Isabel Kershner reported from Jerusalem for Tuesday's sympathetically paranoid profile of left-wing Israeli "rights groups" suffering under "an atmosphere of harassment" by "conservative" Israelis - "Israeli Rights Groups View Themselves as Under Siege."
While Kershner only found one "leftist" group, preferring instead to use the more flattering label "rights groups," she did uncover "right-wing organizations," "conservatives and leaders of Israel's right-leaning government," a "conservative watchdog group," and an "ultra-Zionist nongovernmental organization." (At the Times, that's not a term of endearment.)
Leaders of some of Israel's most prominent human rights organizations say they are working in an increasingly hostile environment and coming under attack for actions that their critics say endanger the country.
The pressure on these groups has tightened as the country's leaders have battled to defend Israel against accusations of war crimes, the rights advocates say, raising questions about the limits of free speech and dissent in Israel's much vaunted democracy.
Governments and the watchdog organizations that monitor them have rarely seen eye to eye. But rights advocates say that to many conservatives and leaders of Israel's right-leaning government, the allegations of war crimes against the Israeli military that followed the Gaza war in the winter of 2008-9 have turned human rights criticism into an existential threat that is chipping away at the country's legitimacy. And officials have been blunt in their counterattacks.
Some international rights groups that have been critical of Israel, like Human Rights Watch, have said Israel's government was "waging a propaganda war" to discredit them. A senior Netanyahu aide affirmed in an interview last year that Israel was "going to dedicate time and manpower to combating these groups."
Israeli rights advocates say that such comments by officials have fostered an atmosphere of harassment. While they do not accuse the government of orchestrating a campaign against them, they point to a number of seemingly unconnected dots that they say add up to a growing climate of repression.
Kershner quoted Human Rights Watch's defense, without noting why some supporters of Israel observe them with deep suspicion: Their (now former) anti-Israel investigator Marc Garlasco was an enthusiastic collector of Nazi paraphernalia.
Kershner maintained her "alarmist" tone:
Perhaps the most alarming sign to rights advocates was a preliminary vote in Parliament supporting a bill that called for groups that received support from foreign governments to register with Israel's political parties' registrar, which could change their tax status and hamper their ability to raise money abroad. It swept a preliminary vote in the 120-seat Parliament in February with 58 in favor and 11 against.
Kershner concluded by painting the president of a left-wing Israeli group in glowing terms:
For [New Israel Fund president, Naomi] Chazan, a vibrant and diverse civil society is the bedrock of Israeli democracy, and what being Israeli is all about. "We love this country and we want it to be decent," she said. "We believe the more decent Israel is, the better chance it has of surviving."
Kershner has a habit of alarming labeling; in January 2009 she referred to fears of a potential "far-right-wing-government" in Israel.
Leo Rennert at The American Thinker zeroed in on the Times' double standard on Israel:
Many self-proclaimed human rights groups with anti-Israel and pro-Palestinian agendas operate freely in Israel and, thanks to lavish funding by European governments, and manage to have a sizeable impact in shaping its political discourse and policies. They frequently challenge government decisions in "lawfare" campaigns and petitions to Israel's Supreme Court. In brief, they're major players.
So it comes as a bit of a shock to read in the April 6 edition of the New York Times an article by Jerusalem correspondent Isabel Kershner that depicts these groups as seriously threatened by critics who have turned the tables and now demand from them greater transparency and accountability.