Analysis from Israel

Two months later, that Election Day warning refuses to go away. Just last week, US President Barack Obama condemned it yet again; even actress Natalie Portman has joined the party. Yet Benjamin Netanyahu’s infamous remark has been widely and deliberately misconstrued by the simple expedient of omitting its second half.

Granted, the first half – “Arab voters are coming to the polls in droves” – was indefensible. Especially now, when Israeli Arabs are more interested in integrating than ever before, politicians should be encouraging this trend, not alienating them by painting them as enemies. But politicians nearing the end of an exhausting campaign often slip up and say stupid things they don’t really mean. Netanyahu retracted this part of the statement immediately. And in practice, his last two governments have invested heavily in Arab integration.

In contrast, he never retracted the statement’s second half; instead, he doubled down on it. Because that part wasn’t a slip of the tongue, but something he really meant – and which resonated deeply with his voters.

So what did he actually say? Here’s the initial statement: “Arab voters are coming to the polls in droves. Left-wing NGOs are bringing them in buses.”

And here’s his subsequent clarification: “There’s nothing illegitimate about citizens voting, Jewish or Arab, as they see fit. What’s not legitimate is the funding, the fact that money comes from abroad from NGOs and foreign governments, brings them en masse to the polls in an organized fashion, in favor of the left, gives undue power to the extremist Joint Arab List, and weakens the rightist bloc such that we’ll be unable to form a government.”

In other words, he was concerned about bolstering JAL, and legitimately so: Many of its MKs are indeed extremist (think Hanin Zoabi). But primarily, he was outraged that foreign governments and NGOs, via the Israeli NGOs they fund, were blatantly trying to influence the outcome of Israel’s election. And his voters shared that outrage, for three reasons.

First, it’s an affront to any citizen of a democracy to have foreigners trying to sway his country’s election, because it eviscerates democracy’s most fundamental right: the right to choose the government that rules you, rather than having it imposed from outside. Nor is this sentiment unique to Netanyahu voters: Israeli Druse were similarly outraged when Lebanese Druse leader Walid Jumblatt urged them to vote for JAL. The community’s spiritual leader, Sheikh Moafaq Tarif, demanded that Jumblatt “respect the right of Druse in Israel to vote as they please,” because they’re “an inseparable part of Israeli society” who “enjoy freedom of expression and freedom to do as they please.” Similar comments came from Druse supporters of both Labor and Likud.

But this sentiment resonates doubly with Netanyahu’s base, because it contravenes not only basic democratic rights, but also Israel’s raison d’etre. The Jewish state was created precisely so that Jews could finally control their own fate instead of having it controlled by others.

Second, foreign intervention stirs age-old Jewish fears, because the non-Jewish world’s track record on protecting Jews is lousy: See the Holocaust, Inquisition, Crusades, pogroms and expulsions from country after country. Even many Jewish holidays commemorate failed attempts to annihilate the Jews (including Passover, Hanukkah and Purim).

Consequently, this fear is ingrained in the psyches of all but the most secular Jews, and certainly in Netanyahu’s voters, who tend to be more traditional. So when he talked about “money from abroad” and “foreign governments,” his voters instinctively heard this as “people who don’t have our best interests at heart.”

Third and most important, however, was the track record of these foreign-funded NGOs themselves. Many Israelis would instinctively oppose anything these NGOs support, because they demonstrably don’t have Israel’s best interests at heart.

Take, for instance, B’Tselem, the Israeli NGO most frequently cited by the infamous Goldstone Report on the 2009 Gaza war. The Goldstone Commission was unabashedly created to be a lynch mob. First, it was set up by the viciously anti-Israel UN Human Rights Council, whose only country-specific permanent agenda item is condemning Israel. The HRC has condemned Israel 61 times since being established in 2006, compared to five for Iran, one each for ISIS and Boko Haram, and zero for Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Hamas. Second, the commission’s explicit mandate was to investigate Israel alone, not Hamas. Finally, the very resolution that established the commission had already declared Israel guilty of war crimes, including deliberately targeting civilians. The commission’s job was merely to provide “evidence” for that predetermined conclusion, and it duly produced a report so biased that its own lead author later repudiated it.

