Castigating Global Activism as ‘Lawfare’

By Iqbal Jassat – Pretoria

Reading details of a press conference hosted by Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon to mark International Human Rights Day makes one aware not only about how far removed the apartheid state is from human rights, but also how inimical the state is towards legitimate campaigners for this fundamental right.

In addition to the event being far removed from the theme, it was held primarily to release a new study or monograph, Lawfare – Exploitation of Courts in the Arab-Israeli Conflict.

The study by an Israeli-funded group called NGO Monitor was punted as “groundbreaking research” on the role of global NGOs involved in expanding the concept of universal jurisdiction to indict Israeli leaders, politicians and soldiers for war crimes. This international role by civil societies in various capitals of the world is viewed as a hostile development that strategically could undermine the Zionist regime’s legitimacy.

An intemperate Ayalon outrageously noted that human rights groups have been “manipulated” by “terror organizations” to cover their own atrocities and to strip the right of self-defense from democracies! Such rhetoric is typical and again reflects how vain and desperate Israeli efforts are to conceal their tyranny against Palestinians.

If despotism requires decorum, then the Lawfare monograph qualifies as an excellent effort to slander legitimate civil society activism in order to deprive it of credibility. By no means is this mischief the only objective. The main goal is a despotic attempt to starve known international non-governmental organizations of their main lifeline: funding!

An example cited at the press conference was that of the Palestinian Center for Human Rights [PCHR]. The allegations are that the PCHR has filed numerous jurisdiction cases against several Israeli officials over the July 2002 targeted killing of Hamas leader Salah Shahadah.

“PCHR has tried to have Israeli leaders arrested in the U.K., in Spain, in New Zealand, and in the U.S. has tried to impose civil liability, including punitive damages against Avi Dichter in the U.S.”, is the view expressed by Anne Herzberg of the NGO Monitor.

She further explained the thrust of her concern: “PCHR was able to file these cases thanks to a 300,000 euro grant from the European Union that was channeled to PCHR from the organization Oxfam Novib”.

She cited the Gaza-based PCHR, the Ramallah-based Al Haq and the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights as “primary actors” who have filed war crimes cases against Israelis throughout Europe, North America and also in New Zealand. They fall within two categories: the attempts to arrest or impose civil liability on Israeli officials for alleged war crimes, and cases against corporations and governments that have diplomatic relations with Israel, to suggest judicially imposed arms embargos or trade sanctions against Israel, claims Herzberg.

An inherent threat repeated at the event but emphasized by Ayalon is what he called “a day of reckoning” for NGOs and countries funding their activities. The irrationality of the Lawfare project can thus be understood by the rhetorical questions posed by Ayalon: “…and they [countries] have to ask the political questions: Are they doing the right thing? Any nation that funds NGOs that attack, whether its Israel or other democracies, and support the BDS [Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions] campaign against Israel in this case, is simply against peace”.

If one seeks confirmation of the depth of sheer desperation and that the Lawfare study will be wielded to either pressure or blackmail countries or foundations from funding civil society initiatives, here is another classical Israel-talk by Ayalon:

“No nation can dismiss their role when they give one dollar or one euro to an organization which viciously delegitimizes Israel”.

Besides the singling out of Omar Barghouti as the leader and founder of the BDS movement whose additional crime is that he is “against a two-state solution”, Steinberg unleashed a malicious attack upon Ali Abunimah for “preaching the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions and one-state, eliminate the-state-of-Israel solution” and his links with “a very powerful organization called the Electronic Intifada”.

The tenor of the conference based on the transcript I read does reveal that besides a sense of sheer hopelessness, Israel is overwhelmed with a diverse range of challenges confronting its irresponsible conduct as well as its refusal to acknowledge legal obligations flowing from international conventions on human rights.

– Iqbal Jassat is chairperson of the Media Review Network (MRN), an advocacy group based in Pretoria, South Africa. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Visit: www.mediareviewnet.com.

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