Sunday, July 26, 2009

Silencing “Breaking the Silence” I – Lieberman Continues Down the Slippery Slope

Avigdor Lieberman's Foreign Ministry is trying to silence the IDF veterans group, "Breaking the Silence." For five years the group has been publishing testimonies of IDF war crimes and inappropriate behavior towards Palestinian civilians without government interference. The last few years it has received money from several sources, including the New Israel Fund, the European Union, and the governments of Great Britian, Holland and Spain. In this it is no different from other human rights groups that receive money from European governments and human rights foundations. B'Tselem, for example, has received money from the Norwegian foreign ministry. "Breaking the Silence" used the money from the Dutch consulate to finance its booklet of Gaza testimonies, which you can download here. As you will see, the booklet acknowledges the support of BtS's donors.

When Israel's foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman read of this, he had a fit. So he instructed the Israeli Ambassador to the Netherlands to demand that the Dutch Foreign Ministry cut off funding for BtS. Haaretz Barak Ravid, whose job in Haaretz, as my readers know, is to front for "informed sources" in the Foreign Ministry, wrote about it today here.

Lieberman's reason?

According to a senior Israeli official: "A friendly government cannot fund opposition bodies. We are not a third world country."

"Breaking the Silence" is not an opposition body, but rather an ngo made up of Israeli veterans that publish IDF soldiers' testimonies. It has no ties to any opposition party. It is no more political than B'Tselem.

And Israel is a third-world country as of today, if not much earlier, because this is what dictatorial third-world countries do: attempt to block the funding of its ngos.

Now, there is indeed a legitimate debate whether Israeli human rights ngos should be funded by foreign governments, whether such funding hurts or helps its message. That is very different from the government heavy-handedly trying to cut off its funding by trying to strong-arm the governments, a tactic that the Israeli foreign minister may have learnt in his native Russia.

But can we expect anything less from an ultra-right wing foreign minister whose party's platform calls for the banning of political parties and the suppression of free speech in Israel?


Eric Mendelsohn said...

As long a Lieberman does not have a "revolutionary guard" of loyal armed thugs or a semi independent fifth column within the IDF under his command, things should be ok-- but if he does ....

David L. said...

I told a friend in Maryland the following:

What's the difference between Lieberman and the "Euro-skeptic" parties, like the British National Party , Hungarian Jobbik, or the Dutch PVV? In the EU the former are marginalized as basically "nuthead" parties while in Medinat Yisrael Lieberman and his ilk are major coalition partners in the government.

Tobias said...

If only it were so. But here in Europe, the xenophobic likes of Geert Wilders have now established themselves in the political mainstream. It remains to be seen how firmly.

It's by the way interesting that the PVV is so enthusiastically supportive of Israel - by which they mean the Israeli right wing. I'm still puzzled if this is simply a "We're no Nazis - we love Jews!"-type fig leaf or a genuine ideological attachment.

David L. said...

Well Tobias you have to admit that Geert Wilders is very entertaining with his silly haircut and Krystina Morvai of Jobbik is one hot lady. As for Nick Griffin, we someone has to be the Tony Soprano of British politics and he's a heck of a lot smarter than Gordon Brown. as for Lieberman-He looks like he's about to unleash some Stalinist purge.

fiddler said...

The German politologist Frank Decker had some interesting thoughts on the rise - or stagnation - of European right-wing parties. (Unfortunately for you in German.)

He makes a distinction between extremists, such as the German splinter parties NPD, DVU, REP, as well as the BNP, and populists, such as the Austrian FPÖ, the Norwegian FRP, Jobbik, Forza Italia or the PVV. Front Nationale (F) and Vlaams Blok (B) would be in both camps.
Obviously the populists have so far been far more successful, not only because of their charismatic leaders, but also because "Hitler's shadow" is still lurking in the wings, especially in Germany, hampering the rise of openly extremist parties, similar to what "Stalin's shadow" does to Communist parties in eastern Europe.
In Israel Hitler's shadow has entirely different effects - promoting paranoia, fear and defensiveness, and the bizarre, ongoing competition for the Hitler/Amalek of the Month.

Decker argues tentatively that the existence of right-wing parties may serve as a valve to those who harbour xenophobic resentments, so they can articulate their protest at the ballot box instead of in acts of violence. The distinction made above is important in this context: populist parties can and do have this safety valve function, while extremist parties tend to generate even more resentment, and ultimately violence.