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Revealed: Israeli Justice Ministry directly involved in international ‘lawfare’ activities against BDS movement

ActivismIsrael/Palestine
on 26 Comments

For several years, Israeli government ministries have been debating who is authorized to deal with countering the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement abroad. While it has long been suspected that this effort was being led by the Foreign Ministry and the Ministry for Strategic Affairs, a recent Freedom of Information (FOI) request reveals that the Israeli Justice Ministry has been directly involved in hiring international law firms to combat European BDS activists and NGOs.

In September 2016, Attorney Eitay Mack filed a FOI request on behalf of several Israeli human rights activists to the Foreign Ministry and the Ministry for Strategic Affairs in an attempt to discover their links with possible funding of foreign bodies to combat BDS. To their surprise, it was revealed that the Justice Ministry is directly involved.

Mack and his clients are now appealing to have the identity of the foreign organizations or firms revealed. The question was before the court yesterday and in an email to supporters before the hearing Mack explained:

“In response to our FOI request, the Justice Ministry admitted it is secretly paying international law firms in order to combat European BDS activists and NGOs, and sent partial, censored documents. It refused to provide additional documents so as to shield the identity of the law firms and the type of services rendered, for which they are being paid millions of Shekels of tax-payers money. The reason given was that exposure’ would damage Israel’s foreign relations and the work of the Ministry’.

It appears, however, that the refusal to expose the identity of and services rendered by the law firms is aimed at avoiding embarrassment to Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked. While Minister Shaked is promoting legislation aimed at to compelling Israeli human rights NGOs to expose their foreign donors, it now seems the Ministry itself is financing foreign bodies working against European citizens and NGOs in order to influence European public opinion which is increasingly supportive of BDS.”

Although the Justice Ministry is fighting to avoid revealing who exactly it is paying, the ministry has already provided an overview of its role. In response to a follow-up FOI request filed by Mack, the Justice Ministry explained (PDF, Hebrew):

5. On the 12th December 2016 a response was sent to the representative of the plaintiffs, from the Ministry of Strategic Affairs and Hasbara [sic]. In this letter it was stated, inter alia, that in the National Security Cabinet decision of October 2015, the Ministry of Strategic Affairs was bestowed overall responsibility to lead the battle against the phenomena of delegitimization and boycotts against Israel, and within this to represent the position of the government against extra-governmental organizations in Israel and abroad in regards to the battle, and to act in coordination with them for the furtherance of the goals of the battle. Concerning the request for information by the plaintiffs, it was responded there, that the Ministry of Strategic Affairs did not actively contact organizations abroad.

6. On the 29th of May 2017, a response from the Foreign Ministry was also sent to the plaintiffs, wherein it was informed that it was not possible to locate the relevant bodies which deal with communication with foreign bodies for the purpose mentioned in the plaintiff request, or [which deal with] documentation concerning financing given to foreign bodies for this purpose by the Foreign Ministry. Furthermore, the Foreign Ministry has referred the plaintiffs to the Justice Ministry […] [my emphasis].

7. On the 16th of October 2017, the Justice Ministry provided a response. Inter alia, it was written that “in the Justice Ministry there exists information concerning communications of the Justice Ministry – the Department for Special Positions (International) with law firms abroad, in order to deal with the phenomena of BDS with legal tools. The documents in possession of the Ministry and which are relevant to the request, include: protocols and decisions of the Ministerial Survey Committee, protocols and decision by the Ministerial Exemption Committee as well as protocol for contact with lawyers abroad”. These documents were added to the Ministry decision, but it was added that “in accordance with paragraph 11 of the law, which enables passing of information yet omission of details, details have been omitted from the attached documents which are considered to be information wherein there is concern that if revealed, may harm the foreign relations of the state, … information regarding internal discussions, opinions and recommendations which were given towards the decision making, … as well as information which if revealed may damage the proper workings of the public authority or its ability to carry out its duties, …”. [emphasis in original].

It would appear that the various ministries involved have been passing on the hot potato, and that they have passed it on to a ministry which was not even suspected of complicity in this international anti-BDS campaign.

