Rights groups in Israel face growing intimidation over UN report

Civil rights groups in Israel face right-wing intimidation for helping a United Nations report that accuses the country of war crimes over 22-day Gaza offensive.

Rights groups in Israel face growing intimidation over UN report

Civil rights groups in Israel face right-wing intimidation for helping a United Nations report that accuses the country of war crimes over 22-day Gaza offensive, igniting questions on freedom of expression in the "democratic" country.

Naomi Chazan, president of the New Israel Fund which backs civil rights groups, has been vilified by rightists who accuse her of aiding Goldstone, a Jew who has been called a "traitor".

Parliament this week rejected a motion to investigate the New Israel Fund, and the media have largely ignored the dispute.

A separate Israeli legislative probe has been launched into funding for non-government groups, seen as targeting human rights organisations in particular. Chazan said she would insist that investigators also look at rightist finances.

The right wing is well represented in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition.

The English-language Jerusalem Post, meanwhile, has sacked Chazan, cancelling her biweekly column.

In an interview with Reuters, Chazan said she saw a "very, very dangerous process" under way in Israel, where human rights groups such as hers were increasingly targeted.

"The very pillars of democratic society are being assailed and we have to be very concerned about that," said the former left-wing Meretz party legislator.

Goldstone's report found evidence of war crimes during Israel's Gaza attack in which over 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed.

But it put most of the blame on Israel, stoking worldwide condemnation of the state's conduct of the offensive.

Israel has dismissed the report as "biased" and government's supporters are lashing out at left-wing groups who had a role in Goldstone's work.

"Zionist dream"

The right-wing group Im Tirtzu (the name means If You Will It in Hebrew -- a Zionist motto) said in newspaper and billboard ads that 90 percent of negative references to Israel in the U.N. report were from groups funded by Chazan's organisation.

However, left-wing activists in Israel and abroad, joined by New York-based Human Rights Watch, have rallied behind Chazan, denouncing the arrests of peace activists at recent protests as "an affront to democracy."

Erez Tadmor, a director of Im Tirtzu, denied any intent to muzzle critics and countered that "the ones seeking to limit free speech are the anti-Zionist groups who think they can criticise everyone but be immune to criticism themselves".

Chazan called his charges "ridiculous" and "pernicious". She says Israeli human rights groups provided less than 15 percent of the content for Goldstone's report. Leftists reject charges that they are "anti-Zionist", saying it is right-wing opposition to a peace with the Arabs that threatens the Zionist dream.

The attacks against her, Chazan said, "This attack on me personally is another very sophisticated way of preventing what should have been done years ago, creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel."

Chazan criticised the Israeli government's refusal to cooperate with Goldstone and said Israel should launch its own investigation into the Gaza war, just as it has scrutinised the results of other conflicts since 1973.

Peace talks are on hold over disputes about the expansion of Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank.

Agencies

Last Mod: 12 Şubat 2010, 17:05
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