In the New York Times, Jodi Rudoren’s welcome coverage of legendary Israeli human rights attorney Michael Sfard exposes, perhaps unwittingly, the hypocrisy of one of Israel’s key settler strategists.
He sees his work as a mission to save the prospect of a two-state solution and preserve Israeli democracy. But he has at times unwittingly undermined his own agenda, when his microvictories in court prompt the right-leaning government to produce political macrovictories for his adversaries — leading to the legalization and expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
This week, Mr. Sfard’s chief adversary, the settler movement, bestowed on him honorary citizenship in “Judea and Samaria,” the biblical names for the West Bank, with a mock certificate noting that he “may have come to curse and cause damage” but had ended up “raising the morale and gladdening the hearts of those who love the Land.”
“He sees the courts as the way to force the changes that he perceives as necessary for Israel,” said Gerald Steinberg, who runs NGO Monitor, a right-leaning group that examines organizations like those that support Mr. Sfard. “But he doesn’t convince the Israeli public. In any democratic process, you can’t use just the legal system to impose an ideology.”
Democratic process Mr. Steinberg? Who’s using the legal system to impose an ideology?
From Didi Remez’s Haaretz coverage, Exposing Gerald Steinberg and NGO Monitor :
Steinberg is savvier than [Netanyahu aide Ron] Dermer. Instead of a ban, he advocates “funding transparency.” Next Tuesday, he is organizing a Knesset conference to “debate” the issue. Israel’s beleaguered human rights activists are bracing for yet another round of demonization and delegitimization.
In formulating a response, some have argued for an appeal to reason. They want to explain to Steinberg and his organization that the suppression campaign is ill-advised and destructive; that it threatens to put Israel in the same camp as Putin’s Russia and other autocracies; and that it may provoke a retaliatory call by a European public, already dangerously hostile, to cut critical funding to Israeli hospitals, universities and R&D projects.
This approach is commendable, but futile. NGO Monitor is not an objective watchdog: It is a partisan operation that suppresses its perceived ideological adversaries through the sophisticated use of McCarthyite techniques – blacklisting, guilt by association and selective filtering of facts.
A central theme of its recent critiques has been of NGO “lawfare,” achieving “political” goals through the courts. There are at least three examples of pro-settler Israeli NGOs engaged in “lawfare,” as defined by NGO Monitor: the Legal Forum for the Land of Israel, the Israel Law Center and Regavim, but you will not find even an acknowledgment of their existence among the hundreds of documents on its Web site. We have another option. Steinberg’s and Dermer’s cynicism has created an opportunity to dismantle the power structure that forces Israelis to continue defending Palestinian human rights, 42 years after the “temporary” occupation of the West Bank and Gaza began.
The dismantling of a democratic power structure and dissolution of civil liberties in Israel appears to be Steinberg’s priority. Sfard knows it too.
“The process is no less important than the result,” he said. “I am addicted. It’s not a question of whether it’s depressing or not, but whether I can live without it.”