All things being equal, there should be loud cries now from Israel’s vibrant NGO network about the strength of Israeli democracy. The strong democratic mechanisms allowed Shawan Jabarin, who has ties to the terror group Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), to travel to Geneva to meet with a UN human rights official. One can assume the conversation will be far from balanced.
Why was Jabarin – termed by the High Court in June 2007 a “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” figure for his dual roles with the NGO Al-Haq and with the PFLP – allowed to travel?
First, Israel does not arbitrarily impose restrictions. Jabarin, based on Israeli law and extremely liberal standing policies at Israeli courts, was able to judicially challenge the travel ban imposed on him for security reasons. Second, as in every one of his challenges to the court, the court reviewed the evidence at hand and in this specific instance found that Jabarin could travel. In other words, the decision was made based on the evidence reviewed in a credible court process – not a rubber stamp of government claims. And the decision also demonstrates that Israeli judges approach their job professionally and were not simply targeting Jabarin, as claimed by the NGOs, because he is Palestinian. The fact that Jabarin will contribute to a UN framework that will likely damage Israel internationally with false allegation and distortions only affirms the independent nature of Israel’s judicial system.
NGOs should be exclaiming, “This is democracy in action!”
It was only a couple of months ago that NGOs were declaring the impending death of Israeli democracy because of legislation that, to varying degrees, would have limited or taxed foreign government funding to NGOs. But the legislation had not yet been introduced on the Knesset floor; as part of the legislative process, it would undergo reviews by numerous committees, and be subject to amendments – all signs of a strong democracy. This was lost entirely on NGOs.
Those facts, which affirm a system designed to foster open and public debate, impede on their blind narrative about the doom of democracy. As part of this narrative, NGOs attack the High Court with hyperbolic rhetoric and question its legitimacy when it renders certain decisions. But in other cases, as in this instance, NGOs tactically use the court to advance their causes. They can pursue these efforts because the Court is in fact very legitimate. The ability of radical activists to disagree with certain court decisions and with certain legislation is part of democracy.
And the legislation, as it turns out, died a slow and quiet death.
The system is broken
In reality, the heated debates in Israel over massive and secret foreign government funding for political advocacy NGOs – such as B’Tselem, Yesh Din, Gisha, and many more – reflects a growing understanding among the Israeli public and officials that the system is broken. The rush to criticize Israel even before legislation becomes law demonstrates the microscope under which Israel operates, the influence of the NGOs in question, and the fear of these NGOs and their funders about a spotlight placed on their actions and statements vis-à-vis the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Each year, the European Union and European governments provide an unknown amount, perhaps up to €100 million, to dozens of Israeli, Palestinian and Europe-based NGOs claiming a human rights mandate in the region. Many of the Israeli NGOs, including Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD), Adalah, Breaking the Silence, and Yesh Din, play a central role in false allegations of Israeli “war crimes,” apartheid, and similar highly charged accusations. Some NGOs are leaders in the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel and advocate for an end to Israel as a Jewish state.
But, when challenged, these groups resort to the allegation of “McCarthyism” and the “death of Israeli democracy.” This only polarizes a conversation about human rights and NGO funding that should not be based on right wing or left wing political views. The Jabarin case is a concrete example of why these claims are false.
Democratic countries around the world often engage in internal legislative debates and produce court decisions that leave some members of society unhappy. There are political winners and losers, all part of the democratic process. For NGOs to imply otherwise is disingenuous and certainly counterproductive in this region. Shawan Jabarin’s impending trip to Geneva is proof that rhetoric about Israeli democracy’s impending doom has no merit.