Israel’s efforts to fight BDS abroad

The original FOI request coincided with revelations concerning Israel’s clandestine activities to counter BDS abroad. As Electronic Intifada‘s Ali Abunimah noted, Israel was using ‘black ops’ type activities as if it was a military challenge. “We want most of the ministry’s work to be classified,” said the director general of the BDS task-force, Sima Vaknin-Gil. The task-force is under the Ministry of Stategic Affairs and Hasbara, a new ministry which seems to have BDS as its major focus. “There are many sensitivities, and I can’t even explain in an open forum why there are such sensitivities, a major part of what we do stays under the radar”, Vaknin-Gil said, and added that the ministry aims to “build a community of warriors.”

Just over a year ago, an Al Jazeera undercover documentary series called The Lobby revealed what these activities look like. The expose featured an Israeli operative, Shai Masot, operating straight from the Israeli Embassy in London, plotting to “take down” a British Minister (deputy Foreign Minister Alan Duncan, who expressed critique of Israeli policy).

Now, the plot thickens – even the Israeli Justice Ministry is involved in such activity.

Demanding transparency of government critics

As Mack mentions, it was Justice Minister Shaked herself who has pushed for the passing of the “Transparency bill” nearly two years ago, which forced organizations who receive more than half their funding from institutions abroad (including from European governments), to disclose it prominently in official reports. The law does not specifically refer to leftwing organizations, but applies to about 25 NGOs. Rightwing NGOs, such as those supporting Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, tend to rely on private donations, which the law does not cover.

Mack stressed the issue of transparency further in yesterday’s court hearing (text taken from official court minutes, Hebrew):

“We are in a special situation. The respondents have not replied in their response to constitutional procedures in Israel regarding human rights organizations. I believe that the respondents should have dealt with the quotes we have brought of the Justice Minister who opined in a sweeping manner, that when a state finances activity in another state, there is importance to heightened transparency. If the sacred value is transparency – then the value of transparency is universal. There is a difficulty here to which I have not received response from the respondents. Perhaps the answer lies in the secret documents. Why is it that we cannot apply the claims of the Justice Minister concerning transparency?”

The State representative, attorney Brown responded:

“We are really not part with the theoretical and hardened arguments of my fellow colleague nor with the concerns due to which he believes that the public interest is heightened. We think that balance leads to the conclusion, that there is no place to reveal more than that which has already been revealed.”

The Israeli Justice Ministry is thus now in major focus – and the minister who ironically has been adamant about “transparency” appears very wary of transparency in this particular case.

We have yet to see what more may be revealed in this plot. But one thing is clear – the Israeli Ministry of Justice is major player in the international anti-BDS and “anti-delegitimization” campaign.

Whether more details may be revealed at this time, will be decided by the court in its verdict, which is pending.

Thanks to Eitai Mack, Ronit Lentin

About Jonathan Ofir

Israeli musician, conductor and blogger / writer based in Denmark.

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26 Responses

  1. JLewisDickerson
    JLewisDickerson
    April 24, 2018, 12:13 pm

    RE: “There are many sensitivities, and I can’t even explain in an open forum why there are such sensitivities, a major part of what we do stays under the radar”, Vaknin-Gil said, and added that the ministry aims to “build a community of warriors.”

    SEE: ◙ “Israeli Foreign Ministry director slams government’s clandestine anti-BDS arm” | By Noa Landau | Haaretz.com | Feb 26, 2018 | 6:05 PM
    • The clash at the Knesset Transparency Committee highlighted infighting between the foreign and strategic affairs ministries

    [EXCERT] The director general of the Foreign Ministry, Yuval Rotem, escalated its spat with the Strategic Affairs Ministry on Monday, accusing it of operating in the dark.

    Rotem charged that the staff of the Strategic Affairs Ministry, which is headed at the cabinet level by Likud Knesset member Gilad Erdan, insist on joining overseas delegations and then hide what they’re doing. The spat began with the Strategic Affairs Ministry complaining to the Knesset’s Transparency Committee that in fact the Foreign Ministry was uncooperative.

    “The people at the Strategic Affairs Ministry join Foreign Ministry delegations, then when they get there, they disappear. They don’t report on their actions, they hide the content of their actions and it’s impossible to know what they did and where they went,” Rotem told the Transparency Committee.

    Incensed at the allegations, the Strategic Affairs Ministry called the allegations strange: “We know nothing about ministry people joining Foreign Ministry delegations and certainly about them disappearing. We thank the director general of the Foreign Ministry for his concern and can report that the ministry people are present and working zealously against the boycott and legitimization movements [BDS], according to the mandate given them by government.” . . .

