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Rights groups attack Israeli bill to shut down military critics
By: Rory McCarthy
The Guardian
29 April 2010

Israeli human rights groups say they are deeply concerned about a newly proposed bill that could shut down any organisation that investigates and mounts legal challenges to abuses by the military.

The bill was introduced in the Israeli parliament, or Knesset, yesterday with the support of at least 17 MPs from different parties. If it became law it would prevent any organisation from being registered, or would close down existing groups if they were found to be passing information `to foreign entities` or were `involved in legal proceedings abroad against senior Israeli government officials or IDF officers for war crimes`.

Rights groups said the bill, an amendment to the law of associations, was the latest in a series of efforts to curb their activity in the wake of Israel`s war in Gaza. Several groups produced evidence suggesting the Israeli Defence Forces had committed serious violations of international law during the three-week war and gave evidence to the UN inquiry led by the South African judge Richard Goldstone.

Goldstone`s report said both Israel and Hamas were suspected of war crimes and should hold their own independent investigations. The report met with intense criticism from Israeli officials, and the prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, has listed the `Goldstone effect` as one of the three most serious security challenges facing Israel today.

In a joint statement today, 10 Israeli human rights groups said the bill would `trample` democratic values. `Instead of defending democracy, the sponsors of this bill prefer to reduce it to ashes,` they said. `This bill is the direct result of irresponsible leadership that is doing all it can to undermine democratic values and the institutions that are the backbone of a democracy: the supreme court, a free press and human rights organisations.`

The groups included B`Tselem, Gisha, Adalah, the Association of Civil Rights in Israel and Rabbis for Human Rights. Adalah, which works on Arab minority rights within Israel, said the bill was `a dangerous step` against human rights groups. The bill `seeks to restrict the freedom of expression and freedom of association of these organisations`, it said.

However, the bill already has significant cross-party support. `The bill will put an end to the rampage by NPOs [non-profit organisations] who are trying to subvert the state under the guise of human rights,` Ronit Tirosh, an MP from the centrist opposition Kadima party, told the Ma`ariv newspaper.

It also appears to have support among the Israeli public. An opinion poll for the Ha`aretz newspaper this week found 58% of Jewish Israelis believed human rights groups that exposed immoral conduct by Israel should not be allowed to operate freely.

Slightly more than half said there was `too much freedom of expression` in Israel, according to the survey by the Tami Steinmetz Centre for Peace Research, at Tel Aviv University. Most said they supported punishing Israelis who backed sanctions or boycotts against Israel, and supported punishing journalists who reported news critical of the Israeli defence establishment.

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