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Crucial Time for Israeli Democracy
Jessica Montell
B`Tselem
18.7.11


While I usually write regarding human rights concerns in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, I am writing now to update you on worrisome developments inside Israel itself. I write with deep concern but also with the conviction that together we can make change.
For some time now, we have witnessed attempts in the 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 behavior 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 Knessets 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, which refers to the Israeli settlements in the West Bank. While B`Tselem does not promote boycotts, in its explicit penalization of a non-violent form of protest, I see passage of the Boycott Law as a red line that has been crossed regarding the democratic foundation of the State.
The ink was barely dry on this stain on the law books, when the Knesset resurrected 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. While this proposal failed to pass today, with a 57 to 28 vote, other anti-democratic legislation remains on the docket, including a bill which would restrict contributions from foreign governments to human rights organizations in Israel. Even if we succeed in thwarting the initiatives currently pending, 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.
These attempts will not deter us. As we have done for over twenty years, BTselem 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. At the same time we must now also defend the civic space for such work in Israel indeed to defend Israeli democracy itself.
I want to close on an optimistic note. Increasingly, Israelis and friends of Israel around the world have realized that these Knesset initiatives are not just a matter that concerns human rights organizations. Many now understand that this is nothing less than a struggle for the character of the State of Israel. I have been heartened by the outpouring of support, both inside Israel and around the world, of people who share our concerns. I urge you to show your support for democracy and human rights in Israel at this crucial time. Join us on Facebook and Twitter, send us a donation to support our work, visit our website and distribute our information. My hope is that each and every one of you will take action, as you deem appropriate, to counter these attacks on Israeli democracy.

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