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Date Fri 22 July 2011

BDS Campaign: Israeli Democracy and Human Rights

In an open letter to The Herald newspaper in Scotland, Mike Kirby, Scottish Secretary questions potential attacks on the human rights organisation, B'Tselem, which has been supported by UNISON.

For some time now, we have witnessed attempts in the Israeli Parliament, Knesset, to undermine democracy and human rights in Israel. Over the past year, this has increasingly taken the form of measures directed at groups that criticize government policy and behaviour in the Occupied Territories. B'Tselem, as one of the most well-known human rights organizations, is a central focus of these attacks.

Last week, this offensive took a particularly dangerous turn, with the Knesset’s enactment of the Boycott Law. This law creates tort liability for any Israeli individual or entity that calls for an economic, cultural, or academic boycott of Israel, its institutions, or “an area under its control.” While B'Tselem does not promote boycotts, in its explicit penalization of a non-violent form of protest, the passage of the Boycott Law is a red line that has been crossed regarding the democratic foundation of the State of Israel.

The ink is barely dry on this stain on the law books, and the Knesset is scheduled to vote on the initiative to establish a parliamentary inquiry into the funding and activities of organizations that “delegitimize the Israeli military” in the words of its initiators. Also on the agenda are bills to restrict contributions from foreign governments to human rights organizations in Israel, and several other anti-democratic bills. It is clear that they are part of a broader trend to silence and hinder human rights organizations, and stifle criticism more broadly. More initiatives will undoubtedly follow.

As they and similar bodies have done for over twenty years, B’Tselem shall continue to monitor the reality on the ground, conduct comprehensive research, demand accountability and advocate for positive change regarding human rights in the Occupied Territories.

Now, more than ever, it is important to defend the civic space for such work in Israel – indeed to defend Israeli democracy itself.

Mike J Kirby
UNISON Scottish Secretary