Matti Friedman: B’Tselem Has Lost Its Way If Not Its Mind
Matti Friedman is a self-proclaimed liberal. That is what made his piece, An Insider’s Guide to the Most Important Story on Earth, so groundbreaking—or at least taboo breaking. Friedman exposed the bias of the journalists, their handlers (AP, Reuters), and the people of Gaza in their reportage of all things Israel. He also outlined for us how the story of Israel trumps everything, no matter what else is going on in the world at any point in time.
And now again, Friedman’s conscience has been called to the fore over the behavior of B’Tselem, a left-wing “human rights” group that focuses specifically on Israeli human rights violations (imagined or real), in the aftermath of Israel’s most recent election.
I have respected B’Tselem ???? for many years, and have relied on them often in my reporting. We need groups that do what B’Tselem does. I will also add that I did not vote for the right this week. The letter below from B’Tselem director Hagai El-Ad, which just reached my inbox (and many others), is disgusting. I have no idea what making Israelis aware of human rights violations in the occupied territories has to do with presenting hateful caricatures of Israelis in English to a foreign audience. El-Ad thinks this election — which yielded results identical to the last election — shows that Israelis are savages who oppress Palestinians because it’s “convenient.” “The mask is off,” he informs the international audience to whom the newsletter is addressed.
Why should Israelis listen to people who have nothing but disdain for them, can’t understand their fears, and are happy to slander them abroad and pander to the hostile international fixation with their country? B’Tselem once had an important job to do. It has lost its way, if not its mind.
Like many of you, the results of this week’s election in Israel weigh heavy on the minds of all of us at B’Tselem. Thus, I want to share some thoughts with you.
The election results show, loud and clear, that the voting public in Israel favors the ongoing occupation in its present form: a military rule that denies basic rights to millions of people, settlement expansion and its inverse the expropriation of Palestinian lands and the dispossession of its owners, and an entire occupation apparatus that entrenches two separate legal systems, unjust military courts, and a permit regime controlling most aspects of Palestinian life.
The verdict is crystal clear – as are the limits within which it was handed down. This week, millions of Palestinian subjects, living for more than two generations under Israeli control, again did not get to cast a ballot in an election that fundamentally impacts their daily lives and their future. As our spokesperson Sarit Michaeli noted several days before the election, in June 2017 – within the excepted term of the new Knesset – we will mark the 50th year of occupation.
This state of affairs persists largely because it is allowed, bearable, and cheap. Well – expensive and cruel to the Palestinians, but fairly convenient for Israelis. In fact, it is so convenient that the issue of the occupation hardly came up in the recent electoral campaigns. Change will only come either through new developments among Palestinians, a strategic shift in the largely occupation-tolerant international community, or the effective actions of Israelis who oppose the occupation.
We, the latter, have hard years ahead of us. We must address reality without euphemisms and deal with its implications. Within these hard and sobering election results, we now clearly know where the Israeli public stands. It would have been all too easy to continue the masquerade. Now that the masks are off, the ugly reality of indefinite military occupation is staring us in the face. We must return the gaze unflinchingly, voice our dissent loudly, and remember that the future is in our hands.
The fight against the occupation did not begin yesterday and will not end now. We, at B’Tselem, will continue our work. As you saw, we recently published upsetting footage of dogs being set on a Palestinian youth and night raids on Palestinian homes. We will continue to bring to light the daily aspects of occupation and to fight them undeterred. At the same time, we know that only ending occupation will end these injustices once and for all, and to that goal we are unwaveringly committed.
The occupation is here to stay. With your help, we are here to end it.
Friedman is right, of course. El-Ad is engaging in a seriously nasty smear campaign, aimed at his fellow Israelis, but presented abroad to a foreign audience. We can almost imagine the readers gleefully rubbing their hands together as they read El-Ad’s anti-Israel hate-fest.