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B’Tselem chief: I am not anti-Israel, I am anti-occupation

Hagai El-Ad denies his NGO harms the state, says recent appeal for UN intervention was driven by love of country

B'Tselem Director Hagai El-Ad appears on 'Meet the Press' on October 29, 2016 (screen capture: Channel 2)
B'Tselem Director Hagai El-Ad appears on 'Meet the Press' on October 29, 2016 (screen capture: Channel 2)

B’Tselem Director Hagai El-Ad on Saturday rejected claims that his recent appearance before the United Nations Security Council, in which he called for world intervention over Israeli settlements, was damaging to the state, saying he was motivated by his love for his homeland.

El-Ad told Channel 2 TV’s “Meet the Press” program that his actions were “against the occupation, not against the state.” Furthermore, he said, “We need the world’s help to get out this situation.”

The NGO chief sparked fury in Israel over his October 14 appearance at the Security Council session on Israel’s settlements, during which he denounced the “invisible, bureaucratic daily violence” that dominates Palestinian life “from cradle to grave,” including Israeli control over entrance and exit from the territories, and farming rights.

El-Ad’s remarks drew fierce condemnation from Israeli politicians, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who vowed he would bar national service volunteers from working with the left-wing human rights organization.

By contrast, on Friday, the UN’s special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories, Michael Lynk, said he would examine the treatment of human rights defenders in the region in light of “the severe reaction by the Israeli government” to El-Ad’s before the UN Security Council.

“Democracy is not rule of one country over another,” El-Ad told “Meet the Press” host Rina Matsliah on Saturday evening, later adding that, “We do everything we do because we care about the country.”

B'Tselem director Hagai El-Ad speaks to the UN Security Council on October 14, 2016 (YouTube screenshot)
B’Tselem director Hagai El-Ad speaks to the UN Security Council on October 14, 2016 (YouTube screenshot)

He rejected her argument that the UN was wholly anti-Israel, citing friendly member states such as the United States and Britain. The animosity, he insisted, was toward Israel’s occupation of the West Bank land captured in the 1967 Six Day War that the Palestinians claim for their own future state, and not against the country itself.

The B’Tselem chief said Netanyahu’s pro-settlement policies were damaging ties with these friendly nations, which he said are opposed to the occupation and believe that the “current situation has become untenable.”

He rejected Matsliah’s argument that B’Tselem’s actions, including his appearance at the UN, undermined Israeli sovereignty and said its work had in fact revived a national discussion on the settlements. “If I hadn’t spoken in New York, you wouldn’t be interviewing me now,” he said.

El-Ad also rejected the notion that his organization turns a blind eye to Palestinian attacks on Israelis, which have spiraled over the past 12 months, claiming dozens of lives. “We take issue with all forms of violence,” he said.

In the wake of El-Ad’s speech at the UN, Coalition Chairman David Bitan (Likud) announced he would introduce a bill banning Israeli citizens from calling for international action against Israel at international bodies.

Bitan called for El-Ad to be stripped of his Israeli citizenship for appearing before the Security Council. But after being advised by legal experts that such a move would not be legally possible, the Likud MK was said to be eyeing a legislative path.

Coalition Chairman David Bitan during a Likud faction meeting in the Knesset on July 11, 2016 (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)
Coalition Chairman David Bitan during a Likud faction meeting in the Knesset on July 11, 2016 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The MK’s proposal was met with derision on the left, with several lawmakers warning that such proposals could do more to isolate Israel than any speech by a watchdog group.

El-Ad also received some unexpected support from two Knesset members who are resolutely on the right of the political spectrum. Likud MK Yehuda Glick, known for his advocacy of Jewish prayer rights on the Temple Mount, tweeted: “Stripping the citizenship from B’Tselem’s director? Why don’t we just hang him in the city square? Far simpler and more efficient! Hello? Have we gone mad? Calm down friends! There are limits.”

Jewish Home MK Bezalel Smotrich also tweeted that “There will be no revocation of citizenship for Hagai El-Ad!”

B’Tselem responded to Bitan’s comments in a statement saying that “these threats won’t deter us and hundreds of thousands of Israelis who oppose the occupation.”

The US also lent its support to B’Tselem, expressing concern about the threats against the organization, while the European Union delegation to Israel tweeted its support for “B’Tselem to maintain human rights of vulnerable Palestinian communities.”

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