Diplomacy & defense
Head of left-wing Israeli rights organization B'Tselem, Hagai El-Ad, on Sunday defended his testimony at the United Nations on Israel's settlement activities in the West Bank after drawing a scathing rebuke by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who called to remove the group from a list of approved placements for national service volunteers.
Netanyahu on Saturday launched an attack on B'Tselem, calling it a "shoddy an unhinged" organization, after representatives from B'Tselem and NGO Americans for Peace Now criticized Israel at a special meeting of the United Nations Security Council during which El-Ad said that "Israel cannot call itself a democracy while occupying another people."
In an interview with Israel's Army Radio on Sunday, El-Ad defended his call for the UN to take action against Israeli settlements, which, he told the UN, served to create facts on the ground ahead of any peace agreement with the Palestinians.
"At the UNSC there wasn’t a single country that took the Israeli side, not one country that didn’t speak against the occupation and settlements. This is true of the United States and Britain, and of Russia and China that the prime minister says are our best friends now," El-Ad said.
Netanyahu slammed the El-Ad's remarks on his Facebook page on Saturday, saying the organizations had "joined the chorus of smears against Israel, and recycled the false claim that 'the occupation and the settlements' are the reason for the conflict."
"The truth is that the Palestinians attacked Israel for 50 years before there was a single settlement," his comments continued. "They continue to attack Israel from the Gaza Strip, even after we left it entirely. They attack us from Judea and Samaria,while demanding not only these lands, but also the right to return to Jaffa, Acre, and Haifa." he wrote.
Netanyahu charged that the root of the conflict was not the settlements, "but rather the ongoing Palestinian refusal to recognize a Jewish state in any borders."
B'Tselem and other left-wing rights groups, Netanyahu said, were trying to obtain through "international compulsion" what they are unable to obtain through democratic elections in Israel.
"Israeli democracy facilitates such shoddy and unhinged organizations as B’Tselem, but the majority of the public knows the truth," Netanyahu said.
But El-Ad defended his testimony at the international body, saying that "the occupation isn’t an internal Israeli issue, but a major international issue."
"There’s no such thing as a democratic occupation. This can’t be an internal matter,” he said.
In response to Netanyahu's call to remove the B'Tselem from a list of organizations approved for national service volunteer work, undertaken by some young Israelis as an alternative to mandatory military service, El-Ad said only three such volunteers had ever been involved with the group and none were currently working with the organization.
B’Tselem had released a statement in response to Netanyahu's criticism saying it would not be deterred.
"The public in Israel deserves a substantive debate regarding the occupation," the statement said.
"We insist on saying in a clear voice: the occupation is not Israel and opposition to the occupation is not anti-Israeli. We will continue to say the truth in Israel and in the world: The occupation must end."
(Staff with agencies)