BDS IN THE PEWS
ACRI’s Annual Report: Mixing Political Agendas with Human Rights
December 19, 2012
On December 16, 2012, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) published its annual “Situation Report” on “The State of Human Rights in Israel and the OPT 2012.” ACRI’s primary conclusion, that Israel faces a “bleak situation in nearly every category of rights,” was copied and quoted without independent analysis by a number of media outlets, including Times of Israel, Ha’aretz, Jerusalem Post, Ynet, and ReliefWeb.
However, a careful reading of the report demonstrates that the text does not support many of the conclusions drawn by ACRI, and it did not warrant the wide media impact. ACRI fails to provide references, corroborative information, or comparative data for the majority of its claims; the citations that were included often point to other ACRI reports or to political advocacy NGOs such as Amnesty International that lack credibility regarding Israel. Additionally, ACRI’s simplistic analysis does not paint a complete picture, which should include detailed background, alternative explanations and perspectives, as well as a discussion of the complexities in balancing competing human rights principles.
In contrast to the sensationalistic and headline-generating summary, many of the examples actually show a very healthy democratic process in Israel is working (including a few cases which can be attributed to ACRI activities). However, ACRI does not recognize the essential role of the state and the democratic process in balancing and prioritizing competing interests and values. A report written from this perspective, and not through ACRI’s political and ideological spin, would have reached very different conclusions.
ACRI also disguises clearly political positions, most blatantly on economic issues, as human rights concerns. In so doing, ACRI is operating more as a political opposition faction to the current government, rather than as a civil liberties organization. ACRI’s progressive approach to resource distribution is one of many legitimate political views, but the blurring of the lines between these two distinct agendas undermines ACRI’s advocacy, and should not be confused with universal human rights principles.
The role of ACRI as a domestic political lobby is also inconsistent with the funding it receives from foreign governments, including the EU, Spain, Netherlands, Norway, NDC (Denmark, Sweden, Switzerland, Netherlands), Diakonia (Sweden), EED (Germany), Christian Aid (UK), Kerk in Actie (Netherlands). In addition, it should be noted that ACRI is supported by the New Israel Fund (NIF) and other private foundations.
Examples of Biased and Unsourced Claims
- The politically charged issue of unrecognized Bedouin villages in the Negev is presented in a completely one-sided manner, without mentioning the numerous court cases that, after detailed consideration, have rejected Bedouin land claims out of hand. ACRI also simplistically dismisses the Israeli government’s policies and proposals regarding Bedouin land claims, which attempt to balance a complex range of issues affecting a wide range of communities and populations.
- ACRI claims to have documented “two different incidents” of “police brutality” in the Bedouin village of Bir Hadaj. However, sources show that Interior Ministry inspectors were violently attacked by residents with stones and burning tires, and police used accepted crowd dispersal means in response to this violence.
- According to ACRI, “detention [of supposed asylum seekers] is contrary to Israel’s obligations in accordance with the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and is inconsistent with international standards, according to which the detention of migrants must be ‘essential and proportionate’ and must be based on an individual examination.” One would expect a reference to the relevant passages in the Convention. Instead, ACRI cites to a press release by Amnesty International, presenting this highly politicized and unreliable NGO’s speculations as law.
- In its politicized discussion of complex planning and building disputes in Israel’s Arab sector, ACRI claims that the government does not “take the Arab community’s unique cultural needs into account,” but again, without specifics. There is no discussion of the public safety and environmental impacts from rampant illegal construction in many of these communities.
- The report alleges that various decisions by Israeli municipalities to require permits for demonstrations are “violations of the right to demonstrate” and that restrictions on erecting tents in public spaces are “unlawful and exceeded the powers of a local authority.” However, ACRI ignores the competing values of the right of the general public to use public spaces, health and safety concerns, and the excessive burden on public services, resources, and infrastructure generated by protesters. There is also no comparative perspective on the policies adopted in other democratic societies relating to “tent cities.”
- ACRI selectively ignores the democratic mechanisms that are charged with evaluating whether a human rights violation has indeed occurred. For instance, ACRI and other NGOs filed a petition with the Haifa District Court regarding a housing project in Acre. The Court determined that there was no discrimination, yet ACRI continues to claim otherwise, as part of its dominant political agenda.
- In its summary, ACRI maintains that there is a “bleak” situation. Yet many of the examples provided in its report simply demonstrate the many challenges confronting a complex society and policy making in progress. This is precisely how democracy should work. In the examples of the Biometric Database and surveillance cameras, Israeli courts, Knesset committees, and relevant ministries have adjusted the programs to address human rights concerns. But, ACRI continues to promote the allegation that such policies are simply “violations [of] the right to privacy.”
- Regarding surveillance cameras, ACRI states that many cities deploy them “despite findings from international studies that cast doubt on their effectiveness in preventing crimes.” Citations to these “international studies,” as well as to differing analyses, are not provided.
- As one of the most prolific public petitioners in Israel, ACRI’s discussion of “Right of Access to the Courts: Imposing Court Costs on Public Petitioners” is clouded by a significant conflict of interest. ACRI self-servingly claims that “a public petitioner to the High Court has no vested interest other than improving the situation.” In fact, court cases by political advocacy NGOs are often a mechanism for advancing political agendas, maintaining influence in the political system, garnering organizational publicity and self-promotion, and, a means to secure funding from donors. In the context, assessing costs for frivolous cases is a legitimate policy.
- The discussion on High Court petitions also appears to contradict ACRI’s call, in the section on “Privatization” to make the courts more “efficient.” ACRI is advocating for a judiciary that allows NGOs and other activists to flood the system, without any checks or balances to prevent frivolous or non-serious petitions.
- The report discusses health indicators (such as life expectancy), healthcare services (number of nurses, physicians, and hospital beds per patient), and their accessibility in general, without any providing concrete data.