B’Tselem

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B’tselem (Hebrew "in His image" referring to the words “And God made man in His image” in the Book of Genesis) is an Israeli human rights monitoring NGO – it is the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories.

Omar Barghouti comments about B’tselem after it was reported[1] that it opposes a UN war crimes tribunal following the Goldstone report:

If accurate, this Jerusalem Post report may be revealing B’tselem’s lowest point ever, I think, where the organization shows where its true loyalty lies: in protecting Israel from real, effective accountability measures before international law, rather than defending and upholding human rights even if that leads to punitive measures against Israel, a consistent perpetrator of grave violations of them.

Attacking the UN and the investigative report by Goldstone – a judge with deep connections to Israel and Zionism who has been partially criticized by ranking international law experts for letting Israel off the hook on important aspects of its war crimes in Gaza – is a sign of unprecedented failure by B’tselem to distinguish itself from the Israeli herd-like near consensus in defending the state’s crimes against humanity committed in Gaza, albeit indirectly and partially.

I’ve argued for years, based on my in-depth reading of B’tselem’s reports over the years, but particularly since the second intifada erupted in 2000, that the organization adopts a very selective, sanitizing approach to reporting Israel’s human rights violations, focusing on the least grave crimes and omitting the gravest of all. To my mind, this was indicative of a commitment to protect Israel’s image against the worst accusations – that may call for war crimes investigations – and to focus attention instead on less egregious crimes that may only evoke condemnations and demands for Israel to do better next time!

As I’ve written before, I believe that B’tselem has fallen well behind international human rights organizations, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (despite the obvious problems and political limitations of both) in reporting, examining and otherwise exposing Israel’s war crimes and crimes against humanity in its war of aggression on the Palestinian people in Gaza at the end of 2008 and beginning of 2009. In the following news report, B’tselem’s director reportedly provides the key factor that may explain this utter failure to defend human rights when it is inconvenient: Israel should not be blamed for indiscriminately targeting civilians!

Shifting the blame from Israel to Hamas is a shameful tactic of blaming the victim that one hoped even B’tselem will not join the herd in adopting.

Joining the Israeli choir, from academic institutions, to public figures, to leading intellectuals, to the most right-wing MPs, B’tselem here is indirectly defending Israel against THE most well documented fact about its atrocious war on Gaza: that it intentionally and in a pre-meditated manner used massive firepower to devastate civilian infrastructure and "collectively punish" the entire civilian population as a form of pressure against the resistance, applying the Israeli military doctrine partially developed at Tel Aviv University: the Dahiyah Doctrine. (see the excellent study on TAU’s complicity in Israeli violations of international law, prepared by researchers of the SOAS Palestine Society).

If the following report is accurate, this disgraceful failure by B’tselem to uphold international law in circumstances where it may invite tough sanctions against their state makes it lose whatever little credibility it may have still had among Palestinians and indeed among consistent supporters of human rights worldwide. Many of us, including myself in all likelihood, will still quote some of the excellent reports issued by B’tselem on the least troubling crimes committed by Israel. But if we want facts about Israel’s worst crimes, we must look elsewhere. B’tselem can no longer be a reliable source of information or legal analysis on those. It must choose where its main loyalty lies: protecting the state despite its colonial and apartheid policies and war crimes, or consistently, thoroughly and accurately defending human rights, indiscriminately and without the damning omission of the most serious violations of them.

Jerome Slater comments (13 March 2010): [2]:

Worse, even B’tselem (The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories), Israel’s most important and prestigious human rights organization, is failing its responsibilities on the [Israeli attack on Gaza last year and the subsequent Goldstone report] issue. In part, this may be the case because of disturbing indications that B’tselem itself is reluctant to face the full truth about the Israeli attack on Gaza. However, as I shall shortly argue, it is also likely that B’tselem’s recent timidity is partly a consequence of its understandable concern that increasingly harsh Israeli attitudes and government policies are endangering its own future.

Marc Ellis comments (17 July 2014):[3]

Even B’tselem, normally on the straight and narrow, panders to the Israeli the public. Why else release such a ridiculous report that characterizes the weapons fired from Gaza as action that "defies humanity and is morally and legally reprehensible."
Resistance is resistance. It isn’t pretty. But then neither is oppression.

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Other entities whose entries refer to B’Tselem

Ilana Hammerman   • David Zonsheine   • Avigdor Feldman   • Sarit Michaeli   • Yuval Ginbar   • Nahum (Nachum) Korman   • Nasser Muhammad Ahmad Nawajah   • Yael Stein   • Hagai Elad   • Edward (Edy) Kaufman_(2)   • Dirar Abu Seesi   • Hadara Lazar   • Manal al-Ja’bari

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