The new McCarthyism sweeping Israel

To disagree with the state is to 'delegitimise' the state: that is the increasingly strident response of the country's political and military establishment to those who dare to criticise its conduct

It's hard, sitting on the other side of the office table from which Naomi Chazan is picking at her modest hummus and salad snack lunch, to believe that the amiable 63-year-old university professor with a self-deprecating sense of humour has suddenly become the most discussed, not to say demonised, woman in Israel.

Ms Chazan is president of a long-established agency with large numbers of Jewish donors in the US and Britain, which is committed to fighting for "social justice and equality for all Israelis". The New Israel Fund has over the last 30 years disbursed some $200m to around 800 charitable, social and human rights groups, and justly claims much of the credit for building modern Israel's still vibrant civil society.

But in the last fortnight the former Knesset member who by her own account loves her native Israel "without reservation" has been sacked as a columnist on the Jerusalem Post after 14 years, had rowdy demonstrators outside her house brandishing a chilling caricature of her with a horn obtruding from her forehead, and most far-fetched of all, been accused, in a newspaper article circulated to foreign journalists by the Government Press Office, of "serving the agenda of Iran and Hamas".

The onslaught has prompted Nicholas Saphir, the Jewish businessman who runs the New Israel Fund in the UK, to warn that the "Jewish values of social justice and our duty to tikkun olam (repairing the world) have come under serious threat in the state of Israel".

The row has come to symbolise a new mood of establishment intolerance in Israel towards criticisms by Israeli human rights groups of such episodes as last year's military operation in Gaza. This harsh new mood has been fuelled by ministers, right-wing politicians and military figures who have closed ranks behind accusations that the UN-commissioned report into the war, led by Richard Goldstone, which accused both sides of war crimes, is being used to "delegitimise Israel".

The NIF's travails began when a right-wing group called Im Tirtzu provoked accusations of latterday McCarthyism by charging that "without the NIF there could be no Goldstone report and Israel would not be facing international accusations of war crimes". It is a charge which Abe Foxman, director of the US-based Anti- Defamation League and no great friend of the Israeli left, told New York Jewish Week was "absurd".

Ms Chazan does not herself talk about McCarthyism –though several of her agency's defenders, including Isaac Herzog, a Labour party minister in the governing coalition, have done so. But she told The Independent: "Every country has its own version of things but the general climate is very problematic. It's ugly." She said the mood reminded her of the hate-laced run-up to Yitzhak Rabin's assassination in November 1995. "But it's different, because that was an avowedly political disagreement. This is the beginning of a rather systematic campaign against really the very essentials of Israeli democracy."

Ms Chazan cites the arrests of Israelis at demonstrations against the encroachment of Jewish settlers in the Arab East Jerusalem district of Sheikh Jarrah. And the interrogation and fingerprinting last month of her friend Anat Hoffman, of the reform group Religious Action Centre, who for 20 years has challenged ultra-Orthodox control of the Western Wall by seeking to entrench the right of women to pray in shawls there.

"There is an assault on the basics of law and order but most important I see this as part of a very pernicious attempt to stifle alternative voices, and most seriously to equate criticism with betrayal. And there is a very strong political underpinning to that. I would go further ... behind this [is] a group of people who don't want a political settlement. They don't want peace, so they're trying to delegitimise the human rights movement."

She says that Im Tirtzu "expropriated" the term Zionism while "probably acting in the most anti-Zionist way I can imagine. They forgot to read the [1948] Declaration of Independence which talks of equality of all citizens of race, colour, creed, gender, nationality, etc. They also forgot the chapters in the Declaration where Israel extends its hand to its neighbours, they forgot basic democratic principles. They are hellbent to denounce anyone who dissents from the government line. Or dissents from their definition of what being a loyal Israeli is. That is ridiculous. Democracies are all about disagreements."

She herself is a Zionist? "Right now they debased the term. Am I someone who believes that Israel has the right to exist as a democratic state with a Jewish majority? My answer is a resounding yes. Just as the Palestinians have the right to a Palestinian state with a Palestinian majority alongside Israel. And I think in that regard I express the view of the vast majority of Israelis."

