Israel’s ambassador the United Nations and the head of a dovish Israeli human rights group faced off at the Security Council on Thursday.
B’Tselem Executive Director Hagai El-Ad delivered a speech critical of various Israeli policies vis-a-vis the Palestinians, comparing them to apartheid-era South Africa and urging the international community to act on their behalf. Ambassador Danny Danon called him a “collaborator” who should be ashamed of himself.
During his first-ever speech to a formal Security Council session, El-Ad focused on Israel’s settlement policies, accusing the government of deliberately “splitting up an entire people, fragmenting their land, and disrupting their lives.”
El-Ad did not dispute that Khan al-Ahmar, a Bedouin village in the West Bank slated for demolition by Israeli authorities, was built without the proper permits. “But this is the case not because Palestinians are inherently law-breakers, as some in Israel suggest. Rather, it is because they have no other alternative,” he said, sitting next to Palestinian Ambassador to the UN Riyad Mansour.
“It is all but impossible for Palestinians to obtain building permits from the Israeli authorities because the Israeli-established planning regime in the West Bank is meant, by design, to serve settlers and dispossess Palestinians,” he said.
The fact that Israel’s High Court gave a green light to the village’s expected demolition does not make it “just or even legal,” he went on. “It only makes the justices complicit, by approving an action that is nothing short of the war crime of forcible transfer of protected people in an occupied territory.”
Turning to the Gaza Strip, El Ad noted that Israel’s High Court of Justice has okayed several Israeli policies vis-à-vis the coastal territory, such as its naval blockade or allowing Israeli snipers to continue firing, from a distance, at protesters near the border fence.
“The only problem with all this is that none of it is in fact legal, or moral, or even remotely acceptable,” he said. “Yet, as long as this methodical, relentless process doesn’t trigger international outrage and international action, Israel can successfully continue to carry off this contradiction in terms: Oppressing millions while somehow still being considered a democracy.”
El-Ad, speaking in English, drew analogies between the situation in the Palestinian territories, the American South under Jim Crow laws, and South Africa under its racist apartheid regime, noting that Palestinians have no representation in the Israeli institutions that govern their lives.
“Granted, neither analogy is a perfect fit, but history does not offer precision: Rather, it offers a moral compass,” he said, “and that compass points toward rejecting Israel’s oppression of Palestinians with the same unwavering conviction with which humanity’s conscience rejected these other grand injustices.”
El-Ad, who was invited by Bolivia, which currently holds the presidency of the Security Council, also responded to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu calling B’Tselem “a disgrace” earlier this week.
“You will never silence us – nor the hundreds of thousands of Israelis who reject a present founded on supremacy and oppression, and stand for a future built on equality, freedom and human rights,” El-Ad said.
“I am not a traitor, nor am I a hero,” he added. “The heroes are the Palestinians who endure this occupation with courage and perseverance; who wake up in the middle of the night to find soldiers barging into their homes; who know that if a loved one is killed, impunity is all but guaranteed to the perpetrators; who stay on their land knowing that it is only a matter of time before the bulldozers arrive.”
B’Tselem does not focus on whether a one- or two- state solution is needed to solve the conflict but is interested mostly in the “realization of human rights,” he said. “That is why we reject the occupation: We reject it because the current reality is wholly and utterly incompatible with what is right and what is just.”
The next speaker was Mansour, the Palestinian envoy, who thanked El-Ad for his address and launched a lengthy litany, during which he leveled numerous accusations of Israel, including war crimes, “ethnic cleansing,” “apartheid,” “religious extremism, incitement, and hatred.”
Then Danon, the Israeli ambassador, took the floor, dismissing El-Ad’s speech as a “circus.”
B’Tselem is funded by the European Union and several European government and was invited by Bolivia, “a country with a terrible human rights record,” he said.
But where El-Ad and his Bolivian hosts intended to badmouth Israel, they have achieved the exact opposite, Danon contended in English, because having an Israeli citizen criticize his own government only proves “the strength of Israel’s vibrant democracy.
“I challenge you all to find a Palestinian, or a Bolivian, who could dare defame his government at the Security Council,” he said. “At best, he might be thrown in jail. But he would more likely end up dead.”
Switching to Hebrew, the Israeli ambassador addressed El-Ad directly.
“Mr. El-Ad, you are an Israeli citizen who is serving our enemies. They’re using you against us. The soldiers of the IDF are protecting you and you are here to incriminate them,” Danon said.
“Shame on you. Shame on you, you lousy collaborator,” he added, looking angrily at El-Ad.
— Ambassador Danon (@dannydanon) October 18, 2018
Danon went on to attack the Palestinian Authority for its insistence on paying stipends to the families of terrorists who kill Israelis.
PA President Mahmoud Abbas allocated seven percent ($355 million) of the PA’s budget toward its “pay-to-slay policy,” he said.
“That is the legacy of Abbas: Slaughter innocent Israelis and be rewarded for life,” Danon went on. “The same $355 million Abbas pays to terrorists is also over 45% of the foreign aid the Palestinians are receiving in 2018. That means that nearly half of every dollar you — all of you — give to the Palestinian people to build roads and schools is put in the pockets of those who murder Jews.”
Therefore, “if you do not pull your funding, you are complicit in the ‘pay to slay’ policy,” he told the UN delegates. “You cannot expect different results when you do not change the equation. If you really want to change the reality for Palestinians and Israelis, you must change the equation. Remove the source of the culture of hate and textbook terrorism.”
Only when Abbas “is gone” will Israelis and Palestinians see a brighter future, he concluded.
US Ambassador Nikki Haley, at the beginning of her remarks, called El-Ad’s briefing “the sort of distorted and one-sided accounting” that is all too common at UN debates about the Israel-Palestinian conflict.
“It is why I have so often attempted to bring some diversity to our discussions of the challenges facing the Middle East,” she said, proceeding to speak at some length about Iran.
El-Ad’s speech was also widely criticized back at home.
“While our soldiers are preparing to defend Israel’s security, the director-general of B’Tselem chooses to deliver a speech full of lies at the UN in an attempt to help Israel’s enemies,” Netanyahu said in a statement released while the Security Council session was still ongoing. “The conduct of B’Tselem is a disgrace that will be remembered as a brief and fleeting episode in the history of our people.”
Deputy Minister Michael Oren said El-Ad’s appearance at the Security Council crossed “every red line.”
“The very fact that it is an Israeli who stands alongside those who seek to destroy us, while the Americans stand on the right side of the State of Israel in the face of those who seek its destruction, only highlights the unbearable situation,” he said.
“Israel must take all necessary steps to protect itself against a body that masquerades as a human rights organization, but in practice demonizes Israel and simultaneously strengthens its enemies.”
Opposition MK Yair Lapid said El-Ad’s speech “was the predictable mix of lies, distortions and propaganda. They represent no-one but themselves.”