Lee Caspi

The people of Israel are against torture for Jews

Over the past two weeks, I’ve been closely following the crowdfunding campaign calling for “Justice for Amiram” – or, in other words, the campaign to free convicted murderer Amiram Ben Uliel, who burned a Palestinian family in their beds.

Within this disgusting affair, the nauseating words of Member of Knesset Limor Son Har-Melech – who called Ben Uliel “a saint and a martyr” – were not the main thing that caught my attention. I no longer expect anything of her. What grabbed me was that nearly 10,000 people supported the campaign, which raised 1.7 million shekels in about three days.

As a professional fundraiser working in human rights, I know how difficult it is to get 1,000 donations to my organization’s annual crowdfunding campaign. Finding 10,000 supporters is something Israeli human rights organizations can only dream of.

From the outside, it appeared that the campaign to free a Jewish terrorist who burned a baby to death did not require the same degree of effort. With ample political backing and PR courtesy of several Members of Knesset, the organization “Honenu” casually launched a campaign and quickly reached 10,000 supporters, who believed the cause was worthy.

While scrolling through the list of donors on the campaign page, one donation stood out to me. An anonymous person gave a single shekel under the heading “The people of Israel are against torture for Jews.” Not against torture in general – against torture for Jews.

A person who gave one shekel probably couldn’t afford to contribute a substantial amount. Still, it was important to them to express their support for the campaign and in so doing, reveal the true agenda behind the entire campaign – the promotion of fundamental human rights for Jews alone. Jews should not be tortured. It’s fine to torture everyone else.

Don’t let anyone distract you in discussions of the matter with arguments about the right to a fair trial or the struggle against Shin Bet’s practice of torturing interrogees under the “necessity defense.”

The leaders of this movement have no issue with the hundreds of instances of the use of torture against Palestinian interrogees throughout Israel’s history, some of whom lost their lives in the name of “necessity.” They do not oppose the fact that at this very moment, over 1,000 Palestinian administrative detainees are held in Israeli prisons – a form of detention indicating, by definition, that there isn’t enough evidence against a person to file an indictment against them, let alone put them on trial which, in the case of all Palestinians, will certainly not be fair.

The people of Israel are against the torture of Jews. Shin Bet can continue torturing Palestinians without it bothering anyone.

Had the creators and supporters of the campaign truly been interested in fighting the use of torture, they could have done so by supporting the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI) – an important human rights organization that has led the struggle against torture in Israel for some three decades. PCATI’s work over the years has resulted in important High Court rulings, leading to an actual reduction in the use of torture.

In the case of the murder in Duma, PCATI held an uncompromising stance, despite the difficulty in doing so, whereby the use of torture is prohibited in all cases and against all detainees. They alerted to the grave ramifications of using torture in an interrogation for the possibility of holding a fair trial, even though it wasn’t always a comfortable position to hold in the community of “lefty” organizations.

But PCATI is perceived as a “lefty” organization because most of its work relates to Palestinians. Not because they only care about Palestinians – simply because Palestinians are tortured far more frequently.

The supporters of the campaign to release Ben Uliel are not looking to support the leading organization fighting against torture in Israel. They just want to see the release of a Jewish terrorist.

* * *

I’m furious and saddened by so many things in this affair. It breaks my heart that there are 10,000 Israelis who think that a person who murdered an 18-month-old infant is a saint. I’m angry that the donations are being processed by the organization “Honenu,” which has tax-deductible status in Israel, meaning that the campaign’s backers are entitled to a tax benefit for their contribution.

Most human rights organizations in Israel don’t have the same tax-deductible status because the committee that reviews requests for such status rejects a majority of requests by organizations dealing with the rights of Palestinians.

On a personal level, I was most angry to discover that the campaign was being held on the donation platform Charidy, which many human rights and peacebuilding organizations have used in the past. As someone who has worked with the platform, I know that they are actively involved in every campaign they host and that they receive a fee of between 5-7% for every donation and are thus making a substantial profit from the campaign to free Ben Uliel.

I always accepted and understood that they worked with right-wing causes I disagreed with. But there must be a red line. We must stop working with – and donating through – a company profiting from the heart-wrenching suffering of the Dawabsheh family.

I joined forces with several other fundraisers and drafted a letter notifying Charidy that we would not work with them anymore until they removed the despicable campaign from their platform and published an apology. As of the time of writing, we have not received a response.

* * *

I wish actual struggles for human rights had as much public support as radical-right-wing causes do in Israel today. Maybe then, detainees held in Shin Bet custody – whether Jewish or Palestinian – would finally be protected from torture.

About the Author
Lee Caspi is a human rights activist, currently working at Physicians for Human Rights Israel. She holds an LL.M in human rights law from the University of Edinburgh. Lee is a great believer in the power of Arabic studies as a tool for changing our perceptions of reality and in the power we each hold to take small steps to show empathy and build trust in one another.
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