The NIF, excoriated by a series of right-wing columnists, has seen off- – for now – the prospect of a parliamentary commission of inquiry into its activities. And Ms Chazan welcomes the alternative prospect that a Knesset subcommittee will launch a probe of foreign funding of NGOs. But she adds: "We hope, are insisting, that they investigate the funding of all NGOs, including the NGOs of the right."

Indeed Im Tirtzu, whose chairman was a prominent opponent of Ariel Sharon's withdrawal of settlers from Gaza and has received funds from – among others – John Hagee Ministries, run by an ultra-conservative evangelical US pastor who has appeared to argue that the Holocaust was a good thing because it created the state of Israel.

The organisation's accusations were based on a curious reading of the footnotes of the Goldstone report claiming that 92 per cent of those citing "non-official" Israeli sources came from human rights organisations supported by the New Israel Fund.

In fact NIF-supported groups account for only 14 per cent of citations in Goldstone, and many of these do not deal with Gaza at all, and even include references that are not critical of Israeli policy. Moreover while the main human rights organisations, from the Association of Civil Rights in Israel to the army veterans' group Breaking the Silence, are supported by the NIF, as well as by European governments, they absorb less than 10 per cent of its funds, which also go to new Jewish immigrants, disabled, and women's groups, among many others.

Human rights groups funded by the NIF were early advocates of an independent Israeli investigation. But the widely respected B'Tselem, for example, while tireless in highlighting Palestinian civilian deaths, has questioned the Goldstone conclusion that the Israeli military set out to target civilians. Ms Chazan strongly endorses the groups' calls for the independent investigation which the Israeli government has so far resisted. "Israel has investigated every war since 1973. This is the first war where we have not set up an investigation. That's hard to understand."

Had the Netanyahu government helped to create the space for the right-wing onslaught on the NIF? "Look, it hasn't denounced this vilification; and therefore draw your own conclusions."

Arts & Entertainment
The Honesty Policy is a group of anonymous Muslims who believe that the community needs a space to express itself without shame or judgement
music
News
Waitrose will be bringing in more manned tills
newsOverheard in Waitrose: documenting the chatter in 'Britain's poshest supermarket'
Arts & Entertainment
tvIt might all be getting a bit much, but this is still the some of the finest TV ever made, says Grace Dent
Life & Style
life
VIDEO
News
Who makes you happy?
happy listSend your nominations now for the Independent on Sunday Happy List
Arts & Entertainment
Ian Anderson, the leader of British rock band Jethro Tull, (right) and British guitar player Martin Barre (left) perform on stage
musicJethro Tull frontman leads ‘prog rock’ revival
Arts & Entertainment
Back in the suit: There are only so many variations you can spin on the lives or adventures of Peter Parker
filmReview: Almost every sequence and set-up in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 seems familiar from some earlier superhero film
Life & Style
Father and son: Michael Williams with son Edmund
lifeAs his son’s bar mitzvah approaches, CofE-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys he’s experienced in learning about his family’s other faith
Sport
Gareth Bale dribbled from inside his own half and finished calmly late in the final to hand Real a 2-1 win at the Mestalla in Valencia
sport
Arts & Entertainment
Who laughs lass: Jenny Collier on stage
comedy... writes Jenny Collier, the comedian whose recent show was cancelled because there were 'too many women' on the bill
News
House proud: keeping up with the Joneses now extends to children's playhouses
newsLuxury playhouses now on the market for as much as £800
News
news
Life & Style
Stir it up: the writer gets a lichen masterclass from executive chef Vivek Singh of the Cinnamon restaurants
food + drinkLichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines
Extras
indybest
Arts & Entertainment
Ken Loach (left) and Mike Leigh who will be going head to head for one of cinema's most coveted prizes at this year's Cannes Film Festival
filmKen Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
News
The academic, Annamaria Testa, has set out on her website a list of 300 English words that she says Italians ought to stop using
newsAcademic speaks out against 'Italianglo' - the use of English words in Italian language
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Apprentice IT Technician

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is a company that specializ...

1st Line Technical Service Desk Analyst IT Apprentice

£153.75 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is an innovative outsourcin...

1st Line Helpdesk Engineer Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company has been providing on site ...

Sales Associate Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: We've been supplying best of breed peopl...

Day In a Page

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit