Dutch “research” group covers for Israeli crimes, violations

Doron Livnat is co-owner of Riwal, a Dutch company involved in the illegal construction of the separation Wall in occupied Palestinian territory. In 2004 the Wall was confirmed by the International Court of Justice as being in violation of international law. Livnat is also a member of the board of the Centre for Information and Documentation on Israel (CIDI), a pro-Zionist political lobby group based in Amsterdam.

CIDI does not seem to have a problem with the judgment of the International Court of Justice, nor Livnat’s company’s involvement in this illegal activity. And yet CIDI still has the audacity to condemn United Civilians for Peace (UCP), a broad-based Dutch human rights platform. In a recent “research” report containing wild allegations, CIDI shamelessly attempted to smear the organization for daring to call for dialogue and to present a perspective critical of Israel, calling for an end to its subsidy.

As Haaretz itself misleadingly reported on 26 October 2007:

The Dutch government is funding an anti-Israeli organization whose speakers advocate Iran’s right to possess nuclear weapons, a Hague-based pro-Zionist lobby group stated Thursday in a report that it sent to the Netherlands foreign ministry. The scathing report that the Center for Information and Documentation Israel (CIDI) prepared of United Civilians for Peace (UCP) was written by Yonatan Bar-On, a Dutch-born historian from the Haifa area. After reading the report, parliament member Hans van Baalen from the second largest opposition party, the VVD, reportedly wrote Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen a letter demanding the government cease funding for the organization. According to Bar-On’s report, the government gives UCP 500,000 euros annually.

UCP is one-sided and biased,” Bar-On told Haaretz. “By saying that the Netherlands should engage in dialogue ‘with all parties,’ it is calling for speaking to Hamas, which runs contrary to the Hague’s foreign policy. And that would have been fine, if it weren’t for the fact that the Dutch government is paying for this group’s actions.” Bar-On said UCP had confirmed to him that it receives half a million euros per annum from the government. [1]

What the Haaretz article did not mention is that UCP had already reacted to CIDI’S report the day before:

In a recent report by the Center for Information and Documentation on Israel (CIDI), United Civilians for Peace (UCP) were accused of being a one-sided political group against Israel, polarizing the public debate. UCP wishes to make clear that the accusations contained in this report are false, based on wrong and misleading information. … UCP recognizes the basic rights of both people and calls upon a solution that is consistent with international law. Only a solution on the basis of international law can lead to peace, respect for human rights and sustainable development. [2]

At least Haaretz got something right, referring to CIDI as a “pro-Zionist lobby group,” something that is never referred to by the Dutch newspapers.

In light of its overtly political role, it is remarkable that CIDI can get away with calling itself an “information and documentation center” and that this Zionist lobby group can be considered by the commercial media in the Netherlands as an independent source of information.

Particularly notable by this Zionist lobby group is that a call for dialogue (with the democratically-elected party Hamas) is considered to be criminal. CIDI’s condemnation of UCP’s call for a dialogue amongst all parties, while simultaneously condoning Israel’s ongoing and illegal theft and annexation of Palestinian land exposes even more hypocrisy. In the Netherlands, as elsewhere in Europe, a call for dialogue amongst all parties in conflict would ordinarily be considered to be a normal phenomenon. In the case of Israel, however, it’s somehow different. Indeed, CIDI considers such a call to be “inflammatory.”

CIDI calls not for dialogue, but for confrontation, routinely arguing for Israel’s right to “self-defense,” including the arming of its own civilian population. CIDI condemns terrorist acts committed by Palestinian organizations, just like UCP does. However, CIDI refuses to recognize, let alone condemn acts of terrorism committed by Israel’s security forces, unlike UCP, which does condemn these acts. And rightly so. After all, UCP is not an anti-Zionist lobby group, but an independent human rights organization.

Let me be clear: CIDI receives funding to promote “the Jewish nation,” which in this uncritical context includes turning a blind eye to Israel’s violations of international law. In doing so, CIDI ignores the rights of Palestinians with Israeli citizenship, who compromise one fifth of Israel’s population. The fact that Palestinian citizens in Israel are treated as second-class citizens receives no mention by CIDI, which considers this not worthy of their attention. Nor does CIDI call upon Israel to recognize the right of approximately 400,000 Palestinian citizens in Israel who, despite their Israeli citizenship, are unable to return to or claim restitution or compensation for having been forcibly removed from their villages, ethnically-cleansed by Zionist militias in 1948.

CIDI applies double standards when it concerns Israeli citizens who are not Jewish. In this way, CIDI creates the impression that it values Jewish life more than that of a Palestinian. And never has CIDI sought to distance itself from, let alone condemn, Israel’s terrorist actions against Palestinian civilians.

For too long, CIDI has been treated by the Dutch press as an independent, even “scientific” organization. We are dealing with a lobby group here. CIDI staff are paid lobbyists, who challenge any criticism of Israel that manages to make its way into the Dutch media.

The Dutch press should also be clear about the role played by Dutch parliamentarians, including Hans van Baalen, who chairs the Parliamentary Committee on Foreign Affairs and is mentioned in the Haaretz article above. Van Baalen should be asked whether he is ever contacted by Israeli embassy staff to discuss the policy of the Netherlands government concerning the Middle East, a role previously fulfilled by his former party-colleague, Geert Wilders. In the past, Wilders regularly attended meetings at the Israeli embassy in The Hague whenever the Middle East was on the parliamentary agenda. It was suggested in an article in the Dutch magazine Elsevier that Wilders would be briefed by Israeli diplomats on what he must say in parliament. [3]

If Van Baalen feels entitled to call upon the Dutch government to discontinue funding to UCP, then it is quite legitimate to question the direct links that Van Baalen may have with the Israeli government.

Wilders, who now heads a far-right-wing political party with nine members in the Dutch parliament (The Party of Geert Wilders) may be able to get away with this kind of link. The party of Van Baalen, the “Party of Freedom and Democracy” would likely have a more difficult time with this.

It behooves the media, not to mention journalistic integrity, to describe organizations like CIDI for what they truly are, pro-Zionist lobby groups acting with the blessing of the Israeli government and — in the case of CIDI — condoning violations of international law. On a similar note, it is crucial for journalists to question Dutch parliamentarians for their direct links to the Government of Israel.

Stan van Houcke is a long-time journalist, author and documentary-maker from the Netherlands.

[1] Cnaan Liphshiz, “Dutch gov’t funding anti-Israeli organization,” Haaretz, 26 October 2007.
[2] UCP Press Release (in Dutch): “UCP calls for justice and peace,” 25 October 2007. (http://www.unitedcivilians.nl/nl/doc.phtml?p=news&lang=nl&archive=0&article= 298&type_id)
[3] “AIVD schaduwde Wilders bij bezoeken ambassade,” Elsevier, 9 May 2007. (http://www.elsevier.nl/nieuws/laatste_24_uur/artikel/asp/artnr/151480/ index.html)