Guardian

No, Hannah Weisfeld, there isn’t a ‘war on human rights activists’. There’s a terror war against Jews


You can tell a lot about people by what motivates them to express righteous indignation on traditional or social media.  If we’re narrowly dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it seems that any activist claiming the mantle of ‘pro-Israel’ would likely use such platforms to condemn the recent wave of Palestinian terror – attacks which have killed 22 and injured 252 in 94 stabbings, 34 shootings and 19 car-rammings since October.

Additionally, such activists would likely be horrified by the drumbeat of incitement emanating from Palestinian social media sites, the official PA media, PA officials and even the Palestinian President.

This brings us to Hannah Weisfeld, director of the “pro-peace”, putatively pro-Israel group in the UK called Yachad

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Hannah Weisfeld

Weisfeld yesterday published an op-ed at the Guardian – still arguably the central media address for delegitimizing rhetoric about Israel in the UK.

No, she didn’t use the forum provided to her to challenge Guardian readers’ prejudices about Israel, or to help them understand the ongoing terror war, but rather to decry “Israel’s war against its human rights community” which, she believes, “threatens its very democracy”.

Of course, to most who are knowledgeable about life in the Jewish State, the suggestion that there’s anything approaching a war against Israeli civil society would be dismissed out of hand.  Indeed, to cite one example, there are 23 political advocacy NGOs operating freely in the country which are funded by foreign governments – most “which actively oppose, in varying degrees, the policies of the democratically elected government of Israel”.

So, what precisely is Weisfeld referring to?

She explains:

The Israeli parliamentarian Yoav Kisch, from the ruling Likud party, recently announced he would attempt to introduce a foreign “plants” bill. Should the bill succeed, Israeli NGOs in receipt of funding from foreign governments will be labelled as foreign agents or “plants” of that entity. They will be banned from having contact with Israeli state institutions, including the Israeli Defense Forces, unless an exception is made by the justice minister. Any NGO that does not comply with the law could be fined 100,000 shekels (around £17,000).

How big of threat is this bill? Well, in the following passages, Weisfeld acknowledges what anyone familiar with the debate over the bill already knows – that it has little if any chance of actually becoming a law.

So, what other ominous political dynamics portend the erosion of Israel’s democratic nature and the freedom of NGOs to operate freely?

Weisfeld:

The current justice minister has a bill drafted that would result in the staff of NGOs that receive significant funds from foreign state entities being required to wear a tag when in the Knesset, identifying them as lobbyists of foreign entities.

However, it’s far less than clear how the transparency bill Weisfeld is referring to, which would also require NGOs who receive more than 50% of its funding from foreign governments to note this on their publications and reports, represents an assault on Israel’s human rights community.

Other examples by Weisfeld?

This discourse is not confined to parliamentary legislation or NGOs. Two weeks ago, Reuven Rivlin, the president of Israel, participated in a Ha’aretz-New Israel conference in New York. Ha’aretz is an Israeli paper, known to be on the left of the political spectrum, and the New Israel Fund is a diaspora-based organisation that funds many Israeli human rights organisations. Since his participation, Rivlin has been labelled a traitor. So bad is the incitement against him that the opposition leader, Yitzhak Herzog, felt the need to stand up in the Knesset and implore Netanyahu to speak out against it. Activists took to the streets outside Rivlin’s residence to support him against incitement.

True, there were some completely unjustified vitriolic attacks on Rivlin because some felt his presence there legitimized an EU-funded group featured at the conference, Breaking the Silence, which smears Israeli soldiers with false accusations of war crimes.  However, other prominent political figures came to the president’s defense. Indeed, Weisfeld failed to note that Netanyahu said, during the Knesset debate, that he opposed incitement directed towards the president. 

Weisfeld then cites a video by the group Im Tirtsu:

Last week, the nationalist group Im Tirtzu released a short film aimed at winning support for the “plant” bill. It named and “shamed” four Israeli human rights activists as “plants”. So shocking was the film that Yuval Diskin, former head of Israel’s internal security service, spoke out against it. But Im Tirtzu is not the only organisation adopting measures of this kind.

However, in the next passages, Weisfeld admits that both MK Kisch, the parliamentarian behind the “plant bill”, and Netanyahu have criticized the video.  

