Political storm as NGOs accused of ‘aiding enemy’



A right-wing campaign against Israeli human rights groups and growing criticism from the same quarters of President Reuven Rivlin have erupted into a nationwide row.

Much of the storm has revolved around Mr Rivlin's appearance last Sunday as a speaker at a conference organised by Ha'aretz newspaper in New York.

At the gathering, a representative of Breaking the Silence - a group of former IDF soldiers who record and publish claims about the army's actions in the West Bank and Gaza - was also on one of the panels.

In the year and a half since becoming president, Mr Rivlin, long an internal rival of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has attracted opprobrium from some on the right for spending much of his time trying to reduce tension with Israel's Arab citizens and for criticising violence against Palestinians.

A post on the Facebook page of the Heritage Channel, a TV company with close ties to the prime minister, encapsulated the criticism. It said: "The office of the president has lost its shame - President Rivlin's presence at a conference together with Breaking the Silence is a crossing of a red line… he cannot spit in the faces of IDF soldiers." The channel later apologised for the tone of the post, not for the content.

But the attacks on Mr Rivlin were only part of the storm. Last Monday, right-wing pressure group Im Tirzu launched an internet campaign attacking four Israeli employees of human rights and legal aid groups - one of them Breaking the Silence - for "aiding and abetting" Israel's enemies.

Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon announced on Monday that the IDF would not be allowed to engage with Breaking the Silence. On Tuesday, Education Minister Naftali Bennett announced the group would be banned from lecturing in schools.

On Monday, opposition leader Isaac Herzog challenged Mr Netanyahu and denounced the attacks on the president. The prime minister responded by demanding Mr Herzog condemn Breaking the Silence for "spreading libel about IDF soldiers". On Saturday, 3,000 people marched through Tel Aviv to protest against the vilification of Mr Rivlin.

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