Israeli lawmaker calls to cut volunteers to human rights NGOs

11:10, June 13, 2011      

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Israeli human rights groups that assisted in an investigation into the alleged war crimes committed by the Israeli military in the Gaza Strip in 2009 could lose their civilian volunteers.

The initiative is being led by Israel Hasson, a legislator from the opposition Kadima party. Hasson has recently approached Daniel Hershkowitz, Israeli minister of science and technology who is in charge of the volunteer administration National Service, and asked to establish new criteria for determining the eligibility of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to receive the National Service cadets.

While the legislation that would formulate the new guidelines for overseeing the activities of the National Service volunteers is still being contemplated, some organizations that could lose their civilian hands include The Pubic Committee Against Torture in Israel, the Association for Civil Rights, the Israeli branch of Amnesty International, and Physicians for Human Rights Israel ( PHRI).

Hasson has recently sent Hershkowitz a letter in which he accused the organizations of helping the United Nations-appointed Goldstone Commission, which was headed by South African-born former judge Richard Goldstone, slander the Israeli military for its conduct in the wide-scale offensive in Gaza in early 2009.

"The organizations urged the UN committee to accuse Israel of anti-humanitarian activities and severe violations of human rights during operation Cast Lead," local newspaper quoted Hasson's letter as saying.

The legislator claims that the groups have "made statements based on mere assumptions regarding the motives of the Israeli army against Hamas, claiming the operation was a punitive one, which used destruction as a means of deterrence and punishment."

One group that relies on young Jewish volunteers is PHRI. A group official, who spoke with Xinhua on condition of anonymity, said they are employed in the organization's open clinic that assists refugees and illegal labor migrants that reside in the country.

PHRI is singled out in Hasson's letter. He accuses the group of meeting with Goldstone in Switzerland in 2009 and helping to compose a letter to the then president state of the European Union, urging it to bring Israel to trial "for war crimes and grave violations of human rights."

Hadas Ziv, PHRI's director of public outreach, described the initiative promoted by Hasson as "a shocking, appalling message."

"The message being relayed is that if you have suspicions of crimes committed by the Israel Defense Forces during the 2009 war and a probe commission is established, you must not cooperate with it because it will damage Israel's image," Ziv said in a phone interview on Sunday.

"In effect, it substantially damages Israel's position as a law- abiding state. The initiative also sends a message that we like one kind of Israelis, one that shoot and shut up, not those who pose question marks," she said, "It's a pathetic attempt to narrow the public discourse and to create an obedient people."

The initiative joins other legislative proposals aimed at cracking down on the activities of Israel's leading pro- Palestinian groups, some of whom lent assistance to the Goldstone Commission. Critics of such initiatives blast them as anti- democratic.

Earlier this year, the ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu party, headed by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, requested that special parliamentary committees probe the activities of left-wing NGOs, while other lawmakers presented proposals aimed at cutting their partial funding by the state.

Source: Xinhua
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