So, unable to find actual examples of a sustained, institutional attack on the Israeli human rights community, Weisfeld resorts to a broad, sweeping and completely unsupportable claim:

But, in the same breath, Kisch says he will pursue the bill with full force, and Netanyahu’s own party tries to outlaw the human rights community.

This is just hyperbole.  There are no serious proposals, by even the most ardent critics of foreign funded NGOs within the current government, which could be honestly characterized as an effort to “outlaw the human rights community”.

Weisfeld’s words then become even more unserious:

The signals it sends to those baying for the president’s blood, and to the extremists inciting violence against NGO staffers, is not that shutting down debate is wholly unacceptable in a country that takes pride in its democratic character, but that if as elected leaders they can’t support the tactics, they certainly support the endgame.

So, after creating her strawman, Weisfeld expands the circle of anti-democracy plotters to include even those who don’t actually support the “anti-democratic” legislation.

Then, after tying the incitement against Rivlin and NGOs to “the atmosphere that existed in Israel before the assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995 by rightwing Israeli extremist Yigal Amir”, she concludes thusly:

It also leaves many diaspora Jews and other supporters of Israel, who proudly and regularly stand up to defend Israel and its democratic character, between a rock and a hard place. These loyal and committed allies have time and again pointed out that one of the reasons the spotlight is disproportionately shone on Israel’s behaviour, when that of so many other countries is ignored despite being so much worse, is because Israel is a democracy that allows a free press and NGOs that can bring abuses to light. But if there is no NGO community, or those that support that free press are vilified, what democracy will these allies defend?

Parliamentarians and extremists within Israeli civil society may win the battle they are waging against the human rights community. But when they create an atmosphere where civil society turns on itself and its elected leadership, and alienates its allies to such a great extent, whose war are they fighting?

Her central claim, that there’s a battle being waged against the human rights community, is fatally undermined by her conflation of real criticism of NGOs and their supporters with non-existent government suppression of such groups. Indeed, in perusing Weisfeld’s Twitter account and various op-eds she’s published, her claims, in the first sentence cited above, of being a proud and strong defender of Israel ring hollow. 

Of course, those living in the region understand that Israel’s democracy is strong, robust and not under serious threat.  They also know that there are real “wars” being waged in the region: an ongoing cognitive war against Israel and Jews, and a physical war most recently represented by a wave of antisemitic violence incited by Palestinian leaders – battles that Weisfeld seems unenthusiastic about waging.

Indeed, her entire op-ed would make genuine pro-Israel activists ask: whose war is Hannah Weisfeld fighting?

85 replies »

  1. So first you deny that right-wing Zionists are engaged in a war against pro-Israel human rights groups, then you, er, launch a vituperative personal attack on the director of a pro-Israel human rights group.

    Then you highlight how Israel is a tolerant, pluralist state with a free press, just before complaining that the free press published an article by someone which “didn’t use the forum provided to her” to say exactly what you would have said, but to express different opinions to you.

    I’m quite confused.

        • First off, snappy comeback there.
          Second, John’s point is salient in that you DO seem very confused, insofar as your reply makes absolutely no sense. I mean, from your failed perspective where pointing out the hypocrisies and lies of a phony advocate is mean-spirited instead of accurate, it could make sense–but I’m talking about an intelligent POV, which your response doesn’t check the box for. The post outlined out how the phony advocate’s arguments are badly drawn and factually unsupported. If you want to find parts of the Internet where being outright wrong is still right on political grounds, go ahead, but this site isn’t going to accommodate you on that.

          • I think the problem is that you (and John, and the author of this ridiculous post) don’t understand the difference between fact and opinion. Hannah is not a “phony advocate” just because she holds opinions with which you disagree. It is not inappropriate for a newspaper to run an opinion piece, headed “OPINION” in big letters, with which you disagree.

            It *is* inappropriate to call someone anti-Israel just because their vision for the future of Israel is different from yours (note, for instance, how the Knesset consists of many Zionist political parties which have many disagreements between them). It *is* inappropriate to complain that somebody has written a newspaper article that articulates their views instead of your views: I mean, why on earth would they write an article consisting of someone else’s views? That would be very eccentric.

