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15 Aug, 2014 17:25

Top Israeli rights group blacklisted from national service program

Top Israeli rights group blacklisted from national service program

Israel has banned young people from serving in one of its most prominent human rights groups as an alternative to military service because of its campaigns against the war in Gaza and Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

B’Tselem is an Israeli non-governmental organization (NGO), which was founded in 1989; one of its aims is to document human right’s abuses in the occupied territories.

Sar-Shalom Djerbi, the director of the Sherut Leumi, the national civilian service administration, which is responsible for the non-military options available to Israelis who don’t won’t to serve in the IDF said that B’Tselem had gone too far in its recent campaigning.

B’Tselem has “crossed the line in wartime [by] campaigning and inciting against the state of Israel and the Israeli Defense Force, which is the most moral of armies,” he told Channel 2 TV.

Djerbi set out his position in a letter to Hagai el-Ad, the executive director of B’Tselem.

“This is especially relevant now, when the State of Israel is dealing with the threat of thousands of rockets and missiles on millions of its citizens and is in the middle of a comprehensive campaign to remove the threat on its citizens,” he wrote.

He added that the activities of B’Tselem encourage “extreme anti-Semitic expressions against the State of Israel, as well as violent acts of anti-Semitism around the world.”

But Hagai el-Ad said the blacklisting was the latest in a campaign by the Israeli state of intimidation and threats against the rights group over the past three weeks, because of its vocal anti Gaza campaign.

Israelis gather during a protest calling on the government and the army to end Palestinian rocket attacks from Gaza once and for all, in the Mediterranean city of Tel Aviv on August 14, 2014. (AFP Photo / Gali Tibbon)

B’Tselem called the letter a “political pamphlet” and that Djerbi was using his government position to attack a human rights organization.

“In a democracy, the authority to decide what is right and beneficial for society is vested in the citizens, not government functionaries,” the organization stated.

The organization had tried to get the names of Palestinian children killed in Operation Protective Edge aired on state TV, but was denied. B’Tselem’s appeal to the high court of justice was then rejected on Tuesday.

There have been death threats and violent attacks on B’Tselem employees, as well as an organized internet campaign against the group.

“The level of intimidation and the broadness of attacks on the organization over the past three weeks is unprecedented in the 25-year history of B’Tselem,” said Ad.

There has also been a surge in racism against Arabs in Israel over the past month and right wing Jews and ultra-nationalists have attacked peace rallies in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

“Until this day Arabs in Jerusalem were not afraid of gang violence against them on the streets of this city. This has never happened before, and still remains the situation in Jerusalem,” he said.

B’Tselem has called on Uri Orbach, the minister in charge of the national civic Service, who is also a member of the ultranationalist Jewish Home party to overturn the decision, but Orbach appeared to rule that out.

"Israel is in the midst of a difficult military and diplomatic campaign against terrorists. An organization that works to prove allegations that Israel is committing war crimes should be so good as to do so with its own resources and not with civilian national service volunteers and state funds," he said, in a statement published by Reuters.

Israeli citizens have to carry out three years conscription when they turn 18, and the vast majority chooses to serve in the IDF. However, the government has been increasing the number of alternatives available to Orthodox Jews and Arab Israelis and pacifists.

Despite the political rhetoric B’Tselem has just one position currently available for a volunteer who doesn’t want to serve in the IDF. The group has vowed it will continue its work.