The Israeli human rights group B’Tselem faced criticism Thursday for its scheduled participation in a United Nations Security Council forum debate on Israeli settlements, where it says it will “lay out the reality of the occupation.”
The meeting, set to be held on Friday at the United Nations headquarters in New York, is titled “Illegal Israeli Settlements: Obstacles to Peace and the Two-State Solution,” and will include presentations from B’Tselem executive director Hagai El-Ad, Lara Friedman of Americans for Peace Now and Prof. Francois Dubuisson of the Free University of Brussels.
Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon slammed B’Tselem’s planned presentation at the forum, saying the group would be “providing moral cover for anti-Israel activities at the UN.” In a separate statement, Yesh Atid party chairman Yair Lapid described the group’s participation as “a declaration of divorce” from Zionism.
The forum will be hosted by Malaysia along with Egypt, Senegal, Angola and Venezuela, and will focus on “a wide range of issues emanating from or caused by the Israeli settlement activities,” according to Malaysian media sources. The meeting was reportedly requested by the Palestinian delegation to the UN.
B’Tselem, which describes itself as an Israeli human rights group, uses Palestinian photographers and videographers to document the conduct of Israeli soldiers and settlers in the West Bank. In March, one of the group’s volunteers, Imad Abu Shamsiyeh, filmed IDF soldier Sgt. Elor Azaria shooting a disarmed, injured Palestinian in the head after he carried out a stabbing attack in Hebron. That footage sparked a nationwide debate over excessive force and IDF values.
In his address, El-Ad will stress that West Bank “settlements — main reasons for daily violations of Palestinians’ human rights — continue to expand,” a statement from the group said.
“Under these circumstances, it would be unreasonable to consider the occupation temporary or to believe that Israel intends to change this reality in the foreseeable future. The responsibility for ending the occupation and the human rights violations that it entails lies first and foremost with Israel, yet this reality will not change as long as the international community stands idly by,” the statement read.
Danon said the meeting was an attempt by the Palestinian Authority to avoid direct negotiations with Israel and instead wage “diplomatic terrorism against us.”
“During this time of year of reflection and prayer for unity among our people, it is sad and disappointing that Israeli organizations are providing moral cover for anti-Israel activities at the UN,” Danon added.
Lapid released a bitter response to B’Tselem’s participation, calling the move “the radical left’s declaration of divorce from Israel.”
“They no longer even pretend that their aim is to influence Israeli public opinion. Instead they decided to join with anti-Semitic BDS organizations in order to pressure Israel from the outside,” he said, claiming that the group has turned to international forums because it has lost any influence within Israeli society.
While Danon’s statement also berated Israeli settlement watchdog Peace Now for attending the meeting, the group said it had turned down the invitation from Malaysia at the beginning of the week and that Americans for Peace Now was an independent US organization that did not represent it.
“Our work is public to everyone we are proud of it, but most of our activities are based in Israel and we didn’t see an need to participate in the meeting in order to present it,” Peace Now director general Avi Buskila told The Times of Israel.
Instead, Buskila called on Danon to participate in the meeting. “He needs to explain why Israel is endangering the two-state solution, not us.”
Peace Now was established in 1978 as a group promoting the signing of a peace accord between Israel and Egypt. In recent years it has focused on publicizing Israeli settlement activities and pushing for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
B’Tselem and Peace Now have been accused in the past of working to undermine Israel’s legitimacy by lobbying international forums, and are both now subject to the so-called “NGO Law” obligating certain nonprofit groups to declare all their foreign funding.
The law — approved by Knesset in June — mandates that non-government organizations that receive more than half their funds from foreign governments or state agencies disclose that fact in any public reports, advocacy literature and interactions with government officials, or face a NIS 29,000 fine ($7,500).
The government has defended the law as a way to increase transparency of foreign government intervention in Israeli affairs, but it has been widely pilloried by critics in Israel and abroad who see it as targeting leftist groups and clamping down on free speech.
Supporters of the law, including one of its authors, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, said Monday that it was intended to create public awareness about large-scale foreign governmental intervention in Israel’s domestic politics. The law’s authors charge that advocacy groups funded by foreign governments “represent in Israel, in a non-transparent manner, the outside interests of foreign states.”