An activist for the Labor party has filed a police complaint for alleged treason against the human rights group B’Tselem, amid anger over a speech by the organization’s director criticizing Israeli settlement policy at a United Nations forum last week.
The complaint, lodged by Yuval Mor Musli, an attorney by trade, alleges that B’Tselem has worked to damage the sovereignty of the state, give land away to a foreign entity, and has taken steps that could cause a war. The three accusations are listed as clauses in Israel’s criminal code under “Treason.”
B’Tselem’s decision to address the UN Security Council meeting on Friday, titled “Illegal Israeli Settlements: Obstacles to Peace and the Two-State Solution,” has drawn fierce denunciations from Israeli politicians, including the prime minister and at least one left-wing Knesset member from the Zionist Union.
Zionist Union MK Itzik Shmuli on Saturday told Channel 2 News the “rush to biased UN institutions is unhelpful, as it does not advance a solution here in the Middle East [and] it mostly advances the libel and demonization of Israel.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday night also lashed out at B’Tselem, saying the organization had joined the “chorus of mudslinging” against Israel and had “recycled the false claim that ‘the occupation and the settlements’ are the reason for the conflict.” He also announced that he would advance a law to block national service volunteers from working with the organization, even as the human rights group pointed out that it only had one such volunteer annually, and the position was currently vacant.
In an interview with Israel Radio on Sunday, B’Tselem director Hagai El-Ad defended his appearance, arguing that Israeli organizations should not be prevented from criticizing government policy on the international stage.
“I didn’t speak against my country, but against the occupation,” he said. “The determined action of hundreds of thousands of Israelis against an occupation that’s about to turn 50 is the best way to bring about change.”
On Friday El-Ad called for the United Nations to take action against the Jewish state’s settlements, telling members of the Security Council that Israel was creating facts on the ground in advance of any peace agreement with the Palestinians. El-Ad spoke of “invisible, bureaucratic daily violence” that dominates Palestinian life “from cradle to grave,” including Israeli control over entrance and exit from territories, and even farming rights.
B’Tselem, along with other left-leaning NGOs, has been accused in the past of working to undermine Israel’s legitimacy by lobbying international forums, and is 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 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.”
Amid debate over the legislation, Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman, who has since been appointed defense minister, called B’Tselem traitors, charging that the left-leaning group was funded by the same people who finance Hamas.
Liberman said in January that “as far as I’m concerned these entities are not [exercising] freedom of expression, it’s greed. They aren’t any different from Ehud Adiv or Mordechai Vanunu — they’re complete traitors.”
Adiv was found guilty of treason in the 1970s for traveling to Damascus to meet with members of the PLO and Vanunu was found guilty of the same charge for disclosing nuclear secrets to the British press.
“There’s [cash] flow from the institutions most hostile to Israel. Not just the European Union, not just states. Also those same foundations that fund Hamas, they also fund B’Tselem and Breaking the Silence,” Liberman said.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.