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A dark day for democracy
BY GERSHON BASKIN
Jerusalem Post, 09/02/2010 06:55
The witch hunt against Naomi Chazan, NIF is reminiscent of McCarthyism.
I have been a proud Jerusalem Post columnist since February 2005. I commended the paper for offering me a column knowing full well that I would not be particularly popular among its readership. Even when, after a year, the editor of the Post contacted me to explain that the financial crisis in the newspaper meant that it could no longer pay for my column, I requested to continue writing without any financial compensation. The paper never paid a significant amount anyway and I highly valued the opportunity to speak with a population that I have little access to and which has even less access to my worldview and political opinion.
The decision of the editors of The Jerusalem Post to have me as one of its columnists was a merit of honor for the value of democracy and a sign that the newspaper was an exemplary example of free speech and open dialogue. The essence of democracy is the celebration of diversity and the commitment to defend the rights of those with whom you disagree to express themselves freely.
THE DECISION to cancel the column of Prof. Naomi Chazan, a worldwide respected academic, a former member of Knesset from the Zionist Meretz Party and currently the president of the New Israel Fund is a badge of shame on The Jerusalem Post. The posting of the Im Tirtzu advertisement with its explicit anti-Semitic motif of a caricature of Chazan with horns was dangerously anti-democratic. The witch-hunt against Chazan and the New Israel Fund is reminiscent of the darkest days of McCarthyism in the United States and similar to the atmosphere of states with secret police forces and dark dungeons. The Jerusalem Post should not have agreed to publish the advert of Im Tirtzu both because of its content and because of its format.
The media should be a watchdog for civil society protecting it from the arbitrary abuses of power of the state and its institutions. The media must be the defender of human rights, especially the right of free speech. When the media themselves cross the lines and become the limiter of free speech, they have committed a crime against their own values.
There has been a systematic attack against Israeli civil society organizations that defend human rights, that are in opposition to policies of the government, that support Palestinian rights and are opposed to the occupation of the Palestinian people and territories. These organizations are the clearest symbol of Israel’s democracy. When Israel’s human rights record is questioned in the West, clearly one of the greatest evidence of its democracy is the plurality of human rights organizations that work freely and have great access to the media.
NGO Monitor headed by Prof. Gerald Steinberg receives extremely wide exposure in this newspaper. I have tried to ascertain who provides its funding – who supports it and what is the agenda of the donors. The Im Tirtzu advertisements were funded, I have been told, by Evangelical Christians whose position on Jews, Judaism and the future of the Jewish people, according to their own tenets of faith scare the hell out of me.
Steinberg and NGO Monitor have called for full transparency and exposure of funding sources of civil society organizations that receive funds from foreign governments. I support this call. Now they are going after organizations that receive funding from the New Israel Fund – Jewish money from abroad mostly – which has a different agenda from the current right-wing religious government. NIF supports the rights of women, children, the poor, the disabled, the minorities, equality in education and services. NIF provides support for making Israel a healthier and a stronger society and country. I am in favor of full disclosure for all organizations that receive funds from NIF. By the way, my organization does not.
I am also in favor of full disclosure of the sources of funding of all civil society organizations, including Im Tirtzu, NGO Monitor, El Ad, Ateret Kohanim and all of the other civil society organizations working on the right side of the political map. One standard for all – full disclosure and transparency of funding is what should be legislated by the Knesset.
As for The Jerusalem Post, it is not too late to rescind the decision to cancel Prof. Chazan`s column.
The writer is the co-CEO of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information (www.ipcri.org) and an elected member of the leadership of the Green Movement political party.
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