Avidan Freedman
Avidan Freedman

NSO and B&J: (Un)Just Desserts?

Israelis encountered two troubling news stories this week. In the first, an Israeli high tech company, a product of the best and the brightest of the Start Up Nation, was accused, by a collaborative investigative effort of 17 news agencies and organizations from around the world, of providing brutal, repressive regimes with technology that enabled them to track, silence, blackmail, torture and kill opponents, journalists and activists. All this with the approval of the Ministry of Defense, and, at times, the active encouragement of the Israeli government.

In the second, Israelis were informed that in a very small slice of the country, their ice cream options would be slightly diminished.

Obviously, in Israel, the second story made much larger waves. After all, what’s the horror of Israeli technology enabling the violation of human rights when compared to the horror of not being able to buy a pint of Chunky Monkey ©? Feeds raged. Senior politicians made grave statements. The newly minted president called it terrorism, and the prime minister vowed to “act aggressively” against this grave violation of our basic human rights to cookie dough.

To be fair, of course, the rage and indignation about Ben and Jerry’s boycott of the settlements isn’t about the ice cream. It’s about a moral position that condemns Israel’s settlements in the West Bank, and the decision to express that position in the form of an economic boycott. Full disclosure- I live in a settlement. So, my own views are clearly very different from those of Ben and Jerry’s. But honestly, it disturbs me deeply that we seem to be far more concerned with whether others think we act morally, and what they do about it, than whether we think we’re acting morally, and what we do about it.

Shalev Hulio took this one step further. As the founder and CEO of the NSO group, he doesn’t have the luxury of most Israelis to simply ignore the NSO story and focus on Ben and Jerry’s, so he decided to co-opt it, claiming that this is just another example of antisemitism and BDS. Let me repeat that. Hulio claims that criticizing Israel for allowing NSO to sell powerful malware that can infiltrate any phone, grant access to all of its contents, and turn it into a listening and recording device to the likes of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Azerbaijan, who then used this technology against journalists and human rights activists- that criticism is motivated by antisemitism and the desire to hurt Israel.

I can’t speak for anyone else’s motivation, but I know what motivates me, and I have an opinion about what should motivate us, Israeli citizens, and the Jewish people. My love of Israel makes my heart hurt when the headlines all over the world speak of the way Israel has enabled the actions of regimes whose brutality and wanton violation of human rights is not at all a matter of debate. Not because of the way this will make people think about us, because of the “public relations disaster”, but because of what Israel has done, and what it has allowed itself to become partner to.

Ben Gurion famously said that “our future depends not on what the nations say, but on what the Jews do.” We ought to be concerned, and we need to take responsibility for our own policies. When we refuse to do so, we will find others will do it for us, (un)serving us our (un)just desserts.

About the Author
Avidan Freedman is an educator at the Hartman Boys High School in Jerusalem, and one of the founders of Yanshuf, an organization dedicated to stopping Israeli arms sales to human rights violators. He lives in Efrat with his wife Devorah and their 5 children.
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