The image above appears in today’s Haaretz. Signed by 15 organizations operating in Israel to promote human rights, it reads: “The transparent spin of the transparency bill” and addresses legislation proposed by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked.
Speaking on our own behalf as Gisha, we wish to report that the proposed bill will not slow us down or steer us off the course we have chosen. What is alarming about this law is that it undermines the very pillars of democracy. The objective of the bill, and others like it, tabled in recent years, is to undermine and delegitimize civil society organizations whose positions are incongruent with the positions of the powers that be.
Despite the fact that the law purportedly advances transparency, it is neither necessary nor novel. Gisha’s work has been transparent from the very beginning: our funding sources are available for the public to see and our activities vis-à-vis Israeli authorities, international organizations and the public at large are out in the open as well. Our objective is clear, our analysis is publicized, as are our names. We have nothing to hide and no secret agenda. Gisha is an Israeli organization, utilizing accepted tools of democracy – meetings with legislators, appeals to the legal system, correspondence with the authorities – to promote the rights of people who are, for the most part, not Israeli citizens and yet are impacted by the choices of Israeli decision-makers and institutions.
Implying that Gisha and other civil society organizations serve the interests of foreign countries is, at best, misleading and often a pernicious tactic. Even when we criticize decisions made by the government and actions taken by its executive arms, we do so within the limits of legitimate, democratic discourse, as an essential, integral part of it. Checks and balances are vital elements of any democratic regime. Just this week, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a call to tourists to visit to Israel and be impressed by its diversity. The same ministry often touts Israeli human rights organizations as proof of Israel’s thriving democracy and diversity of opinions. Diversity is certainly an antidote to a monolithic system, to totalitarianism.
Gisha works to promote universal values of human rights. In this context, and in the name of the well-being and prosperity we believe are enhanced by these rights, we have partners who work for disempowered populations all over the world. Our activities are supported by countries and international organizations, as well as by private individuals in Israel and abroad to whom we are grateful. This heterogeneity ensures we do not “serve” any one specific interest, or get sidetracked from the effort to promote freedom of movement as a fundamental right. Those who choose to support us, do so for who we are, and we will not change because of who they are.
Gisha, like our colleagues organizations, is a part of Israeli society. Our strength is its strength; weakening us weakens it.