Justice Minister Ohana shows his mettle
Justice Minister Ohana shows his mettle

Rabin once called it “The Association for Hamas Civil Rights” and yet our government seemed to have seen fit to send representatives to a conference they are holding next week.

SEEMED, past tense. Because while the office of the Justice Ministry saw nothing wrong in sending a senior staff member to speak at the meeting, the Minister himself, Amir Ohana, has just this moment, the evening of March 5th, ordered him not to attend.

The Background

The NGO’s real name is “The Association for Civil Rights in Israel” and they are known by the acronym, ACRI. Every year ACRI gives one or more awards to individuals or organizations they feel deserve acknowledgement of their human rights activities. This year, the award ceremony will take place on March 12 in Tel Aviv.

They are giving recognition to the NGO, Salametcom (In English, Be Healthy) and to Attorney Itay Mack. Salametcom helps Palestinians receiving medical treatment in Israeli hospitals and Itay Mack works to prevent the sale of Israeli military equipment to other countries and helps represent Palestinians who have been harmed by Israeli security forces.

I showed the conference programme to Bassem Eid, who, in 1992, received ACRI recognition for his work. His first response was: “Interesting”. When pushed to expand on that, he said: “This is all about Israel. Why does ACRI turn a blind eye to the violations of the PA against the Palestinian people?”

And Eid is an expert on that matter. In fact, it is likely that ACRI would not give him an award today. After all, he lost credibility in B’tselem, the left wing NGO supposedly protecting human rights in the “occupied territories” when he wanted them to deal with human rights offences committed on the part of the PA as well as Israel. They parted ways and now Eid speaks up for the dignity of the Palestinian people, and that includes respecting the human rights of Jews as well.

While ACRI does take on human rights cases involving Jews, it seems they draw the line at the religious. Shai Glick, CEO of Btsalmo, a human rights organization in the spirit of Judaism, told me that he appealed to ACRI a number of times to join him in fighting discrimination against Jews. For example, he asked if they would join in efforts to make the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron accessible to the handicapped, to deal with attempts to prevent Haredi families from buying apartments in Harish (a community near Hadera), and to stop the discrimination against Jews on the Temple Mount. He never received a response from them.

ACRI has recognized individuals who are clearly human rights warriors in the fullest sense of the term, such as Yitzhak Kadman, CEO and founder of Shlom Hayeled, an important NGO that has been protecting the rights of children in Israel for decades. On the other hand, they have also given awards to organizations that act against the interests of Israeli citizens and that have been thoroughly investigated by NGO Monitor. These include, Breaking the SilenceMachsom WatchPhysicians for Human Rights-IsraelHaMoked, and more.

The Response of the Justice Ministry Spokesperson

Attorney Awaka Zena, head of the government unit for the fight against racism, was scheduled to speak in a panel session at the ACRI event. I wrote to the Justice Ministry spokespersons’ office to ask them if they felt it was appropriate for a senior staff member to participate in a conference organized by an organization that works against the better interests of Israeli citizens.  In an email response this afternoon, I was informed that this is a legitimate non-political event that showcases the work of Zena’s unit.

The Response of Justice Minister Amir Ohana

In contrast, the justice minister minced no words. He was clear about ACRI being a political organization and one that Rabin suggested was protecting the rights of Hamas more than of Israel. Ohana said that professional staff are in no way permitted to take part in political events; that is the domain of the political branch alone and:

There is no place for you to participate in this conference and therefore I order you to desist from attending.

Can’t get much clearer than that.

Ohana’s letter was in response to a request from the NGO “Choosing Life” to look into the matter. Choosing Life is an organization of bereaved parents connected with Im Tirzu. One hundred and twenty members of the group signed the letter.

Choosing Life sent an identical letter to the Minister of Labor, Social Affairs and Social Services, Ofir Akunis, because a member of his professional staff is also scheduled to speak at the event. So far, the minister has not yet responded to Choosing Life and the ministry spokespersons’ office has not yet answered my email asking for their comment on this matter.

Winds of Change

Glick sent me a link to a 2017 article in Haaretz that described how Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit tore into then Education Minister Naftali Bennett for cancelling an ACRI event. Mandelblit told Bennett he should not have done so without consulting with him first because ACRI is a longstanding civil society organization.

Hmmm. Seems like another instance of conflict between the professional and political branches of our leadership.

We, the people, are watching to see how you hammer it out up there and counting on you to make sure to maintain our vigorous and healthy democracy.

Ohana ACRI letter
Ohana ACRI letterINN:SO