Friday, January 28th | 26 Shevat 5782

October 20, 2016 9:39 pm

B’Tselem: When Being ‘Open-Minded’ Becomes Mindless

avatar by Martin Sherman

Hagai El-Ad (left) at the UN Security Council. Photo: YouTube/Screenshot.

Hagai El-Ad (left) at the UN Security Council. Photo: YouTube/Screenshot.

Those whom the gods wish to destroy, they first make mad.

— Ancient proverb, often misattributed to Euripides.

Q: What is the difference between the State of Israel and a lunatic asylum?
A: In a lunatic asylum, at least the management is supposed to be sane. 

— A popular joke.

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I admit that until this week I was living in a state of blissful ignorance. But that bubble has burst — and I am left struggling to wrap my mind around the staggering, outrageous, infuriating truth.

B’Tselem as…national service!!!????

Never in my most feverish dreams (or rather, nightmares) did I imagine that volunteering to work for an organization of the ilk of B’Tselem would – indeed, could — ever be considered an appropriate alternative to military service in the IDF. But, this week, my naiveté was abruptly shattered.

In the hullabaloo following the scandalous (the less charitable might say “seditious”) appearance last Friday of B’Tselem director Hagai El-Ad before the UN Security Council, where he harangued IDF efforts to ensure security in Judea-Samaria and urged the international community to take punitive action against his own country, I learned the distressing truth: Volunteering to serve in the ranks of B’Tselem is considered “Israeli national service,” a government-sanctioned alternative to military service.

I was stunned. After all, B’Tselem is a radical political organization, funded predominantly by foreign governments habitually inimical to Israeli policy, devoted largely to generally denigrating Israel at home and abroad, intent on excoriating the activities of Israel’s military in particular. How on earth is it then possible to confer the status of national service on the activities of such a partisan political entity?

The mind boggles at the self-obstructive insanity of the decision to accept this incomprehensible travesty.

B’Tselem: Political activism in guise of ‘human rights’

Don’t let B’Tselem’s self-righteous rhetoric fool you. It claims to be a “human-rights” organization. But in reality it is nothing of the kind.

It is indisputably and undeniably a blatantly biased political group, for which “human rights” are but a mere pretext for advancing its political agenda. This is an agenda that has nothing to do with protecting the “human rights” of Palestinian Arabs in Judea-Samaria and everything to do with trying to compel Israel to withdraw from those territories.

Indeed, this was explicitly conceded in a TV interview of B’Tselem spokesperson Sarit Michaeli conducted by Alan Mendoza, director of the Henry Jackson Society, a British think tank (September 6, 2016).

In probing to uncover the essential aim of B’Tselem’s activities, Mendoza asked: “…What’s your endpoint in this?”

Michaeli answered, starkly: “For us…the key issue is that the Israeli occupation needs to end.”

But of course, in the real world, there is no connection between ending the Israeli occupation and Palestinian human rights. Indeed, as we shall soon see, a compelling argument can be made for precisely the opposite –- i.e. the state of Palestinian human rights has been dramatically undermined by Israeli withdrawals and will be further eroded by further withdrawals.

Loath to admit that terror is terror

Seen in this light, it is not surprising that the leaders of B’Tselem are loath to define Hamas as a “terrorist group.” Indeed, the most B’Tselem director El-Ad was prepared to reluctantly concede in a radio interview (August 13, 2014) was that Hamas is an “armed Palestinian organization,” while insisting that is the “commonly used professional term.” Likewise, in the previously mentioned Mendoza interview, spokesperson Michaeli could not bring herself to say that Hamas was a terrorist organization — despite the laudable persistence of her host. The most she would grudgingly admit was that “the military wing” of the organization at times engages in terrorist activities.

Again, seen in the context of the clear political bias of its organizational goals, this is entirely unsurprising.

After all, one of the stratagems that B’Tselem employs to undermine the IDF’s capacity to function effectively in Judea-Samaria is to severely hamstring its operational capabilities by holding Israel to unattainable, immaculate standards of morality — while holding the Palestinian Arabs to none. This not only creates accumulating pressure on the IDF to restrict the measures that it employs in combating its unscrupulous enemies, but also exposes its soldiers to considerably greater risk, lest they run afoul of B’Tselem’s appalling double standards.

