Anyone who expected Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to condemn the comments made by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman who described leftist groups as terror facilitators is in for a letdown. Netanyahu spoke to Lieberman Monday but did not address the latter's attack against the Left. Instead, he rejected the foreign minister's statements against Likud ministers who opposed a proposal to instate a parliamentary commission of inquiry to probe the leftist organizations' funding sources.
"The Likud is united in the need to act against organizations working against Israel and the IDF in an illegal manner. Nevertheless, there are various opinions as to how this policy should be implemented," Netanyahu stressed. "The Likud is a democratic and pluralist party and not a dictatorship. All Likud ministers are concerned with the country's security and require no one's validation on that."
During a faction meeting Monday, Lieberman said, "These organizations are terror supporters whose only goal is to weaken the IDF, weaken its resolve to defend the citizens of Israel." He also accused the Right of moral corruption.
Meanwhile, leftist activists responded to Lieberman's claims and told Ynet of a sense of persecution. "These things are disruptive and outrageous but it also encourages me to work harder and others to join the efforts," Roman Halfin, a Peace Now activist said.
As part of his work in Peace Now, Halfin organizes demonstrations, meetings with Palestinians and hands out fliers. He was more surprised with other politicians' silence than the foreign minister's actual statements. "Lieberman has always been someone with a bizarre, fascist point of view. He doesn't surprise me because he's transparent and obvious. What surprised me was the silence by the prime minister, opposition chairwoman and defense minister, making the statements that much more conspicuous. I still think we're a strong democracy but he's causing us international and internal damage."
Soldiers in Bilin (Photo: Yohanan Weiler)
Lieberman's provocative statements caused a stir among Machsom Watch activists who held an emergency meeting Monday. "About twenty of us sat down and discussed how to address his statements," said activist Raya Yaron. "Lieberman, who persecutes human rights groups claiming they are terror supporters, is the main terrorist in Israeli politics. Lieberman, the foreign minister, and not human rights groups, has brought Israel to an unprecedented low and de-legitimization by the world."
'Knesset controlled by hooligans'
Hillel Ben Sasson, a religious youth from Jerusalem said he rearranged his weekend schedule to take part in Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity protests every Friday in order to "salvage the little respect the state's Jewish and democratic character has left."
He described his response to Lieberman's statements as one of revulsion. "On a personal level, there is no doubt these comments scare me. I think we're closer than ever to political persecution. Nevertheless, I don’t see how this can deter me from doing what I believe is important and just. We find ourselves in a dismal state where the Knesset is being dominated by hooligans."
Karim Jubran, a field director at B'Tselem was mostly amused by the foreign minister's comments.
"Turning human rights groups which try to maintain morality and democracy and treating them as terrorist organizations makes me chuckle more than anything. Nevertheless, this is infuriating and dangerous. We shall continue our work and not address every persecution. This is holy work which is transparent and accurate. All materials are examined by many elements before going out and that is why we have nothing to apologize for."
Jubran's role in B'Tselem is to gather and edit information from witnesses and photographers. "After I remove disinformation I send the material for translation and to the information management department to conduct crosschecks and prevent any mistakes or inaccuracies. The final stage is to distribute the material to domestic and international media outlets."
Protest in Sheikh Jarrah (Photo: Ben Kelmer)
'IDF not given chance to check'
On the other hand, it isn't just the right wing that has complaints. A senior IDF officer told Ynet, "There is no doubt that there are organizations that choose a goal and a target and forget about the army and its soldiers being affected. There are those who are hurt by the way they choose to operate.
"Sometimes groundless allegations are put forward which are very harmful to the IDF and cause a great deal of damage abroad." The officer added that the IDF has yet to receive a request to hand over information to the committee that the Knesset plans on establishing. "If we will be asked to – we have a lot of factual information to share, there is a war over legitimization going on as we speak."
For the past few years, the military prosecution has been keeping in close and continuous contact with a number of left wing organizations who wish to launch military criminal investigations or examine legal queries of events that allegedly occurred during IDF operations in various sectors.
"Each query receives the appropriate treatment. It is examined thoroughly and in some cases, the decisions lead to criminal investigations," the officer explained. "That said, those same organizations make sure to create as much media attention as they can for each case."
According to the officer, this means that in fact, before the issue has even been looked into – it is enveloped by a media storm which is very harmful to the IDF.
"This is part of those organizations' policies and where the transgressions begin." The officer explained that there are some organizations that raise their allegations with the media directly, without first checking their authenticity.
"Everybody knows about the reports revealing the IDF's alleged behavior in the settlements. It's just sad that those testimonies lack names, they are just anonymous testimonies. They are read around the world. The damage is done and that isn't fair play."
Officers in field units say that at times the interest groups among the leftist organizations cause extensive damage. "We have no problem with criticism, but it needs to be relevant and to the point," one officer said.
"They can stand at roadblocks and collect testimonies from Palestinians – that is totally acceptable, and when there is a problem, they should bring it to our attention. We have dealt with many complaints and that's fine, but when they take one incident and exaggerate the account or present a one-sided reality – that harms the soldiers themselves."
The senior officer together with a string of military sources admits that the IDF is in a problematic situation against the organizations and is frequently forced to cooperate with them by handing over information. "The information often becomes a pawn in their game against the army," IDF sources said.
Attila Somfalvi and Hanan Greenberg contributed to this report
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