[Opinion] Second chance for NGOs
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Once again, the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) has authorized an “independent” “fact-finding” mission to investigate, and single out, Israel. Once again, this agenda is the product of the efforts of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in conjunction with the powerful Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).
Once again, this is an attempt to demonize and isolate Israel internationally, as part of the strategy devised at the NGO Forum of the 2001 UN Durban Conference.
On March 22, 2012, the UNHRC passed a resolution, drafted by human rights stalwarts such as Cuba, Mauritania, and Venezuela, calling for “an independent international fact-finding mission, appointed by the President of the Council, to investigate the implications of the Israeli settlements on the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of the Palestinian people throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem.”
Palestinian NGOs, including Addameer, Al-Dameer, Al-Haq, Al-Mezan, BADIL, DCI-PS and PCHR, lobbied extensively for the resolution.
These developments recall the formation of the UN Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict, led by Judge Richard Goldstone. The fact-finding commission, also the product of NGO lobbying, resulted in the “Goldstone Report,” which falsely accused Israel of “war crimes,” “crimes against humanity,” and deliberately targeting “the people of Gaza as a whole.” The distortions and bias were so great, that Judge Goldstone himself repudiated the worst of the charges in a Washington Post op-ed.
The Goldstone Report was also a disaster for Israeli human rights organizations. During the Gaza War and the subsequent Goldstone process, the perception emerged that Israeli NGOs were only concerned about Palestinian rights and did not care about violations and attacks against Israelis.
The knee-jerk condemnations – which often included false allegations – about the Gaza War, a defensive response to thousands of rockets from Gaza, made Israeli NGOs unpopular. The rift between Israeli NGOs and Israeli society deepened when these political advocacy groups lobbied for the creation of a UNHRC investigation of Israel.
Israeli NGOs, claiming to represent human rights and civil society, were clamoring for intervention from a wildly anti-human rights and anti-Israel body. The erosion of credibility and respect was unsurprising.
Cooperating with Goldstone
The crisis for Israeli NGOs was exacerbated as they provided the Goldstone Mission with materials with which to condemn Israel, and then actively lobbied in the United States and Europe for the adoption of the Report’s flawed recommendations.
Three Israeli groups, Public Committee against Torture in Israel (PCATI), Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, and Adalah, participated in a May 2009 NGO “town hall meeting” in Geneva that helped shape the course of Goldstone’s ”investigation.” In addition, Israeli NGOs submitted a joint statement to Goldstone that failed to address alleged Hamas war crimes, “but rather offers our own distinct perspective – human rights violations for which Israel must be held accountable.”
A representative from PCATI referred to “collective punishment” and “(Palestinian) martyrs” at the July 2009 Goldstone hearings.
B’Tselem, which had been demanding an “independent and credible investigation” of the Gaza War since January 2009, urged Israel to cooperate with Goldstone, and “provided assistance to the investigative staff of the Goldstone mission from the beginning to the end of its research.”
And after the publication of the Goldstone Report, Adalah joined extreme Palestinian NGOs in a press release urging countries to “re-evaluate their relationship with Israel.”
In the wake of the Gaza War and the Goldstone Report, and analysis by NGO Monitor drawing attention to the issue of NGOs, Israelis began asking critical questions about the role of NGOs in Israeli society: What are the political motives that often take center stage in NGO statements and activities, instead of universal human rights values? How have NGOs managed to accumulate so much power and influence over political processes? How can an Israeli NGO, comprised of a handful of activist-employees, claim to represent “civil society”? How can a “non-governmental” organization receive the majority of its funding from foreign governments?
With the latest UNHRC investigation, Israeli NGOs are being given a second chance, an opportunity to change how Israelis perceive them. They can speak out against the exploitation of UN frameworks by oppressive regimes. Peace Now, one of the most vocal opponents of Israeli policy in the West Bank, is reportedly “considering” not cooperating with the fact-finding mission. Peace Now Executive Director Yariv Oppenheimer noted that the UNHRC is “not an objective body” and “has taken the issue a few steps further than the truth.”
Alternatively, Israeli NGOs can repeat the earlier mistakes, and be complicit in the manipulation of international human rights frameworks by the Palestinian Authority, the OIC, Cuba, and their allies. If they join this political attack against Israel, Israeli NGOs will further alienate themselves from Israeli society and will cement their negative reputations.