    SOURCE – https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-foreign-ministry-chief-slams-government-s-clandestine-anti-bds-arm-1.5849993

    P.S. PHOTO: Strategic Affairs Minister Erdan, left, at the Knesset with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

  2. Maghlawatan
    Maghlawatan
    April 24, 2018, 12:44 pm

    #hopeless

    BDS can’t be stopped by anything Israel does . It is the same as the social media problem. There are far more decent non Jews than there are rabid Zionists.

    https://youtu.be/fy5WZXZ4qXs

  3. Citizen
    Citizen
    April 24, 2018, 1:20 pm

    Gee, what a surprise.

  4. echinococcus
    echinococcus
    April 24, 2018, 3:04 pm

    Urgent Urgent
    Speaking of BDS, the boycott we need right now is one of Starbucks:
    The *&%s seem to have hired… the ADL for their Nazi-style “sensitivity training”:

    https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/starbucks-scandal-epic-fail-180423075741891.html

    • April 29, 2018, 3:02 pm

      Wow. F*ck Starbucks.

    • Sibiriak
      Sibiriak
      April 29, 2018, 3:24 pm

      Protests Force Starbucks to Ditch ADL From Leading Anti-Racism Training

      https://consortiumnews.com/2018/04/28/protests-force-starbucks-to-ditch-adl-from-anti-racism-training/

      • annie
        annie
        April 29, 2018, 3:38 pm

        sweet! looks like they gave the ADL a real black eye.

      • gamal
        gamal
        April 29, 2018, 5:48 pm

        Hey Annie, “Sweet!”,

        Hey Darling see the perfect performance see scripture written, Darling….Until the Philosophy…

      • annie
        annie
        April 29, 2018, 6:06 pm

        hey gamal sweetness, thank you..

        Until the philosophy which hold one race superior
        And another
        Inferior
        Is finally
        And permanently
        Discredited
        And abandoned –
        Everywhere is war –
        Me say war.

        That until there no longer
        First class and second class citizens of any nation
        Until the colour of a man’s skin
        Is of no more significance than the colour of his eyes –
        Me say war….

        we don’t need
        no more trouble..

  5. Maghlawatan
    Maghlawatan
    April 24, 2018, 3:08 pm

    Shaked is one of the reasons Hasbara is dead.

    She would make a great Bond villain. She is a joke of a justice minister .

    • RoHa
      RoHa
      April 24, 2018, 7:54 pm

      But she wouldn’t have a Persian cat.

      • Maghlawatan
        Maghlawatan
        April 25, 2018, 2:29 am

        Cats are too intelligent to be Zionist

  6. annie
    annie
    April 24, 2018, 3:26 pm

    hot news jonathan! thank you. i remember when some new ministry (or department within a ministry?) was formed to deal w/bds. the portfolio was supposed to be w/one ministry but it was so big (lots of money) another ministry was hankering for it. the details are muddy. but isn’t this latest development interesting.

    i wonder whose idea was it to initiate canary mission. and isn’t it interesting wikipedia has no profile on canary mission. nothing. how very strange. anyway, as soon as i read of Ayelet Shaked’s involvement, it just occurred to me canary mission would be right up her alley.. i wonder what other kinds of covert actions they’ve come up with. the anti bds legislation obviously.

  7. Kay24
    Kay24
    April 24, 2018, 4:02 pm

    For the Israelis to go to such lengths to fight the BDS movement, it shows they are afraid of it, and it has definitely affected Israel’s economy. They truly deserve it.

    • Maghlawatan
      Maghlawatan
      April 24, 2018, 7:52 pm

      Palestinian rights are an existential risk for Israel. BDS takes the struggle out of Israel/Palestine where Israel holds all the cards and uses international decency to leverage the case. Israel is really scared.
      80% of UK Jews said that Israeli actions in 2014 (Gaza war) were bad for them personally.
      UK civilians are sick of Zionism. It isn’t Judaism. not by a long shot. Judaism is good . Zionism is sick
      Shaked reminds me of Reinhard Heydrich.
      BDS plus the people of Gaza – it’s self reinforcing.

      This is getting really interesting. It’s beautiful.

