Left-wing MKs, activists blame government incitement for B’Tselem fire
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Left-wing MKs, activists blame government incitement for B’Tselem fire

Group says won’t be deterred from ‘exposing the harm to human rights under the occupation’ after blaze consumes Jerusalem offices

Ilan Ben Zion, a reporter at the Associated Press, is a former news editor at The Times of Israel. He holds a Masters degree in Diplomacy from Tel Aviv University and an Honors Bachelors degree from the University of Toronto in Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations, Jewish Studies, and English.

Firefighters work to extinguish a blaze at the Jerusalem offices of left-wing NGO B'Tselem, on January 10, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Firefighters work to extinguish a blaze at the Jerusalem offices of left-wing NGO B'Tselem, on January 10, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Left-wing activists and opposition lawmakers on Sunday denounced what they deemed government incitement which helped precipitate the possible arson of human rights group B’Tselem’s Jerusalem offices.

One person was hurt from smoke inhalation, and extensive damage was caused to multiple stories of the building. The fire was extinguished shortly before 11:30 p.m. after at least five firefighting teams battled the blaze. Firefighters confirmed shortly thereafter that the inferno began on the same floor as the B’Tselem offices. They were investigating arson and other possibilities as the cause of the blaze.

B’Tselem said that despite the incident, it would not be deterred from its work. “Naturally, the damage to our offices will not stop our work of documenting and exposing the harm to human rights under the occupation.”

“We are still waiting for the findings of the fire investigator,” B’Tselem said in a statement. “However, if it is discovered that this was an arson attack, it must be seen in the context of the wave of government incitement and smear campaigns against Israel’s human rights groups, and B’Tselem in particular.”

Firefighting teams work to put out a fire at the building where the offices of the human rights NGO B'Tselem are located, in Jerusalem on January 10, 2016. Police were investigating whether it was arson. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Firefighting teams work to put out a fire at the building where the offices of the human rights NGO B’Tselem are located, in Jerusalem on January 10, 2016. Police were investigating whether it was arson. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Joint (Arab) List leader Ayman Odeh and his fellow opposition party members pointed the finger at the government, accusing the Netanyahu administration of “waging a campaign of incitement against human rights groups.”

Joint (Arab) List Chairman Ayman Odeh leads the weekly party meeting at the Knesset, October 12, 2015. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Joint (Arab) List Chairman Ayman Odeh leads the weekly party meeting at the Knesset, October 12, 2015. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

MK Dov Khenin, a veteran Jewish lawmaker from the Joint (Arab) List, said that “too many signs point this evening to the suspicion of arson at the B’Tselem offices.” He said it was “scary to think where the incitement against human rights organizations has led here. Scary but not at all surprising.”

“The source of the incitement is from ministers in government,” he said in a Facebook post published shortly after news of the fire late Sunday evening. “The fruits of incitement are rotten and bitter. If we don’t now hear a strong voice of opposition and protest, the flames of violence and racism will leave this land scorched and empty.”

Arab MK Aida Touma-Suleiman, another Joint List lawmaker, also blamed the fire on “intensive incitement” against the leftist NGO.

“The arson at the B’Tselem offices is a direct result of the intensive incitement by extremist organizations such as Im Tirzu, against anyone who swims against the stream of occupation and who tries to expose the ugly truth of it,” she said.

Ksenia Svetlova, a Zionist Union MK, rapped right-wing extremists who began celebrating the fire at the B’Tselem offices.

“We won’t allow them to drag us down to a bloody civil war,” she wrote on Facebook. “We simply won’t allow it.”

Peace Now director Yariv Oppenheimer also took to Facebook to speak out against what he called “an attempted terror attack… and those responsible for it are the government ministers at whose head [stands Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu.

“When the government labels left-wing groups, there are those who respond and attack the target,” he wrote. Oppenheimer said “the next political assassination is closer than ever.”

“The government must stop the campaign of incitement against the left and instruct the Israel Police to protect leftist foundations and organizations from additional attempts to harm them,” the pro-peace NGO leader said.

On the opposite side of the political spectrum, activists Michael Ben-Ari and Baruch Marzel, whose far-right wing party failed to make the cut for the Knesset in the last elections, charged that it was left-wing activists who were responsible for setting the B’Tselem offices on fire.

“A pungent smell of provocation rises from an attempt to divert public debate from the wrongs which arose, and were to supposed to air in an investigation by [Channel 2 TV program] Uvda, and may not be broadcast following the arson,” Army Radio quoted Ben-Ari and Marzel saying. “The timing of the arson fits like a glove for B’Tselem, and we have already seen that they or those close to them do not hesitate to break the law.”

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