'Lawfare' is a legitimate way to demand accountability

The irony in the opinion piece, “‘Lawfare’ is the latest weapon used against Israel” (February 4), by Zev Krengel of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies, is that in seeking to demonise groups and individual victims of Israeli war crimes of engaging in “lawfare”, he does concede that there are legal consequences to illegal actions.

Another troubling aspect of his confusion is an attempt to smear Mail & Guardian journalists Jazmin Acuña and Ilham Rawoot as being biased against Israel, because they “evidently endorse” an “anti-Israel line” and take a “belittling” approach to the board’s stance.

More important, though, is his defence of Israel’s immoral and illegal siege of Gaza. Krengel declares un­ashamedly that the blockade is “legal” and, displaying the same level of insensitivity as he did during the Gaza massacres when his organisation supported Israel’s war on a defenceless population, he says the attack on the Mavi Marmara by Israeli troops was in “self-defence”.

Yet in making the case against “lawfare”, Krengel fails to understand or accept how far removed Israel is from applying the universally accepted norms that define human rights.

The “lawfare” study by an Israeli-funded group, NGO Monitor, was punted as “ground-breaking research” on the role of global NGOs involved in expanding the concept of universal jurisdiction to indict Israeli leaders, politicians and soldiers for war crimes. This international role played by civil societies all over the world is viewed as a hostile development that could undermine the Zionist regime’s legitimacy. 

At the launch of the monograph, an intemperate Danny Ayalon, Israel’s deputy foreign minister, said human rights groups had been “manipulated” by “terror organisations” to cover up atrocities and to strip the right of self-defence from democracies. Such rhetoric reflects how desperately Israel tries to conceal its tyranny against Palestinians.

Legitimate activism
If despotism requires decorum, the “lawfare” monograph qualifies as an excellent effort to slander legitimate civil society activism and to deprive it of credibility. But by no means is this the only objective. The main goal is an attempt to starve international NGOs of their main lifeline—funding.

An example cited at the press conference was that of the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR). The allegations are that the PCHR has filed many jurisdiction cases against several Israeli officials over the July 2002 targeted killing of Hamas leader Salah Shahadah.

“PCHR has tried to have Israeli leaders arrested in the UK, in Spain, in New Zealand, and in the US has tried to impose civil liability, including punitive damages, against Avi Dichter”, according to Anne Herzberg of the NGO Monitor.

She further explained the thrust of her concern: “PCHR was able to file these cases thanks to a €300 000 grant from the European Union that was channelled to PCHR from the organisation Oxfam Novib.”

An inherent threat made at the event and emphasised by Ayalon is what he called “a day of reckoning” for NGOs and countries funding such activities.
Besides singling out of Omar Barghouti as the leader and founder of the boycott, sanctions and disinvestment (BDS) movement, his other “crime” was that he was “against a two-state solution”.

There was also a malicious attack on Ali Abunimah for “preaching the [BDS] and one-state, eliminate-the-state-of-Israel solution” and his links with “a very powerful organisation called the Electronic Intifada”.

Krengel should know that our campaign, with many strategic partners, will remain a key component of our efforts for freedom and justice in Palestine.

Iqbal Jassat is the chairperson of the Media Review Network, Pretoria

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