Analysis from Israel

As Noah noted, the New Israel Fund controversy is laying bare just how warped the “human rights” community’s definition of human rights is. But it has also showcased two particularly Israeli variants of this disease: that freedom of information constitutes “incitement,” and that freedom of speech requires financing speech you oppose. The NIF’s Israeli president, former Meretz MK Naomi Chazan, demonstrated both in response to the Im Tirtzu organization’s report that 92 percent of the anti-Israel information in the Goldstone Report came from Israeli groups funded by the NIF.

Neither Chazan nor her American parent organization has disputed Im Tirtzu’s findings: they do not deny that the NIF grantees supplied the material in question to a UN inquiry into last year’s war in Gaza, nor do they deny the Goldstone Commission’s use of it. On the contrary, Chazan said she was “ever so proud to be a symbol of Israeli democracy,” while the NIF’s American CEO, Daniel Sokatch, told the Forward that the grantees bolstered “Israel’s moral fiber and its values” by “tell[ing] the truth.”

If so, why was Chazan so upset over the revelation of the NIF’s contribution to this achievement that when the Knesset announced it wanted more information on the subject — a Knesset committee said it would establish a subcommittee to examine foreign funding of Israeli nonprofits, and one MK even advocated a parliamentary inquiry commission — she responded by accusing the Knesset of trying to “fan incitement”? Since when has the search for, and dissemination of, truthful information constituted incitement?

The answer relates to her other fallacy: “We really don’t support every single thing these organizations [the grantees] say, but we support their right to say it.” Actually, so would most Israelis — but they wouldn’t give money to help them say it. And that is a crucial distinction. Freedom of speech means letting people or groups say what they please without fear of prosecution. It does not require anyone to help them do so by giving them money. The minute you donate to a group, you are not just “supporting its right” to speak; you are supporting the content of its speech. After all, the NIF doesn’t fund Im Tirtzu; does that mean it doesn’t support Im Tirtzu’s right to speak?

The problem for the NIF is that many donors might not support this particular content. Indeed, the Forward reported that when the NIF sought statements of support from other major Jewish groups, only three had complied as of February 3: Americans for Peace Now, J Street, and the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.

Thus it is critical for the NIF and other groups with similar views to promote these twin canards: that freedom of information — i.e., shedding light on what they actually do — constitutes “incitement,” which is legally suppressible, and that freedom of speech requires funding even speech you oppose. For unless they can either suppress knowledge of just what speech they are enabling or convince donors that liberal values require funding such speech even if they oppose it, their own funding is liable to be endangered.

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Why Israel Needs a Better Political Class

Note: This piece is a response to an essay by Haviv Rettig Gur, which can be found here

Israel’s current political crisis exemplifies the maxim that hard cases make bad law. This case is desperate. Six months after the coronavirus erupted and nine months after the fiscal year began, Israel still lacks both a functioning contact-tracing system and an approved 2020 budget, mainly because Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is more worried about politics than the domestic problems that Israel now confronts. The government’s failure to perform these basic tasks obviously invites the conclusion that civil servants’ far-reaching powers must not only be preserved, but perhaps even increased.

This would be the wrong conclusion. Bureaucrats, especially when they have great power, are vulnerable to the same ills as elected politicians. But unlike politicians, they are completely unaccountable to the public.

That doesn’t mean Haviv Rettig Gur is wrong to deem them indispensable. They provide institutional memory, flesh out elected officials’ policies, and supply information the politicians may not know and options they may not have considered. Yet the current crisis shows in several ways why they neither can nor should substitute for elected politicians.

First, bureaucrats are no less prone to poor judgment than politicians. As evidence, consider Siegal Sadetzki, part of the Netanyahu-led triumvirate that ran Israel’s initial response to the coronavirus. It’s unsurprising that Gur never mentioned Sadetzki even as he lauded the triumvirate’s third member, former Health Ministry Director General Moshe Bar Siman-Tov; she and her fellow Health Ministry staffers are a major reason why Israel still lacks a functional test-and-trace system.

Sadetzki, an epidemiologist, was the ministry’s director of public-health services and the only member of the triumvirate with professional expertise in epidemics (Bar Siman-Tov is an economist). As such, her input was crucial. Yet she adamantly opposed expanding virus testing, even publicly asserting that “Too much testing will increase complacence.” She opposed letting organizations outside the public-health system do lab work for coronavirus tests, even though the system was overwhelmed. She opposed sewage monitoring to track the spread of the virus. And on, and on.

Moreover, even after acknowledging that test-and-trace was necessary, ministry bureaucrats insisted for months that their ministry do the tracing despite its glaringly inadequate manpower. Only in August was the job finally given to the army, which does have the requisite personnel. And the system still isn’t fully operational.

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