Israel Must Deal With Human Rights Orgs as an Existential Threat, Netanyahu Ally Says

'If we knew how to identify them in the early stages we would handle them in a much more effective way,' says far-right lawmaker Bezalel Smotrich, who is negotiating to become either defense or finance minister, at a conference in Israel's parliament

Noa Shpigel
Noa Shpigel
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Religious Zionism chairman Bezalel Smotrich in May.
Religious Zionism chairman Bezalel Smotrich in May.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Noa Shpigel
Noa Shpigel

Religious Zionism head Bezalel Smotrich said on Monday that human rights organizations are an existential threat to Israel and the incoming government must deal with them by "seizing their funds" and acting against them with legal and security measures.

Smotrich, who has demanded either the defense or finance portfolios as part of coalition negotiations, spoke during a conference hosted by the right-wing activist Ad Kan organization, titled "Human Rights Organizations Operated by Hamas" at the Knesset.

While the conference was originally meant to focus on international organizations, it also mentioned Israeli ones, such as the New Israel Fund, Breaking the Silence and Peace Now.

According to Israel's NGO monitor Guidestar, 36.8 percent of Ad Kan's budget in 2021 came from sources outside Israel, adding up to 911,407 shekels (approximately $263,000).

"There is a very late identification process… if we knew how to identify them in the early stages we would handle them in a much more effective way," Smotrich said, referring to the human rights organizations.

According to Smotrich, "It started small, and today we understand the magnitude of the threat, just like the nationalist extremism of the Arabs of the State of Israel, who also started small-but the threat has evolved. At first, you think it’s a mosquito, and then you understand it's a swarm.

He added that "It is possible and necessary to turn the wheel in the face of the encouragement of terrorism, besmirching and delegitimizing, it is time for us to respond."

Noa Sattath, the executive director of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, responded to Smotrich's speech saying he is "identifying human rights organizations as resolute opponents to the measures he is planning to sabotage democracy, the rule of law and human rights. He is right. We are threatening his distorted vision, and we will stand up to him to defend human rights. We are ready, and behind us is the entire democratic public in Israel."

Amichai Chikli of the Likud said at the conference that "under the guise of human rights organizations and humanitarian activity hides a radical antisemitic and anti-Zionist ideology, whose purpose is to undermine the legitimacy of the State of Israel and spill the blood of its soldiers and citizens."

He also criticized the European Union saying they "are the arrowhead involved in delegitimization."

Labor party head Merav Michaeli responded to Smotrich's speech saying "This is a clear attempt to eliminate the democratic side of the State of Israel and subordinate it to the power that is now called 'Jewish.' It is an unbridled use of power by those who are now strong."

In response to Religious Zionist Party leader Bezalel Smotrich’s comments attacking human rights organizations, CEO of the New Israel Fund Daniel Sokatch released the following statement:

“For 43 years, the New Israel Fund has built Israeli civil society in pursuit of equality, justice, and democracy for all. I’m proud of the human rights defenders who work tirelessly to uphold the basic dignity of all people. MK Smotrich knows this very well. He and his supremacist political movement are fundamentally opposed to equality, human rights, and democracy in Israel.

"It's no wonder, then, that Smotrich would point the finger at the New Israel Fund and other Israelis committed to those principles. Democracies do not silence or threaten human rights defenders and activists. That’s the business of autocrats. And that's Smotrich's vision for the future.

"Let me be clear — his attacks on us will not silence us. We are a powerful movement of people — Israelis, Palestinians, and people from around the world — and our job is to take on despots. Anyone who cares about human rights and Israel’s democracy will join us in this fight.”

Ad Kan is a right-wing activist organization that infiltrates left-wing organizations that it perceives as anti-Israel.

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