Israel Takes On Gaza Conflict Critics Israel's reaction last week to a U.N. report that criticized its actions in the Gaza Strip was swift and harsh. Since the Gaza war, and a series of unfavorable reports by human rights organizations about the Israeli military's actions there, the Israeli government and its allies have been calling into question the impartiality of international and local organizations.
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Israel Takes On Gaza Conflict Critics

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Israel Takes On Gaza Conflict Critics

Israel Takes On Gaza Conflict Critics

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Madeleine Brand.


And I'm Robert Siegel.

Israel has been confronted by a series of reports, critical of its actions in the Gaza conflict this past December and January. Most recently, Israel reacted swiftly and harshly to last week's report from the U.N. An Israeli spokesman called it shoddy in an interview with us, and the Foreign Ministry called it a declaration of war.

NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro reports that the Israeli government and its allies are questioning the impartiality of groups that wrote the critical reports.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO: The Israeli government and human rights organizations agree on one thing: the Gaza war changed things.

Mr. YIGAL PALMOR (Spokesperson, Foreign Ministry, Israel): This type of phenomenon is very preoccupying. It's as if there was no other thing to report on, on this planet. It's just Israel and Israel again from this NGO or from that U.N. agency. Every week we face a new report.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yigal Palmor is Israel's Foreign Ministry spokesperson.

Mr. PALMOR: The fact is that the term NGO has come to stand for irreproachable, infallible, objective, neutral people who speak the divine truth. And this is something that, of course, is totally laughable. But that's how it is perceived.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And so Palmor says it's important that Israel counter what it views in many cases as unfair criticism.

Mr. PALMOR: Look, it's very damaging in terms of opinion. It's very damaging in terms of P.R., of image, and so on and so on. It does create a very negative buzz, and in that respect it is very dangerous.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The official Israeli anger extends to local groups, as well. Jessica Montell is the executive director of B'Tselem, an Israeli human rights group.

Ms. JESSICA MONTELL (Executive Director, B'Tselem): Israel is very proud and repeatedly emphasizes the fact that it is a liberal democracy in an area where you don't have too many of those. On the other hand, the criticism that we voice can be quite harsh. And Israel very much sees itself in a propaganda war, vis-a-vis the international community, and sees B'Tselem as hurting Israel's propaganda efforts around the world.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And so she says that human rights groups working in the region have to be extremely careful about the veracity of what they publish.

Ms. MONTELL: In no other place is there such scrutiny of human rights organizations; such an effort to discredit and in any way delegitimize the substance of our criticism.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Montell says that there has been, rightfully so, a robust investigation by the human rights community into what happened in Gaza.

Ms. MONTELL: Actually, the conduct of Israeli forces in Gaza, I think, in some ways was a watershed, something different than we had seen in the past. And maybe as a result of that, the level of criticism also changed, and the Israeli government response - the sort of knee-jerk, shoot the messenger response -also was racketed up a notch.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: This month, New York-based Human Rights Watch suspended one of their key military analysts who worked on the Gaza investigation, after bloggers discovered he collects Nazi memorabilia. Israeli officials were quick to voice their concern. In his defense, Marc Garlasco wrote in an online editorial that he is, quote, "a military geek who believes the Nazi were the worst war criminals of all time."

Fred Abrams is also a researcher for Human Rights Watch who has worked in Israel and the Palestinians territories since 2004. He says what happened to Garlasco is a worrying trend.

Mr. FRED ABRAMS (Researcher, Human Rights Watch): That is something that's new. I'd say they've gone very personal, and the goal, in my opinion, is absolutely clear. It is to intimidate people into silence.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Not so, says Gerald Steinberg who heads an organization called NGO Monitor here. He says groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have a great deal of power, so they also need to be made accountable.

Mr. GERALD STEINBERG (President, NGO Monitor): So to say that Israel is not applying international law properly, or that it doesn't investigate itself sufficiently, the people who are making those kind of judgments are totally unqualified to do that, and are really using it in a very cynical way to promote what is a political goal.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: He says the scrutiny will continue.

Mr. STEINBERG: They do investigations. Somebody has to also investigate them.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Jerusalem.

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