Within two days the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs responded, claiming that the Goldstone Report “ties the hands of democratic countries fighting terror worldwide; calls into question the legitimacy of national legal systems and investigations; [and] promotes criminal proceedings against forces confronting terrorism in foreign states and tries to expand the jurisdiction of the ICC beyond its Statute.”
Danny Ayalon, Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister at the time, asserted that, “today the trenches are in Geneva in the Council of Human Rights, or in New York in the General Assembly, or in the Security Council, or in the Hague, the ICJ.” To mark Human Rights Day in 2010, Ayalon denounced the “biased use of human rights” by liberal NGOs, and, in a joint press conference with representatives from NGO Monitor, he claimed that: “International Human Rights Day has been transformed into terror rights day.” Human rights were framed as promoters of “lawfare”—a legal tool used by non-state actors to threaten liberal states and achieve military objectives—and characterized as a security menace.
The threat that Ayalon was referring to has little to do with the radicalization of liberal Israeli human rights NGOs in recent years. These NGOs had been filing reports to the UN and using similar strategies since the late 1980s. They did not, for example, transform themselves into grassroots social movements nor have they lent their names to the growing international Boycott Divestment Sanctions campaign, which has adopted a non-violent human rights based approach.
Rather, the transformation of the human rights NGOs into a threat involves the increasing use of universal jurisdiction in the ICC, as well as in regional and domestic courts, alongside the fact that the information that human rights organizations produce is used as evidence of egregious violations in these courts. But it is also informed by the increasing erosion of the international legitimacy of Israel’s discriminatory policies, vis-à-vis non-Jews in the occupied Palestinian territories and in Israel. The threat, in other words, emerges from broader changes in the international arena and is systemic.
Put differently, from a legal point of view, the Israeli organizations never constituted a threat to the state. Their petitions were filed within the domestic court system, which is both embedded within the state apparatus and which has almost always supported state’s acts of dispossession and violence.
The threat is rather an outcome of long years of work, revealing how at times endurance and quantity can produce unexpected political effects. The press releases, reports, fact sheets, maps, pictures and videos produced by these (and Palestinian) NGOs have been circulating in the cyber sphere for many years now. Over the past decade a much broader international constituency has been receptive to this information. Gradually, the notion that Israel’s rights abusive policies are merely temporal and are being imposed as a reaction against Palestinian violence lost all credibility. Increasingly, the evidence of abuse succeeded to engender diplomatic embarrassment and to trigger global grassroots political campaigns.
Repressive forces in Israel are concerned about the fact that the evidence of systematic violations gathered by local human rights NGOs—with the support of international funding—is exceeding the boundaries of the domestic debate. They are threatened because the accusations of abuse are piling into an immense archive of state orchestrated violence, an archive that can no longer be marshaled within the state’s legal, political and symbolic space. To paraphrase Antonio Gramsci, repressive forces are threatened because the state no longer manages to absorb human rights.