            This entire UKMW blog post is very nasty and marinating in an intolerance of dissent which finds no place in Jewish or Israeli or democratic tradition. The only place, in fact, it finds roots is in the far-right of the Jewish people which is currently conducting Israel’s crusade against human rights groups.

            • OK, I see that you need a VERY simple explanation as to why so many people here think you are confused and silly and talking through the back of your head:
              The writer of the OP is exercising his freedom of speech in stating his position. There is nothing ‘inappropriate’ is doing that, nor in calling this dreg Hannah anti-Israel, etc etc.
              Grasped that yet?

              • I still don’t really get why you feel the need to include abuse (“I see that you need a VERY simple explanation”, “silly”, “talking through the back of your head”, “dreg”) in your post: surely you’re capable of deploying arguments that don’t resort to mindless rudeness?

                And I’m afraid I don’t agree that the writer of this post is merely exercising his freedom of speech. If that is what he was doing – and as you say, that would be entirely normal in a democratic society – he would have said, “I disagree with Hannah’s op-ed for the following reasons…” Such a reasoned disagreement would have been very ambitious, given the strength of Hannah’s arguments, but the challenge is there for the taking.

                But that isn’t what he did. He didn’t just disagree with her. He went further. He said that it was iniquitous of her to write her piece in the first place. He said that, having been given the slot in the newspaper, she ‘should’ have written something entirely different, something he would agree with.

                That elevates this blog post from being a simple exercise of free speech to an attempt to interfere with someone else’s/ browbeat another person into forgoing theirs.

                And that, in my view (as well as in the Jewish tradition), is unacceptable.

                • LOL. There are so many logical fallacies here, it’s difficult to know where to start.
                  Let me try to run just this one past you:
                  IF (!) we accept your utterly absurd premise that he is trying to ‘interfere with someone’/’browbeat another person into foregoing [their free speech]’, in what way is what YOU are doing NOT an attempt to ‘interfere with someone’/’browbeat another person into foregoing [their free speech]’?

              • Gabriel Webber.

                “This entire UKMW blog post is very nasty and marinating in an intolerance of dissent which finds no place in Jewish or Israeli or democratic tradition.”

                Well, well! Isn’t this the very same Gabriel Webber who makes a habit of reporting to the Constitution Committee of the Board of Deputies of British Jews those deputies who have the cheek to express views different from his own? (We are both deputies).
                I know, because I’ve been the subject of some of his habitual complaints, as have other genuinely pro- Israel deputies he doesn’t approve of. It’s his way of trying to silence us in the absence of convincing arguments.
                Imagine, he censured me for “bringing the Board and the Jewish community into disrepute” at the time of the proposed BDS initiative by the Methodist Church, because I had the chutzpa to point out that the Nazis in 1930s Germany began their anti Jewish campaign by boycotting Jewish businesses.

                So much for Gabriel’s professed respect for freedom of speech and democracy, which for Weisfeld and himself is a one way street….their way.

                And another thing….Yachad is on the International Division at the Board, and has elected itself to be part of the Israel Advocacy sub group.
                The mind boggles!

                Come on, Gabriel….some new material for your next complaint….I’m sure you won’t disappoint.

            • “It *is* inappropriate to complain that somebody has written a newspaper article that articulates their views instead of your views”

              Are you being daft? He is CRITICIZING her opinions because he believes they are wrong. Kind of the whole point of opinions. They are wrong and baseless. What are you on about?

              • Actually, he doesn’t only ‘believe’ they are wrong: he is taking her hysterical, fact-free, bigotted nonsense apart: logically, factually and thoroughly.

                  • You clearly are unable to grasp that an opinion based on bigotry and hatred and lies and distortions (e.g. Hannah’s) can be taken apart with logic and argument, and that it’s perfectly reasonable and legitimate to do so, despite your handwaving and hysterical attempts to order Adam to desist from doing so.
                    I am pretty sure, based on your rants, that you have never studied logic. Nevertheless, you may have heard in passing of something called reductio ad absurdum. Here is an example:
                    Someone holds the opinion that Jews are morally inferior to real humans (they are Untermenschen). Is it your position that (a) this opinion ‘cannot be wrong’, and (b) that it is ‘inappropriate’ to argue that it is wrong?
                    Another logical failure of yours is in accepting the word of these bodies that they are ‘pro-Israel human rights groups’, even though there is plenty of hard evidence to show that they are neither of these 2 things.

