“Dismayed” B’Tselem scolds Palestinian rights groups for “conduct,” speaking out over Olmert gala

Israeli human rights group B’Tselem has finally responded publicly to appeals by Palestinian counterparts that it withdraw from Israel lobby J Street’s upcoming gala featuring Israeli ex-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert as a speaker.

Several Palestinian human rights groups had called on B’Tselem to withdraw because during Olmert’s term of office, Israel committed massive war crimes in the Gaza Strip and other places, for which he has not been held to account.

In a response posted on B’Tselem’s website today, the group’s Executive Director Jessica Montell admonished the Palestinian human rights groups for speaking out.

“We at B’Tselem were dismayed to see your public statement regarding our participation in the J Street conference – issued without discussing with us first,” Montell wrote.

She condemned in particular “the conduct of PCHR,” the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, whose director Raji Sourani had written directly to Montell.

Montell did not explain why Palestinians should consult her before speaking out on issues of existential importance to them, when B’Tselem had not bothered to consult them before organizing a panel on human rights at J Street, especially since the panel does not feature a single Palestinian speaker. The overwhelming majority of victims of human rights abuses and war crimes committed under Olmert’s authority are Palestinians or Lebanese.

So B’Tselem seems not only content to control the discourse about human rights and silence any victims’ voices at J Street, but also wants Palestinian groups to remain silent now.

Last week B’Tselem had announced that it was “proud to be a sponsor” of the J Street gala in which Olmert is featured, but under criticism, Montell wrote to a private individual that the announcement had been a “mistake.”

Until today’s statement, B’Tselem had not made any effort to respond to criticism or correct the record via its own website or its Twitter feed.

Montell acknowledged that, “B’Tselem regrets the first notice sent out by our US office, which both mistakenly stated that we are sponsors of the J Street conference, and noted (as if approvingly) the participation of Ehud Olmert in the event.”

She also acknowledged the inappropriateness of Olmert as a speaker given the allegations against him:

As you know, B’Tselem has raised grave suspicions regarding serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law under the Olmert government, specifically regarding Operation Cast Lead in Gaza at the end of 2008 and the beginning of 2009. These suspicions and responsibility for any violations have yet to be adequately investigated and addressed. If asked, we would certainly not have advised featuring Olmert as a speaker.

However, Montell insisted that it was right for B’Tselem to take part in the J Street event in order “to reach out to a broader audience, expose them to our human rights message and encourage greater accountability and greater respect for human rights.”

Full text of B’Tselem statement

Letter to al-Dameer, PCHR and PNGO

We at B’Tselem were dismayed to see your public statement regarding our participation in the J Street conference - issued without discussing with us first. If, as you wrote in your statement, you “highly value the relationship between Palestinian, Israeli and international human rights organisations” and “wish to see [it] strengthened and developed” I would expect this sort of criticism to be conveyed to us directly, rather than via public statements. I was saddened particularly by the conduct of PCHR, which publicized Raji Sourani’s letter to me without even noting that I had responded.

As I noted in my letter to Raji, B’Tselem regrets the first notice sent out by our US office, which both mistakenly stated that we are sponsors of the J Street conference, and noted (as if approvingly) the participation of Ehud Olmert in the event. However, I understand that your criticism also relates to the very fact of B’Tselem’s participation in the conference, given that Olmert is a featured guest there. I appreciate your concerns. As you know, B’Tselem has raised grave suspicions regarding serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law under the Olmert government, specifically regarding Operation Cast Lead in Gaza at the end of 2008 and the beginning of 2009. These suspicions and responsibility for any violations have yet to be adequately investigated and addressed. If asked, we would certainly not have advised featuring Olmert as a speaker.

However, to my mind, this only illustrates the importance of B’Tselem’s work in the United States, including at events like J Street. B’Tselem established an office in the US precisely to reach out to a broader audience, expose them to our human rights message and encourage greater accountability and greater respect for human rights. This is also the goal of our participation at J Street and we are glad that we convinced the organizers to let us organize a panel devoted to human rights in the Occupied Territories and the way the international community addresses Israel’s human rights record.

There is much work to be done. We face bigger challenges than ever before – not only regarding the reality on the ground, but also regarding the public climate in Israel and in the US. In the face of these challenges, we must continue and even expand our efforts to foster a reality where human rights violations will not be tolerated and all those who violate human rights will be held accountable. There are no easy answers how best to do this, but it certainly requires a variety of strategies and all our best efforts.

Sincerely,
Jessica Montell

Executive Director
B’Tselem

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Comments

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Even when we have 'good intentions' we get caught up in our ego's and are offended when someone at sometimes mentions an error in judglment. This is the case here. Have the humility and grace to admit a mistake and learn from it Jess Montell...We are not here to 'save' the Palestinians, that is ego run amok. We are here to expose,to let them be the masters of their own fate and break the bonds that bind them. It is not about us, it is about them and how we can help them, not for us to be saviors. Where are the Palestinian voices that should be there to speak? Not a one? Then it is a farce....

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I'm all in favour of Palestinians or anyone else speaking for themselves but let's face it, there are times when those who should speak for themselves are SHUT UP by the powers that be. Sometimes those who want to speak up have no vessel to carry their message. Sometimes the voice of those who speak is not loud enough. For years I was told that the Palestinians were bad!! I was told that Zionism and Zionists where good. That was the message I was getting in the '50's and '60's until I meet people who told me the other side of the story. Anti- Zionist , pro-Palestinian Jews who spoke out for Palestinians and Palestine spoke for the Palestinians when no one would or could. So it is not being patronizing ; it is those who have the platform to speak out. It is our DUTY to speak out. Just as there were those who spoke out the Vietnam War , South Africa , the American South's Jim Crow Laws, Canada's treatment of the Native Peoples and hundreds of other injustices towards the who had no voice in those times there must be those who speak out for the Palestinians. And I don't see a damn thing wrong with that.

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Thank you for writing and posting this article. Thanks for your work and your voice, Best

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First, I agree with what Mr. Michael Hall has written. Too big egos or caught in the act? Where exactly does B'Tselem stand? This is to put it mildly a very dubious if not outright arrogant attitude that in my mind speaks volumes about the course B'Tselem has decided on already some years ago. The way Montell blithely states that she had to be informed sounds like a colonial master to its colony. This is definitely not someone adhering to human rights or national and international human rights law. Actions speak louder than words. For the world to see the hypocrisy of B'Tselem and then opening a big mouth when obviously there is a reaction to this abysmal gala sponsoring is: being caught in the act. Now shut up you Palestinians! Did Olmert write her letter too?

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What is the objective of the BDS movement: rights for Palestinians or Israel’s destruction? There cannot be both – certainly not on the terms BDS dictates for Israel: Palestinian rights and Israel’s existence are mutually exclusive. Let’s be clear about this, it’s none other than Norman Finkelstein postulating, a kingpin of the BDS movement, the man to whom Israel is Nazi-like, beyond the Pale, a human rights hell on earth.
“They (BDS supporters) think they are being very clever; they call it their three-tier. We want the end of the occupation, the right of return, and …equal rights for Arabs in Israel. And they think they are very clever because they know the result of implementing all three is what…? You know and I know what the result is. There’s no Israel”!

So there we are; it’s not possible to campaign for BDS while at the same time acknowledging Israel’s right to exist. Not if you’re open about it, not if you allow your audience to have a brain. It’s dishonest to hide the clash of objectives, Finkelstein told interviewer Frank Barat. And were he an Israeli he wouldn’t trust a ‘cult’ which hid that clash from the public. Credit where credit is due: Norman Finkelstein, for motives only he would know, chose to come out of the closet and hang his soul army on the line. When you support BDS and its three-tier you are banking on Israel’s destruction.

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March, 25. The United National Anti-War Coalition (UNAC) met in conference in Stamford, CT this weekend and today voted near unanimously to condemn J Street for inviting Ehud Olmert to address its “Gala”. Olmert was Israeli Prime Minister during the attack on Lebanon in 2006. He ordered the assault on Gaza in 2008 in which over 300 children died.. Over 400 attended the UNAC conference though a lesser amount voted on the resolution. UNAC is a national coalition of peace groups and civil liberties groups that has organized many of the major peace rallies in the last few years. The resolution is as follows: Condemn J Street

For years the lobby “ J Street” has advertised itself as a “progressive” Jewish alternative to the infamous AIPAC. It was never true. For instance in October 2009 J-Street proudly published a letter to it of congratulations from Tzipi Livni who had been Israeli Foreign Minister during the Gaza Massacre (2008-2009).

Now it has outdone itself. At its upcoming conference, its “Gala” will be keynoted by Ehud Olmert, the former Israeli Prime Minister. It was Olmert who launched war against Lebanon in which over 1,000 Lebanese died and Israel fired over a million cluster munitions, most after the ceasefire had been worked out. He was also responsible for the Gaza Massacre in which over 1,400 Palestinians were killed.

Incidentally, he left office under a cloud of corruption and is under indictment for “obtaining by fraud under aggravating circumstances, fraud, breach of trust, falsifying corporate documents, and tax evasion”

Btselem USA (whose parent group does great work in documenting Palestinian oppression) is a cosponsor of the conference. The great folk singer Theodore Bikel is inexplicably master of ceremonies of the Gala

UNAC condemns J Street for inviting this war criminal Olmert to its conference and calls on Btselem USA, Theodore Bikel and anyone else participating or supporting this event to cancel and to apologize.

Ali Abunimah

Ali Abunimah's picture

Co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of The Battle for Justice in Palestine, now out from Haymarket Books.

Also wrote One Country: A Bold-Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse. Opinions are mine alone.