ACRI to Government Authority – Reverse Anti B’tselem Decision or Face Legal Action

Photo: CC-by-ND - Jennifer Moo via FlickrPhoto: CC-by-ND - Jennifer Moo via Flickr

On the evening of August 13, 2014, B’tselem received a letter from the Director General of the National Civilian Service program, announcing the withdrawal of the organization’s eligibility to employ national service volunteers. The Director General noted in the letter that B’tselem acts against the state and its soldiers, and that it provides support to a defamation campaign of lies and incitement against Israeli soldiers, the purpose of which is to deligitimize the state of Israel.

 

In a sharp letter to the Director General of the program, Attorney Dan Yakir, ACRI’s Chief Legal Counsel, made clear that the Director General’s letter reflects a distorted perception of the values of democracy and a complete lack of understanding of the role of human rights organizations in a democratic state. Such a letter sends a threatening undertone to other NGOs that receive national service volunteers that any actions considered critical of the government is likely to result in the cancellation of eligibility to receive volunteers.

 

The revocation of B’tselem’s authorization contravenes fundamental constitutional principles and is aimed at impeding crucial activity in defense of human rights. This activity is more important than ever during security, economic or social crises when human rights violations are more prone to occur.

The letter ended by demanding the immediate withdrawal of the decision – the failure of which will result in a petition to the High Court of Justice.

 

14 August 2014

Mr. Sar-Shalom Jerbi
Director General
Authority for National Civic Service
Government Plaza
Jerusalem

 

Dear Sir,

 

Re: Revocation of B’Tselem’s authorization to receive national service volunteers

(Letter dated: 12 August 2014)

 

We have read with dismay your letter, received by B’Tselem in the evening of 13 August 2014, wherein you inform the organization of the revocation of its status as an employing body entitled to obtain volunteers through the national service program.

 

The letter is replete with serious accusations, which are both slanderous and baseless, to the effect that B’Tselem is working against the State of Israel and its soldiers and that it is involved in propagating incitement and disinformation as a part of an international de-legitimization campaign against Israel.

 

Aside from the fact that such actions are entirely unrelated to B’Tselem’s work, these accusations evince a twisted view of democratic values and a complete lack of understanding of the role human rights organizations play in a democracy.

 

The role of human rights organizations is to defend and promote human rights, and to stand guard and warn against potential violations. This role inevitably creates tension between such organizations and the government – indeed any government – that tends to violate human rights. This tension intensifies in times of security, economic or social crises, during which human rights violations are more prone to occur. It is during these times that the voices of human rights organizations are particularly important, as they serve to counteract, to the greatest extend possible, the tendency to sacrifice or compromise human rights.

 

If Israeli human rights organizations have any influence in the world, it is in bolstering the recognition that Israel possesses a vibrant community of NGOs working to promote human rights and democracy. The State of Israel itself, in its reports to the UN, cites with pride the fact that human rights organizations in the country are free to carry out their work without any restrictions. Not only is B’Tselem internationally renowned for its documentation of human rights violations in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, but it has received special recognition and status from Israeli authorities as well.

 

Unfortunately, over the last few years, we have borne witness to a de-legitimization campaign against Israeli human rights organizations, and it is particularly distressing that a public official, such as yourself, has joined this campaign. All human rights organizations that have been permitted to engage national civic service volunteers can be said to be working “against the state”, in that they file High Court of Justice petitions against government policies, publish critical reports about human rights violations and provide information to the media. This is true of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, Kav LaOved – Workers’ Hotline, the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants and others.

 

You began your letter by noting that it was sent following a review of employing bodies. The nature of this review remains unspecified and it is unclear why it was necessary. You ended your letter by stating that copies of it had been sent to the directors of all bodies recognized by the national service program. It appears that aside from increasing the circulation of the slanderous content of your letter (along with its publication in the media), the purpose of this action was to send a threatening message to the remaining recognized associations: Caution. Any criticism of the regime may cost you your authorization to engage national service volunteers.

 

The revocation of B’tselem’s authorization contravenes fundamental constitutional principles and is aimed at impeding crucial activity in defense of human rights. Importantly, the decision also breaches fundamental principles in administrative law and the right to due process, having been made without giving B’Tselem an opportunity to respond to the information on which it was based and in breach of Section 17 of the National Civic Service Law 5774-2014.

 

You are hereby requested to withdraw your decision forthwith in order to obviate an petition to the High Court of Justice.

 

Respectfully,

 

Dan Yakir, Adv.
Chief Legal Counsel
Association for Civil Rights in Israel

 

Copy: Mr. Yehuda Weinstein, Attorney General

 

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Categories: Anti-Democratic Initiatives, Democracy and Civil Liberties, Freedom of Expression

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