  8. Maghlawatan
    Maghlawatan
    April 25, 2018, 3:08 am

    Ronit Lentin is such a wonderful person. It’s great to see her name on Mondo

  9. Mayhem
    Mayhem
    April 25, 2018, 7:18 am

    Somehow Israel is not entitled to protect itself from wilful delegitimization.

    • Misterioso
      Misterioso
      April 25, 2018, 11:01 am

      @Mayem

      Truly shocking, inexcusable!! The fascistic, racist, illegal/brutal occupier and serial violator of international humanitarian law entity known as “Israel” is experiencing “wilful delegitimization.”

    • Maghlawatan
      Maghlawatan
      April 25, 2018, 2:30 pm

      Israel soils itself every day, Mayhem, and then wonders why it isn’t asked to beauty pageants

  10. Ossinev
    Ossinev
    April 25, 2018, 7:48 am

    @Mag
    “UK civilians are sick of Zionism. It isn’t Judaism. not by a long shot. Judaism is good . Zionism is sick
    Shaked reminds me of Reinhard Heydrich”

    The tedious ongoing Jeremy Corbyn/”Anti – Semitism” in the Labour Party farce here in the UK just goes on and on and on and on and on and on:
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-43889678
    These Zios are definitely fouling their underwear at the thought of having a pro – Palestinian PM leading a government which will be openly critical of Zioland`s crimes.

    As you say I am fairly certain that the ordinary citizens in the Uk be they Labour supporters or Tory supporters or supporters of any other political party must be getting sick and tired of the absurd level of coverage that this is getting given the tiny proportion of the UK population professing to be Jews. Bear in mind that the lead organisation orchestrating this crap, the British Board of Deputies (sans sheriff ), are simply whining and whinging about words as interpreted by them as opposed to physical acts. Unless I have missed something I am not aware of any major alleged physical acts of anti – Semitism by anyone associated with the Labour Party currently or in the recent past.For one measured review of what is going on see;
    https://inews.co.uk/opinion/facebook-friendship-mark-zuckerberg/

    BTW you,I and a significant proportion of MW contributors are really in trouble with the BDBJ(sans sheriff) given the the IHRA definition of “Anti -Semitism” which they are trying to force JC and the Labour Party to adopt:
    https://www.holocaustremembrance.com/sites/default/files/press_release_document_antisemitism.pdf
    A few conflationary gems in this little masterpiece:
     Accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews
    worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations.
     Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence
    of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.
     Applying double standards by requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other
    democratic nation.
     Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.
     Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel.

  11. Ossinev
    Ossinev
    April 26, 2018, 1:10 pm

    @MHughes
    “We shall see if there is a setback to Labour in the forthcoming local elections, especially in London, where the Jewish presence is strong. If there isn’t I think that the outcry will die down”

    The Jewish population in the UK is estimated at around .4 to .5% of the overall population , figures which in themselves alone illustrate the disproportionate nature of the press coverage which the “anti – Semitism” in the far left Labour Party is getting. The Moslem population for example is estimated at around 5% and the media is not bombarding the public with allegations of Islamophobia within any party.

    It was estimated in 2013 that 60% of the .4-5% Jewish population lived in London and were most heavily concentrated in Golders Green = just under 8,000
    Given the numbers there may well be a direct but minor impact on council election voting in that area of NW London but not enough to significantly alter overall results ?
    Whether the “outcry” has a significant effect on the voting of non – Jewish is a separate issue. I personally think that the ordinary man in the street voter by the time of the elections will be thoroughly sick and tired of the constant whining and complaining by the so called “representatives ” of British Jews (unelected and sans sheriff) and the media campaign will backfire.
    I don`t think however that the “outcry” will die down afterwards. The Zio Lobby here in the UK are obviously under strict orders from Hasbara Central to undermine JC at all costs and when it comes to full frontal lying Hasbara there is no brake or reverse gear.

    Of course this should not be seen in anyway as a case of a foreign country (Zioland) interfering in British elections. Perish the thought !!

  12. Mayhem
    Mayhem
    June 3, 2018, 12:02 am

    Why should there be any qualms about a country taking whatever steps necessary to thwart those intent on delegitimising and destroying it?
    Given this damning report American BDS umbrella organization has financial ties to terror groups it is plainly obvious that Israel needs little justification to protect itself from murderous terrorists.

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