The Dutch Foreign Minister, Uri Rosenthal, who attempted to stifle The Electronic Intifada last year by pressuring one of its donors, and has directly threatened Dutch civil society for defying his pro-Israel policies, is now supposedly an advocate of “Internet freedom.”
The Conference on Internet Freedom (@ifreedom_2011) – sponsored by the Dutch government – tweeted “Min. Uri Rosenthal asks you to support cyber activists” and provided a link to a Facebook page announcing the Dec 8-9 conference.
“How can cyber dissidents be helped more effectively in both accessing the net and enjoying free speech online? What role can states and companies play?” a blurb for the conference on Facebook intriguingly asks.
Needless to say, no one from The Electronic Intifada has been invited since Rosenthal does not support our “free speech.”
Rosenthal publicly attacked The Electronic Intifada based on false claims from Israel
A year ago Rosenthal launched a public attack on The Electronic Intifada after NGO Monitor, an Israeli organization with ties to the government, military and extremist settler groups, published false and defamatory claims among other things that we routinely publish “anti-Semitic” materials.
Rosenthal’s intervention came because The Electronic Intifada received a grant from the Dutch civil society organization ICCO. Instead of contacting The Electronic Intifada to verify whether any of NGO Monitor’s accusations were true, Rosenthal acted as judge and jury and went on the attack publicly, telling The Jerusalem Post, “I will look into the matter personally. If it appears that the government-subsidized NGO ICCO does fund Electronic Intifada, it will have a serious problem with me.”
Using financial intimidation to silence criticism of Israel and to control civil society
Rosenthal subsequently threatened ICCO because he viewed its support for The Electronic Intifada as defying his opinions. As the foreign ministry said at the time:
“Rosenthal considers this to be directly contrary to Dutch government policy and has urged ICCO to remedy the situation. ICCO claims that its support for the website is paid from private donations, but the minister dismissed this argument as disingenuous.”
Rosenthal also warned ICCO “that continuing activities that are in conflict with the government’s position could affect funding.”
ICCO rejected Rosenthal’s pressure.
Given his prominence as a government minister, and his promise to intervene in the funding decisions of a civil society organization, Rosenthal’s actions must be rightly viewed as an attempt at government censorship and control of public discourse related to Israel’s human rights abuses, and interference in the media’s right – regardless of funding – to discuss them freely.
Many observers in The Netherlands viewed Rosenthal’s heavy-handed actions as a threat to democracy.
Putting Israel and trade before human rights
Under the current government, the Netherlands has embraced Israel ever more tightly, at the expense of any concern for human rights.
While Rosenthal is now posing as a champion of Internet freedom, he himself has stated that “you cannot always, constantly be concerned with human rights,” because sometimes trade and “security” are just more important.