US State Department Spokesperson Edgar Vasquez responded Monday night to an address delivered by the chairman of the left-wing Israeli NGO B’tselem Hagi El-Ad on Friday calling on its members to “ take action” against almost “50 years of occupation.”
In an interview with Yedioth Ahronoth Vasquez said that the US is “grateful” to NGOs such as B’tselem and the Peace Now organization—another left-leaning organization which aims to raise international public awareness about the construction of Israeli settlements—which was also invited to the session.
“I won’t respond to everything that was said,” said Vasquez when asked to clarify the state’s position on the matter. “In general, we believe that a free civil society free of inhibitions is a central component of democracy.”
Vasquez went on to say that the US was deeply concerned by what it deems a possible assault in on freedom of expression while reiterating the government’s opposition to Israeli construction in the West Bank.
“As we have said many times in the past, we believe that it is important that governments defend the freedom of expression and create an atmosphere in which all voices can be heard. We are concerned by any incident in the world when these principles are under threat,” Vasquez continued.
“As we have clarified in our statements in a UN Security Council discussion last Friday, we are grateful for the efforts of non-governmental organizations both in the US and in Israel, and that includes Peace Now in the US and B’tselem which continue to inform us about the fundamental issues that occur on the ground, including the settlements enterprise. As you already know, we continue to be concerned about the ongoing enterprise of settlements. We strongly, clearly and consistently reject these activities which erode peace efforts.”