Thus no NGO with Israel’s best interests at heart should have cooperated with Goldstone. But B’Tselem didn’t just cooperate; it eagerly plied the commission with anti-Israel libels liked inflated civilian casualty figures (compare its figures to this). Indeed, as B’Tselem unblushingly admitted in January, whenever it’s uncertain whether casualties were civilian or combatant, it labels them civilian – then accuses Israel of excessive civilian casualties.

Or take Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel. Its stated goals include eliminating Israel’s Jewish majority by relocating millions of descendants of Palestinian refugees to it. That’s an explicit provision of Adalah’s proposed “Democratic Constitution,” which even terms this a necessary condition for an “equal and democratic” society. In other words, Adalah deems Israel an undemocratic, apartheid state unless it agrees to voluntarily self-destruct.

Nor are B’Tselem and Adalah unique; they are merely two of dozens of similar organizations – all virulently anti-Israel, and all funded mainly by foreign governments, either directly or via foreign NGOs. As NGO Monitor reported in 2011, European governments spend more money “promoting civil society” in the Mideast’s only democracy than they do in all other Middle Eastern countries combined – $75 million to $100 million a year.

This is what truly concerns Netanyahu’s base. It’s why his last two coalitions tried to pass legislation limiting foreign funding for NGOs, and why his current coalition is expected to try again. And all the talk about Netanyahu’s “racism” has merely served as a smokescreen to obscure this very real problem.

Originally published in The Jerusalem Post on May 28, 2015

One Response to Netanyahu’s target wasn’t Israeli Arabs, but foreign-funded NGOs

Subscribe to Evelyn’s Mailing List

In Europe, Israel needs a bottom-up approach to diplomacy

For years, I considered Europe a lost cause from Israel’s perspective and decried the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s Euro-centric focus, arguing that it should instead devote more effort to places like Africa, Asia and South America, which seemed to offer better prospects for flipping countries into the pro-Israel camp. But the past few years have proven that Europe isn’t hopeless—if Israel changes its traditional modus operandi.

This has been evident, first of all, in the alliances that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has formed with several countries in eastern and southern Europe, resulting in these countries repeatedly blocking anti-Israel decisions at the European Union level. Previously, Israeli diplomacy had focused overwhelmingly on Western Europe. Netanyahu’s key insight was that conservative, nationalist governments seeking to preserve their own nation-states would have more instinctive sympathy for a Jewish state than the liberal universalists who dominate in Western Europe, and whose goal is to replace nation-states with an ever-closer European union.

But as several recent events show, even Western Europe isn’t a lost cause. The difference is that there, conventional high-level diplomacy won’t work. Rather, the key to change is the fact that most Europeans, like most people everywhere, don’t really care that much about Israel, the Palestinians or their unending conflict. Consequently, small groups of committed activists can exert a disproportionate influence on policy.

For years, this has worked against Israel because the anti-Israel crowd woke up to this fact very early and took full advantage of it. Take, for instance, the 2015 decision to boycott Israel adopted by Britain’s national student union. The union represents some 7 million students, but its executive council passed the decision by a vote of 19-12. Or consider the academic boycott of Israel approved in 2006 by Britain’s National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education (which no longer exists, having merged into a larger union). The association had some 67,000 members at the time, but only 198 bothered to vote, of whom 109 voted in favor.

Yet it turns out pro-Israel activists can use the same tactics, as in last week’s approval of a resolution saying anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism by the lower house of France’s parliament. The resolution passed 154-72, meaning that fewer than 40 percent of the National Assembly’s 577 deputies bothered to vote, even though 550 deputies were present earlier in the day to vote on the social security budget. In other words, most deputies simply didn’t care about this issue, which meant that passing the resolution required convincing only about a quarter of the house.

Read more
Archives