With the bill having formally won the governing coalition’s support should it be voted upon in the Knesset, this post might help open-minded left-wingers understand how reasonable right-wingers think.
I was originally supportive of the Transparency Law. But yesterday I read a bit, thought a lot, and changed my mind. Allow me to explain.
My original position was simple enough: Foreign states are interfering in our democracy by funding small (and sometimes radical) organisations. Some of these organisations seek to change the nature of the state, others push for a change in Israeli policy. Their methods and the company they keep are quite questionable. We cannot bury our heads in the sand; this is a real problem and threatens to undermine Israeli democracy. Something should be done. Banning such groups would be ill-advised, but by forcing such groups to be visibly marked as such, we could limit their influence and perhaps even induce them to seek local funding instead of foreign money, which would in turn lead them to engage with the Israeli public more.
The left’s public campaign didn’t exactly convince me. Based on puerile, divisive slogans such as “silencing dissent”, and “the right won’t silence me”, the left’s campaign made out as if the entire right was trying to shut the entire left from expressing any criticism. Which is a shame, because even when I supported the bill, I never supported the silencing of anybody’s opinions.
But over the last day or so, after reading many articles, including one particularly sharp blog entry by Tal Schneider (in Hebrew here) I understood how the law is undesirable. First, and this should not be ignored, the law only deals with NGOs funded by foreign governments. George Soros, Sheldon Adelson and countless other billionaires are free to interfere to their hearts’ content. In the age of globalisation, it’s not just foreign states that we need to watch out for. Transnational corporations and rich individuals have unprecedented power to affect politics around the world. At least democratic states are accountable to their publics. Corporations, on the other hand, have no such obligations and are free to act without engaging the public. A fair Transparency Act would have included these sources of funding as well. As such, the law can only be called semi-transparent.
If you accept the point above, that it’s not just foreign government funding we need to be wary of, then we may observe another problem. It’s also worth noting that whereas right-wing NGOs are typically funded by individuals and organisations, the organisations funded by foreign governments tend to be left-wing NGOs. As such, the effect of the government Act will be to mark a disproportionate number of left-wing organisations while leaving right-wing organisations in the clear. A more equitable law would not have had this effect.
Whereas Im Tirzu’s recent campaign described people working for the organisations as “moles” for foreign governments, the truth is far more complex. Nobody, as far as I know, is taking money and orders from any single foreign state. Instead, they are taking money from a range of sources. Moreover, they are citizens of Israel and believe themselves to be acting in the best interests of the state. I might oppose Peace Now’s methods, and vehemently disagree with Breaking the Silence’s claims and interpretations of the evidence they have allegedly gathered, but I can’t in good faith call their employees “moles” for other states. To do so is extreme, disingenuous, and borders on incitement by creating an atmosphere of intolerance directed against individuals.
I can’t state enough how strongly I am opposed to these organisations. I will continue to work to expose their lies, manipulations and twisted ideologies. And yet these organisations should know that while we remain adversaries, not everyone on the right supports such laws. It is a shame that the left chose to fight the law by hurling slogans such as “muzzling”, and accusing anyone who criticised these organisation as “right wingers”, or “political activists”. In truth, the average Israeli simply has had enough of foreign interference in Israeli politics. If only the left had engaged the public instead of adopting a siege mentality this bill might never have been passed.
As the social media and foreign press director of My Truth, one of the organisations leading the way in exposing the lies and manipulations of Breaking the Silence, I have occasionally encountered the bizarre assumption that I am against criticism of Israel, am part of a right-wing organisation, and perceive Breaking the Silence as traitors and worse. Nothing could be further from the truth.
In fact, while I believe that Breaking the Silence has departed the reality most of us live in, I don’t hate or wish ill upon on any of the people who work there. As it happens, My Truth is a non-partisan organisation which has the sole aim of more accurately portraying the reality faced by Israeli soldiers. There is much our team does not agree on (no doubt some of my colleagues will not agree with what I wrote above), but on one important topic we have found common ground: The witch-hunt against Israeli soldiers must be opposed. Breaking the Silence is not holy; if someone contradicts a testimony of theirs, that’s not a personal attack or an attempt to silence the entire organisation. Providing a platform to those who call into question dubious, spurious testimonies which serve to undermine the IDF is not a “right-wing” cause. The truth has no political affiliation.
Neither, by the way, do incitement and hate speech. Which is why not only does My Truth stand up to those who make disgusting, false claims about Israeli soldiers, but it’s also utterly opposed to those who call others kapos, traitors, filth and other awful names. An unfortunate side-effect of My Truth’s success and impact on Israeli society is that our page has attracted the attention of all kinds of people, including those who wildly incite against the left. Such hate speech has no place on our page and we shall continue to delete and block those leaving offensive comments. Anyone who notices content that has not yet been deleted is invited to message me. I can’t catch everything all the time, but with your help we can create a more reasonable, tolerant public discourse.
Emanuel Miller is the social media and foreign press director of My Truth, a non-partisan non-profit organisation which educates about the work done by the IDF and the values which its soldiers strive to meet. My Truth fights to faithfully reflect the manner in which Israeli soldiers defend the lives of civilians, despite the dangers, difficulties and moral dilemmas they face.