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When They Eat Their Own: Former B’Tselem Employee Roy Yellin vs B’Tselem

B’Tselem’s former Director of Public Outreach Roy Yellin is suing his former employer over his being made their former employee.

A wrongful termination lawsuit, currently underway in the Jerusalem Labor Court, has revealed turmoil at the head of the left-wing human rights organization B’Tselem, according to a report in the Hebrew newspaper Haaretz.

The plaintiff, Ro’ei Yelin, claims that at the heart of his employment dispute is a fight over the wording of a call for a ceasefire in Gaza.

He admits, however, that while upset about that matter, he changed the password of the organization’s Instagram account, effectively locking out his colleagues, after which he was summoned for a hearing and then fired. He maintains that he was fired for his views.

According to the lawsuit, the events of October 7 had a profound effect on B’Tselem, causing “a shock and serious crisis” as a consequence of differences of opinion among the organization’s employees, “including painful phenomena of denial or attempts to downplay the severity and scope of the crimes.” 

On October 9, two days after Hamas’s attack, the organization published a statement focusing on the terror group’s atrocities. In that statement, the description of Hamas’s actions was immediately followed by the declaration that “anyone who abandons the basic principle that all human beings are created in the image [of God] has lost the image of man.” Afterward, however, that sentence was moved to the end of the press release, Yelin says, which he took as a softening of the statement’s condemnation of Hamas.

When the organization discussed whether to call for a ceasefire, Yelin opposed calling for a unilateral one, arguing that it was not appropriate for a human rights organization, saying that such a call exceeded the professional mandate of the organization and crosses into the domain of politics. Yelin also argued that it would be a tactical mistake to call for a ceasefire before the organization knew what the plan would be to protect residents of Israel’s south in such a scenario. 

His colleagues charged him with support for genocide, he says. 

At the end of the discussion, the group decided not to publish the ceasefire call. About a month later, though, when the organization issued such a call, Yelin said he accepted the decision “due to his deep commitment to the organization” and helped prepare the announcement. He noticed, though, that the final version of the statement was titled simply, ‘Ceasefire Now.’ In Yelin’s eyes, this version of the statement amounted to a one-sided call directed only at the Israeli government and not at Hamas.

It was after this incident that Yelin changed the credentials to B’tselem’s Instagram account, after which he was called in for a hearing and fired. 

In response to the lawsuit, B’Tselem said: “The exact circumstances regarding Ro’ei’s termination were detailed in the letter sent to him at the time of his termination. Out of respect for all the employees of B’Tselem, past and present, we have no intention of publicly discussing the personal affairs of any of them or engaging publicly in a labor dispute.”

The group added in its statement that B’Tselem’s “positions regarding the horrific war crime committed by Hamas on October 7 are clearly presented on the organization’s website and in a series of public announcements,” saying its “clear position regarding the need to protect the human rights of all people, Jews and Palestinians, and our resolute opposition to any harm to civilians was and still is unequivocal and has been published many times since October 7,” and reiterating its call for a hostage deal. 

“That parts of the initial conversations [after October 7], which were so painful and personal, were removed from their context causes us great pain,” the group said. Its words since the attack “were carefully chosen and were the result of long discussions and much thought, and we are absolutely proud of that.”

The Ha’aretz report in Hebrew – which seems to have been removed but is available on Web Archive – reveals some real fractures within the organization.

“Some of the Jews here feel uncomfortable with the attempt to ‘understand’ Hamas, to over-contextualize their actions. These are not center-left people, but those deeply rooted in the far left,” says a source in a relatively small organization. “On the other hand, Arab activists are tired of being in a place where they feel they are constantly expected to condemn October 7.”

“I hear the internal debates and realize, with great sadness, that people I worked with for many years are more committed to the Palestinian agenda than to the universal principle of human rights,” says R., who works in a joint organization of Jews and Arabs. “The unofficial claim is that harming Jews is less difficult because the regime in Israel is brutal. They claim against us that we are too ’emotional’. The message that is constantly being sent is that we do not care about the crimes that Israel commits in Gaza. The implicit demand is that we prove that we care through the reduction of October 7.”

According to a leftist activist, the position of the global left “forced the relatively radical organizations in Israel to choose whether they too go so far as to support Hamas. There are people who have experienced an interpersonal crisis, after discovering that their colleagues are actually not on the same path. Friendships of years have been shaken.”

While I am sure Roy Yellin and I would disagree on many things, I hope this lawsuit takes down B’Tselem.

Besides, he once ripped The DouchebloggerTM and really got to him, so he gets a few brownie points for that.

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