Thus, if B’Tselem were to actually concede that Hamas is a terror organization, a legitimate operational rationale may actually be given to some of the harsher coercive measures the IDF needs to employ and which B’Tselem wishes to stymie, so as to further its political goal of inducing Israeli withdrawal.

Casting context and integrity aside

El-Ad launched into his anti-Israel diatribe at the UN Security Council with evident gusto, liberally peppered with pathos. He urged the Council to consider, “What does it mean, in practical terms, to spend 49 years — a lifetime — under military rule?” while totally ignoring two things:

(a) The presence of Israel in Judea-Samaria, which until June 1967 was under Jordanian control, was not the consequence of avaricious Jewish territorial greed, but the consequence of desperate Jewish self-defense against a concerted Arab attempt to annihilate the Jewish state.

(b) As reflected in another UN address, that of Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Arabs do not consider the “occupation” to be 49-years-old (i.e. a consequence of the 1967 Arab defeat) but 68-years-old ( i.e. a consequence of the 1948 Arab defeat and the establishment of the Jewish state).

The latter was starkly illustrated at Abbas’s 2011 UN General Assembly address when he exclaimed theatrically: “After 63 years of suffering and ongoing Nakba (catastrophe): enough, enough, enough…” Note, “63 years” – in 2011. Interestingly, the next year, in his 2012 UN address, Abbas referred to “64 years [have] passed since al-Nakba.”

No one can accuse him of inconsistency — or B’Tselem of accurately representing the facts.

Casting context and intellectual integrity aside, El-Ad then recited a litany of hardships Palestinian Arabs suffer under Israeli occupation — somehow omitting mention of the fact that virtually all these hardships are the consequence of unending Arab endeavors to murder and maim Jews.

B’Tselem advocates annulling human rights?

But as I hinted earlier, there is a compelling case to be made for the claim that advocacy for Israeli withdrawal gravely undermines basic Palestinian rights and welfare.

This was made vividly clear in a seminal article, “What Occupation?,” published in Commentary magazine (July 1, 2002), written by Efraim Karsh, professor of Middle East and Mediterranean studies at Kings College London, and researcher at the BESA (Begin-Sadat) Center for Strategic Studies.

He made the dramatic assertion, “Under Israeli rule, the Palestinians also made vast progress in social welfare” — which he backs up with a battery of factual evidence.

He wrote, “Perhaps most significantly, mortality rates in the West Bank and Gaza fell by more than two-thirds between 1970-1990, while life expectancy rose from 48 years in 1967 to 72 in 2000 (compared with an average of 68 years for all the countries of the Middle East and North Africa).”

“Israeli medical programs reduced the infant-mortality rate of 60 per 1,000 live births in 1968 to 15 per 1,000 in 2000,” he continued. This was far below the then-prevailing rates in unoccupied Iraq (64), Egypt (40), Jordan (23), Syria (22). He added, “Under a systematic program of inoculation, childhood diseases like polio, whooping cough, tetanus, and measles were eradicated.”

‘Occupation’ enhanced welfare and basic rights

But that was not all.

Karsh underscored the Palestinian Arabs’ soaring standards of living: “No less remarkable were advances in…Palestinians’ standard of living. By 1986, 92.8 percent of the population in the West Bank and Gaza had electricity around the clock, as compared to 20.5 percent in 1967; 85 percent had running water in dwellings, as compared to 16 percent in 1967; 83.5 percent had electric or gas ranges for cooking, as compared to 4 percent in 1967.”

He concluded: “Finally, and perhaps most strikingly, during the two decades preceding the intifada of the late 1980’s, the number of schoolchildren in the territories grew by 102%, and the number of classes by 99%, though the population itself had grown by only 28%. Even more dramatic was…progress in higher education. At the time…Israeli occupation of Gaza and the West Bank [began], not a single university existed in these territories. By the early 1990’s, there were seven such institutions, boasting some 16,500 students. Illiteracy rates dropped to 14% of adults over age 15.” Again, this is far lower than rates prevailing even today in most of the unoccupied Arab world.