                    • Again, you’re misidentifying value judgments as factual assertions. What is the universally-accepted definition of “bigotry”, “pro-Israel”, “human rights” etc. on which you purport to base your factual argument that Yachad crosses those lines?

                      Clearly, some people disagree about what constitutes bigotry: I think you’re a bigot, you think I’m a bigot. Clearly, some people disagree abotu what constitutes bigotry: I identify as pro-Israel because I support the existence of a Jewish state in the land of Israel, you think I’m not pro-Israel because I sometimes criticse the incumbent Israeli government.

                      Neither of us is factually right or factually wrong. The terms we are using are value judgments insusceptible of facutal proof.

                    • “you think I’m not pro-Israel because I sometimes criticse the incumbent Israeli government” – pure fantasy, not even remotely based on anything I have written or implied.
                      … and you completely failed to address the rest of what I wrote, and conflated several concepts, and ran away from answering my direct question … what a surprise.
                      I might as well argue with a bowl of porridge. I’d get just as much sensible discussion out of it. Complete waste of time. You go argue with yourself, and try to comprehend why everyone here is laughing at you. I am done.

                    • Ah Gabriel…”your unwillingness to accept that an opinion cannot be wrong” is in fact the root of all evil in the world… To even announce that there is a thing called justice must needs have a conceptualisation of it…of what is just and not just…that you believe in Universal human rights – as I do believe you do – demands that it is beyond mere ”opinion” not just a moral relativism of ”beyond good and evil” where you can not truly get upset over some deep injustice but merely upset because it didn’t pan out the way you hoped…My point is that an ‘opinion’ can indeed be wrong. your being exercised by some others actually verifies a certain reality to that fact.

            • What it seems to me, that you clearly miss is that “dissent” is NOT funded, directed, & supported by FOREIGN GOVERNMENTS, under the GUISE of NGO-hood.

              That is NOT dissent. At best that’s meddling in the Democratic affairs of a foreign country, which is tantamount to the opposite of Democratic SELF Governance and Self Determination.

              To then whine about not being able to falsely portray one’s organization as populist “dissent” is insurmountably disingenuous, not to mention hypocritical.

    • Confused you are Gabriel . A little while back , I asked Yachad why they thought it acceptable to align with Breaking the Silence , an NGO which sees fit to posit unsubstantiated testimony from anonymous soldiers regarding Israel’s alleged ‘war crimes ‘. Not surprisingly there was no response . Of far more serious concern , again there was no response as to why Ms Weisfeld / Yachad accepted the dubious hospitality of the terrorist enabling Tamimi family . Perhaps you might like to answer instead .

    • Gabriel I can understand your confusion. You dutifully rush to the defence of your Yachad friends in support of their efforts to raise their dwindling profile in the eyes of their paymasters. You do your best to craft an argument with so many contortions that you tie yourself and many of the readers in mental knots. You attempt a few of the usual 6 or 7 word put downs so beloved of these comment sections and still the impression left of you and your anti Israel associates is one of a fringe irrelevance whose 15 minutes has passed. This cannot be helping the aims of those that are funding this enterprise and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if they had reviewed the rather unedifying performances of their designated spokesperson and were considering their positions visa viz future support. Nonetheless I am sure none of this has harmed your own self promotion and the drive to get readership to your own social media channels. So a little confusion is really a small price to pay wouldn’t you say?

      • Oh by the way Gabriel, This is Ian Kay. For some reason my above comments are attributed to my nome de guerre. I wouldn’t want to cause further confusion or hide behind a veil of anonymity, you know, like your friends at BtS.

        • Massive supporter Gabriel and thanks for the name check. In the interests of balanced research I watched as many of the films that were posted from food banks and poverty charities around the world that were beneficiaries of the IsrACTIONday. I was anxious to find one that was complaining about being used as a political pawn as you had suggested or berating the nature of the products that they had received or their origins. I failed on both counts and only heard kind words of gratitude sincerely expressed. Do you have access to different sources that reinforce your position?

          • Yes I do🙂 I did an experiment a couple of weeks ago at Sainsburys Finchley Road.

