Ministry blocks ban on B’Tselem national service

Move comes after governing body for volunteers blacklisted left-leaning rights organization

Marissa Newman is The Times of Israel political correspondent.

B'Tselem director Hagai El-Ad. (Screen capture: YouTube)
B'Tselem director Hagai El-Ad. (Screen capture: YouTube)

The Justice Ministry declared Sunday that Sar-Shalom Jerby, head of the National Service Administration, overstepped his authority when he blacklisted the human rights group B’Tselem and banned it from receiving national service volunteers.

In a letter sent to B’Tselem, the ministry said it had demanded legal proofs from Jerby, and would hold a hearing on the issue on August 24. The ministry also ordered the NSA to revoke the ban in the meantime and not take any steps or actions to enforce it.

The human rights group said its current volunteer will complete his year-long service, and the organization has begun interviewing candidates for next year.

Jerby had written that he had revoked the group’s status “in light of the organization’s activities against the State of Israel and IDF soldiers in Israel and abroad.”

Religious women, as well as some men, in Israel are exempt from the otherwise mandatory army draft. Some opt to volunteer for one or two years of national service instead.

The human rights organization currently has one slot for a volunteer, according to Haaretz.

B’Tselem is outspoken in its criticism of Israeli policy and alleged human rights abuses.

Most recently, the NGO was involved in a lawsuit to permit it to broadcast the names of slain Palestinian children in the recent Israeli campaign in Gaza — a move blocked by the Israel Broadcasting Authority, backed by the attorney general.

The High Court of Justice dismissed the NGO’s petition on Wednesday, arguing that public radio was not an appropriate venue for what it said was a deeply political statement.

Stuart Winer contributed to this report.

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