Clearly then, if the right to life, health, basic amenities and education are anything B’Tselem cares about, these were all greatly enhanced by the Israeli administration  (aka “occupation”) and, as we shall see, they have been greatly undermined by Israeli withdrawal — B’Tselem’s undisguised primary demand.

Lies, damn lies and B’Tselem lies

Numerous doubts have been raised as to the reliability/veracity of B’tselem’s allegations (perhaps the less charitable would say “blood libels”) against Israel. In virtually all cases, they are manifestly biased, detached from context and highly selective in the facts they present — and/or those they do not.

But nowhere is the blatant mendacity of B’Tselem’s anti-Israel recriminations — and Israel’s appalling incompetence/impotence in rebutting them — more apparent than in the sphere of water usage.

The B’Tselem site is replete with heart-rending accounts of Palestinian-Arab families being deprived of minimal water, with blame being inevitably laid at the doors of the “usual suspects,” the much maligned “settlers/settlements.”

These emotive portrayals typically neglect to mention several well-known, but inconvenient, facts:

(a) By the terms of the Oslo Accords, it is the PA, not Israel, who is responsible for supplying the domestic Palestinian-Arab consumer with water.

(b) Almost all cases of disruption of supply to the consumer are due to faulty infrastructure, theft or unpaid bills, not the cessation/reduction of supply by Israel.

(c) Not only does Israel provide Palestinian distributers with amounts far in excess of its Oslo commitments, but actually conveys across the 1967 Green Line quantities that exceed the entire consumption of the Jewish population living in Judea-Samaria. In other words, not only do the “settlements” not encroach on Palestinian Arabs’ water supplies, but Israel actually provides them with additional water from inside the pre-1967 lines.

But, hey, why let pesky facts ruin the dramatic effect of a perfectly good politically correct myth.

B’Tslem touts tyranny

Of course, B’Tselem must know that if its demands for Israeli withdrawal were implemented the most plausible outcome would not be an enhancement of Palestinian human rights, but a dramatic erosion of them.

Indeed, if their aims, as set out by spokesperson Michaeli (i.e. “the Israeli occupation needs to end”), were realized, there is little reason to believe that the result would be anything other than the establishment of (yet another) homophobic, misogynistic Muslim-majority tyranny, whose hallmarks would be the utter negation of all the humanistic values invoked for its creation: Gender discrimination, persecution of homosexuals, religious intolerance and oppression of political dissidents.

How would that advance the basic rights of Palestinian-Arab women/girls, Palestinian-Arab gays, of socio-cultural diversity or of religious tolerance?

Indeed, to gauge how counterproductive the consequences of Israeli withdrawal would be in terms of human rights, one need look no further than Gaza, from which Israel withdrew completely, eliminating every vestige of Jewish presence — including its dead — with the exception of several synagogues that the Palestinians, in a spontaneous display of religious tolerance, promptly pillaged and burned.

Indeed, since Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, living conditions have become so harsh, that, according to reports by Al Jazeera, many Gazans — now unencumbered by Israeli occupation — are paying considerable sums to smugglers to extricate themselves from post-occupation realities (see “Palestinians paying thousands in bribes to leave Gaza“).

So my advice to B’Tselem: Beware what you wish for. You just might get it.

Reinstating the ‘T’ word?

While I write these lines, reports are coming in of a complaint filed against B’Tselem by an attorney and activist for the left-leaning Zionist Union opposition party accusing it of treason — something which has been largely eschewed as taboo since the 1995 assassination of Yitzhak Rabin. Significantly, the complaint is based on Israel’s penal code (see, Chapter Seven: National Security, Foreign Relations And Official Secrets; Article Two: Treason).

It may be a little early for optimism, but perhaps this is a sign that not everyone in the country has become so open-minded that his brains have fallen out.

Martin Sherman ( is the founder and executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies. (

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