Fire at European Parliament

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us