            It turns out that if the donors had spent the same amount of money on donations, without paying regard to the nationality of the products, they could have bought around 1.6 times more food (ie Israeli products are around 1.6 times more expensive than general products).

            I reckon that if you asked the food banks, “Would you prefer 1,000kg of food donations or 1,600kg of food donations?” their answer would have been pretty unanimous.

            But if you have access to alternative sources of information I’m happy to be persuaded otherwise.

            • Excellent Gabriel. I’m delighted that you take a consistent view and approach to polling. This was evident from your comments on the recent efforts of your friends from Yachad. However credit where credit is due. Your methodology appears much more scientific than theirs. I’d be interested to know how you constructed the question to understand how prospective donors felt about donating food to the needy whilst at the same time supporting the state of Israel. Did they (a) despair (b) really despair (c) really really despair or (d) IDF war crime?

                • Stephen, I’ve read the reality that you present in your personal blog and I’ll get a second opinion if I may. For me the only reality that concern me about IsrActionday was the question of whether private individuals donated food because they knowingly wanted to help the needy and also support the state of Israel. The answer to that question appears to be YES. Nobody was duped. People acted of their own free will and used their own money as they chose, People that needed food got food and the donors were also able to support the state of Israel in so doing. The benefactors indicated their gratitude and all was well so mission accomplished. That certainly seems real enough for me. Nonetheless sensing the tone of your blog I can see that you would get quite snarky about this wouldn’t you?

                    • Stephen, Not unsurprisingly I tend not to support your prediction. However I’m prepared to put my money where my mouth is and suggest a small wager. If there is another IsrActionday between now and Dec 31st 2016 will you go out and buy twenty five quids worth of Israeli products that you deem suitable to feed those in need and present them to your nearest IsrActionday 2016 collection point? If I am wrong I will buy twenty five quids worth of any food of your choice and of any origin of your choice and donate it to a food charity of your choice. What do you say?

      • Oh come on Stephen. You were the one that fortold the end of IsrActionday. I was simply giving you the opportunity to demonstrate the courage of your convictions. Also I gave you carte blanche to nominate your own charity. You may end up suggesting some NGO in Samaria that supports the families of the dead stabbers or a prosthetic bank in Judea for partially successful suicide bombers. Then it would be my convictions that would be tested wouldn’t it?

          • Oh I’m sure you do really Stephen. Check out your New Testament where there are references in John and Luke and your early 20th century history when it is referenced as part of late Ottoman history. I assume that in your terms of reference you would prefer to exclude anything beyond 1948 and the creation of our Jewish State as that seems to irk you. In any event it’s a pretty weedy get-out by you given that I was offering to prostrate myself on the metaphoric sword of your Arab friends if I lose the bet; perhaps not sword but maybe small stabbing implement, so to speak. Come on man, will you commit?

          • As one of the organisers of IsrAction Day I can confirm that we will shortly be drawing plans for IsrAction 2016 which as with this year will be bigger and more far reaching than previous years.

            I suggest you ask Ian if he will allow you a discount if you donate now

  2. …So first you deny that right-wing Zionists are engaged in a war against pro-Israel human rights groups…
    These groups may say about themselves that they are pro-Israel – with all intent and purposes they are anti-Israel.
    I’m quite confused.
    The usual mental state of Israel haters so don’t be surprised.

        • If you think the argument’s irrational surely the normal thing to do is (rationally) explain why, not just say ‘you’re an idiot’? Not aware that two wrongs make a right but happy to be disproved.

          • War is wrong, but sometimes, as in WW2 it was necessary to go to War to defeat National SOCIALISM.

            What “rational argument” can you compose to convince ISIS, Al Qada, Taliban, Muslim Brotherhood, Boko Haram, Fascist Iran to end their jihad against Bahais, Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jews, Zoroastrians and the wrong kind of Muslim?

              • The “rudeness” of total War against National Socialist Germany and Imperial Japan convinced both to agree to the terms of Unconditional Surrender.

                I’d add the threat of the retaliatory obliteration of Mecca – for starters – to any WMD attack on the US.

                  • ISIS needs to surrender, unconditionally to the US just as National SOCIALIST Germany surrendered, unconditionally to the US. Otherwise, just kill ISIS to the last jihadi, or keep watching ISIS beheading videos for your entertainment.

