The search for the truth
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Inquiries following international “incidents” are ingrained in the Israeli political culture. When politicians are called to testify, the public listens with a certain healthy suspicion. Allegations about the behavior of rivals are taken with a large grain of salt.
Unfortunately, the UN, international community and respected experts who are chosen to head investigations show no such skepticism when political groups and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) make allegations against Israel. NGOs, particularly those claiming to protect human rights, enjoy a “halo effect” that masks their own political ideologies and motives.
The Turkel Commission, established to investigate the May 31 “Free Gaza Flotilla” violence, has invited three NGOs to provide information on the “humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip, the Strip’s economy and the delivery of goods into Gaza.” The NGOs, -B’Tselem, Gisha and Physicians for Human Rights-Israel (PHR-I) – have consistent records of biased and unsubstantiated allegations against Israel.
Nevertheless, they enjoy this “halo effect,” and thus the testimony of these groups is likely to be taken at face value by some members of the commission and international community.
Based on previous examples, little attention will be paid to the political ideologies of these NGOs, as well as the funders to which they answer.
The political role of the NGO network was evident during and immediately after the flotilla incident, and continues to be highlighted in ongoing delegitimization campaigns.
Regarding the attacks on soldiers upon boarding the flotilla, B’Tselem claimed that this “information is based solely on statements of soldiers.” In actuality, the video evidence of violent extremists attacking soldiers with knives and clubs clearly supports the soldiers’ claims.
PHR-I also issued a statement referring to passengers on the flotilla as “human rights and peace activists, journalists and members of parliament.” Nowhere in the statement did it reference the connection to IHH, the main flotilla organizer and a member of Union of the Good, an umbrella of 50+ Islamic organizations that was designated by the US government as “an organization created by Hamas leadership to transfer funds to the terrorist organization.”
And Gisha used the flotilla incident as an opportunity to claim that “this incident is proof that despite claims to the contrary, Israel never ‘disengaged’ from the Gaza Strip but rather continues to control its borders – land, air and sea,” ignoring the mass weapons smuggling from Iran and Syria that necessitate such policing.
Should we be surprised by these biased and unsubstantiated statements? No.
Political advocacy NGOs often exploit human rights and legal terminology, including accusations of “apartheid” to attack Israel. PHR-I has referred to the IDF as the “Israeli Occupation Forces” and simply recycles statistics from the UN and the Palestinian NGO Al Mezan in its reports about Gaza.
The UN data is usually based on Palestinian claims that no one can verify.
And Al Mezan’s claims are entirely political and lack credibility, including the practice of labeling hundreds of Hamas and Islamic Jihad combatants as “civilians.”
The group also has accused Israel of “genocide” and employs Nazi terminology to attack Israel. Hamas’s illegal rocket attacks against Israeli civilians are called “resistance.”
By relying on these sources and repeating Al Mezan’s claims, PHR-I has become an echo for Al Mezan’s agenda.
So, when these groups give their testimony before the commission, including condemnations against Israeli policy, and discuss the humanitarian “crisis” in Gaza, we should listen with that healthy skepticism that was employed concerning the testimony of politicians and defense officials.
In the democratic process, all voices and opinion should be heard – including the views of these and other NGOs with different perspectives and analyses. As part of a wide inquiry, the statements by NGOs, whose allegations have played a major role in impacting international reactions to the flotilla, should be rigorously evaluated, and vigorously cross-examined.
Their claims should certainly not be taken at face value.
It is also important to recognize the role of this group of NGOs in the demonization campaigns against Israel. It is important to recognize that PHR-I may claim to be part of Israeli civil society, but this political organization receives funding from the EU, Oxfam, Christian Aid, Ford Foundation and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. It files reports and makes claims that are then referenced by many of these same entities as credible and factual. Because they are doctors, their “halo” is amplified.
The Turkel Commission’s invitation to these NGOs highlights the questions regarding what should be done to counteract this “halo effect.” To that end, we need greater transparency of NGO funding and increased accountability for their actions and reports. In the history of Israeli inquiries, politicians are held accountable when they lie or have been found to take money dishonestly. The Turkel Commission should apply similar standards to political advocacy NGOs, as well.
The writer is communications director for NGO Monitor.