Leftist MK: By going to UN, B’Tselem helps ‘demonization of Israel’
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Leftist MK: By going to UN, B’Tselem helps ‘demonization of Israel’

Zionist Union’s Itzik Shmuli calls Israeli human right watchdog’s testimony against settlements unhelpful to peace, internally unwise

Zionist Union MK Itzik Shmuli seen at the Labor Party conference in Tel Aviv on December 14, 2014. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Zionist Union MK Itzik Shmuli seen at the Labor Party conference in Tel Aviv on December 14, 2014. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Zionist Union Knesset member Itzik Shmuli on Saturday criticized Israeli human rights group B’Tselem for attacking Israeli settlements at the UN, saying the move was “unhelpful” and helped promote the “demonization of Israel.”

B’Tselem executive director Hagai El-Ad had on Friday called for the UN to take action against the Jewish state’s settlements, telling a special session of the Security Council that Israel was creating facts on the ground in advance of any peace agreement with the Palestinians.

But Shmuli 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.”

He also said such action was “unwise,” because “here in Israel it hurts chiefly those who wish to promote an agreement and who wish to separate from the Palestinians.”

Israel’s Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon had also slammed B’Tselem for taking part in the forum, citing Thursday’s passage of a resolution by UNESCO that rejects Jewish ties to Jerusalem’s holy sites.

“After anti-Israel forces approved a resolution intending to sever the historical bond between the Jewish people and Jerusalem, Israeli organizations chose to slander and besmirch Israel’s good name at an event organized by the Palestinian delegation,” Danon said in a statement. “It is unfortunate that Israeli organizations have joined the Palestinian attempts to wage diplomatic terror against Israel at the UN.”

B’Tselem had also faced criticism from Danon and other Israeli leaders on Thursday, ahead of the session, with the envoy saying it would be “providing moral cover for anti-Israel activities at the UN.” In a separate statement, Yesh Atid party chairman Yair Lapid described the group’s participation as “a declaration of divorce” from Zionism.

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)

El-Ad had spoken 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.

“With every breath they take, Palestinians are breathing in occupation,” El-Ad told the session titled “Illegal Israeli Settlements: Obstacles to Peace and the Two-State Solution.” He claimed that “ever-present” settlers live in a first-world community “that exists only for them.”

The session was broadcast live on the UN website.

Israel, El-Ad added, used the peace process “to buy time” to establish facts on the ground for the settlements. The country could not occupy a people for 50 years and call itself a democracy, El-Ad said, adding that the rights of the Palestinians must be realized, and the occupation must end.

“The UN Security Council must act and the time is now,” he concluded.

The forum, hosted by Malaysia along with Egypt, Senegal, Angola and Venezuela, was convened to focus on “a wide range of issues emanating from or caused by the Israeli settlement activities,” Malaysian media reported ahead of the session. The meeting was reportedly requested by the Palestinian delegation to the UN.

The session also included speeches from Lara Friedman, director of policy and government relations for Americans for Peace Now, and Prof. Francois Dubuisson of the Free University of Brussels.

L-R: B’Tselem executive director Hagai El-Ad, Lara Friedman of Americans for Peace Now and Prof. Francois Dubuisson of the Free University of Brussels attend a UN Security Council meeting on settlements, at the UN headquarters in New York on October 14, 2016 (screen capture: UN TV)
L-R: B’Tselem executive director Hagai El-Ad, Lara Friedman of Americans for Peace Now and Prof. Francois Dubuisson of the Free University of Brussels attend a UN Security Council meeting on settlements, at the UN headquarters in New York on October 14, 2016 (screen capture: UN TV)

Following the three speakers, representatives for the Security Council member states spoke. US envoy David Pressman said Washington was “deeply concerned about continued settlement activity,” which he called “corrosive to the cause of peace.” Pressman also condemned Palestinian incitement to terrorism, citing last week’s shooting attack in Jerusalem that killed two Israelis.

B’Tselem, which describes itself as an Israeli human rights group, uses Palestinian photographers and videographers to document the conduct of Israeli soldiers and settlers in the West Bank. In March, one of the group’s volunteers, Imad Abu Shamsiyeh, filmed IDF soldier Sgt. Elor Azaria shooting a disarmed, injured Palestinian in the head after he carried out a stabbing attack in Hebron. That footage sparked a nationwide debate over excessive force and IDF values.

Raoul Wootliff and JTA contributed to this report.

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