  3. I am at a loss for words. She lives outside Israel but thinks she and her pro PA/PLO organisation in the UK thinks she can sit in her comfy home in London and then attack those in Israel who want to enact laws similar to those in major Western countries to prevent the inroads of overseas goverments influencing the Israeli electorate. Just look at the NIF and BtS and see the source of their funding from Western governments – it says it all.http://www.ngo-monitor.org/article/breaking_the_silence_shovirm_shtika_
    Since when are anti Zionist Diaspora Jews permitted to spout the same material as Anti-Semites – have they not learned from history that siding with those who wish our destruction ultimately results in their own as well.

    • It’s taken a while , but finally Israel and the Diaspora are getting the message that these NGOs are no friends of Israel despite their mealey mouth pro Israel pro Peace sound bites . They are the enemy within . A Trojan Horse . I cannot begin to understand their motives . Maybe its something in the Jewish psyche that needs to be accepted by those who hate us .

      • Yes, it’s very puzzling. Psychologists have tried to understand it; maybe it’s similar to the Stockholm syndrome. Or maybe masochism. Or a death wish. I just call it ‘knee-bending galuti as-a-Jew mentality’.
        Any road, it’s not a manifestation of a healthy psyche at all, imo.

      • Harvey I’m far more concerned from Far Right Jewish extremists at a Jewish wedding celebrating the death by Jewish terrorists of a young Jewish child. I may not be a fan of everything Yachad does and I think it is fair to question some elements of the Guardian article, but I really think you should be concentrate your ire on far right Jewish extremists who are seeking to destroy the Zionist dream from within.

        • They are the two sides of the same coin, Yachad wants some kind of non-existent democratic bi-national state instead of Israel while the far-right wants a non-existent undemocratic bi-national state. Both of them want to end the Israel project.

        • It is a shame you dont live in Israel. As such you dont know the whoole picture and as such you have no right to make such comments based on media hype. Suggest you come and live here before you get to carried away

  4. I completely agree with Gabriel Webers and Stephon Bellamy- any rational and moral individual would see that Netanyahoo and the Ziocon occupation entity are conducting a war against the NGOs by making them wear a special tag in the Knesset (yellow star anyone?) and by forcing them to disclose who pays their salaries. So what if it’s a German church or a Qatari foundation? Money is money and its all green baby.

    We are wisely taught at level 4 Guardian readership class that whenever someone points at the money just start shouting “Facist!” and “We will not be silenced!” and if possible try to fling poop. (I do mean this literally and not as a metaphor: poop flinging is part of Level 5 initiation exams)

  5. Wonder exactly why Yachad become a registered charity on the 25 November 2015 instead of limited company. Despite everything one of the trustees is also a trustee of the NIF, so iti is not difficult to undrstand where Weisfeld is coming from.
    See Charity No 1164566 – YACHAD
    Charitable objects
    TO ADVANCE EDUCATION IN THE ISRAELI-PALESTINIAN CONFLICT FOR THE BENEFIT OF THE PUBLIC THROUGH PRODUCING AND/OR DISTRIBUTING LITERATURE TO ENLIGHTEN OTHERS, RUNNING EDUCATIONAL COURSES, STAGING LECTURES AND DEBATES AND RUNNING PUBLIC TOURS TO ISRAEL AND THE WEST BANK.

  6. Good rebuttal adam…. I am still in shock the editor of the jewish chronicle.. Stephen pollard promoted this anti-israel propaganda on twitter…. when questioned… he stated he doesn’t take being ‘lectured’.

    BtS is a foreign entity funded purely go deligitimize the idf and israel. I have close friends who were approached by them and actively encouraged to lie, speculate MD exaggerate events in order to demonize.

    • For genuine testimony from real IDF soldiers who do not hide behind the veil of anonymity, speak in Hebrew and English inside and outside Israel and present testimony that is not only verifiable by the IDF chain of command but also independent watchdog bodies and other 3rd party NGOs check out My Truth. You may be aware of them already. I can attest to their bona fides as my son served with some of their spokespeople. https://www.facebook.com/Israel.MyTruth/?fref=ts

    • I’m not shocked by Pollard….ignorant and arrogant just about sums it up. Fundamentally a barrow boy who gives himself airs and graces. He cares more for his own prestige than for the future of Israel and the Jewish people.