From Warfare to Lawfare

February 12, 2010 by Allon Lee
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The political campaign by NGOs to demonise and delegitimise Israel – exemplified by the Goldstone Report relying upon their evidence – may be even more of a threat to the Jewish state than actual war according to NGO Monitor President Gerald Steinberg.

Gerald Steinberg

Steinberg, whose Jerusalem-based organisation monitors the activities and funding of NGOs, outlined the contours of this new threat to Israel called “lawfare” in Melbourne last night while delivering the 2010 Hans Bachrach Oration.

“It is more dangerous than actual warfare because we are still learning to deal with this new type of threat which accuses Israel of war crimes and being an apartheid state,” Steinberg warned.

The Goldstone Report into Israel’s conduct during the January 2009 Gaza conflict with Hamas relied upon 500 “claims, submissions and testimonies” made by various NGOs about the Gaza conflict, Steinberg claimed.

He said the quality of the Goldstone Report’s eyewitness evidence must be measured against the fact it was gathered from Palestinians in Gaza under the watchful eye of Hamas and minimised the real war crimes committed by Hamas.

The campaign against Israel is run by NGOs like Oxfam, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and World Vision that in many instances undertake valid humanitarian work elsewhere in the world but this doesn’t alleviate the problem that ”even a little poison can kill you,” he said.

Organisations like Human Rights Watch are not just constituted with human rights professionals, Steinberg claimed, but often unelected and unaccountable ideologues twisting international law and morality to suit their goals by pushing propaganda that masquerades as truth and fact.

“You cannot claim to be a credible human rights organisation if you are claiming universality of rights but end up only demonising one country,” Steinberg said.

The failure of NGOs to probe the real human rights breaches of Hamas and Hezbollah and countries like Syria and Saudi Arabia shows that the one-sided and political bias in this campaign to delegitimise Israel is not about the universality of human rights, he suggested, but rather denying the right of Israel to be a Jewish state.

“Human Rights Watch has not written one report on Hamas’ capture of Gilad Shalit nor rocket attacks on the Israeli town of Sderot but solicited funds in Saudi Arabia to continue its work against Israel,” Steinberg said.

The cycle of delegitimisation begins with NGOs dedicating a large percentage of very substantial budgets to focus upon and release reports on Israel and its alleged war crimes, Steinberg explained.

“The media then acts as an automatic amplifier of these NGOs and their reports attacking Israel as an apartheid state and being guilty of war crimes.

“The UN gets in on the act and then foreign ministers put out statements largely based upon what the media reported. And there is unquestioning acceptance of the reports’ claims and testimony,” Steinberg said.

Steinberg was particularly critical of the role played by the New Israel Fund (NIF) in dispensing millions of dollars every year to Israeli NGOs that do not represent the views of the Israeli mainstream but rather adopt the classic narrative of Palestinians as victims and Israelis as perpetrators.

“The NIF claims it supports pluralism and democracy in Israel but let’s see it support the Palestinian equivalent of Peace Now, but they cannot because no such group exists in Palestinian society,” Steinberg noted.

He traced the rise of the campaign to isolate and demonise Israel back to the 2001 United Nations Durban I conference that was convened to tackle racism in the 21st century. The conference was hijacked by NGOs and only singled out Israel to the exclusion of all other countries, Steinberg said.

“The obscenity is that legal mechanisms like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that were developed in the wake of the failure to prevent the Holocaust are now being used against Jews and unfortunately Israel has only belatedly recognised this new type of lawfare,” Steinberg said.

He said the most effective method of stopping the delegitimisation of Israel is to name and shame these NGOs by exposing them as “unaccountable, unelected organisations operating according to their own rules” and publicise the internal contradictions and mistakes in their reports.

Some successes are being achieved, Steinberg said, noting the New York Times opinion piece by Robert Bernstein, the founder of Human Rights Watch, which attacked the organisation. Likewise some major sponsors have withdrawn funds after realising their support for genuine human rights purposes was being allocated to one-sided political campaigns against Israel, Steinberg said.

Allon Lee is a policy analyst with the Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council which co-sponsors the Hans Bachrach Oration.

For further information on NGO Monitor please visit

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