Photo Credit: archive
B'Tselem exective director Hagai El-Ad

Last Friday, the Israeli non-governmental organization B’Tselem appeared before a special session of the UN Security Council.

B’Tselem’s executive director, Hagai El-Ad, demanded “decisive international action” in order to end Israel’s presence in the West Bank.


In an e-mail sent to B’Tselem mailing lists before the appearance, the group bragged, “This is one of the most important diplomatic opportunities in B’Tselem’s history.”

Actually, this was not a particularly important diplomatic opportunity, nor was it something to brag about.

The session, called an “Arria-Formula” meeting, was not an official Security Council event. According to UN materials, Arria meetings are “very informal…held in a conference room, and not in the Security Council Consultation Room.”

Most important, they “do not constitute an activity of the council and are convened at the initiative of a member or members of the council. Participation in such meetings is for individual members to decide upon, and there have been instances when some members chose not to attend.”

Convening this “Arria-Formula” meeting, under the banner of “Illegal Israeli Settlements: Obstacles to Peace and the Two-State Solution,” were Egypt, Malaysia, Venezuela, and Angola.

(B’Tselem did not indicate whether it or El-Ad’s previous places of employment – the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and the Jerusalem Open House – would thrive in any of those countries.)

Clearly, universal human rights were not the impetus for the meeting. In fact, at the last Arria meeting involving an Israeli NGO (Yesh Din, a group that focuses on law enforcement and legal procedures in the West Bank), the anti-Israel vitriol inspired the Venezuelan ambassador Rafael Ramirez to make anti-Semitic remarks.

B’Tselem, however, was very clear about what it hoped would be accomplished. In the words of its e-mail, echoed in statements made by El-Ad during the meeting, the group was seeking “resolute international action meant to effect real change and bring an end to the occupation. The Security Council has the power and the responsibility to act.”

There is nothing B’Tselem would like more than a binding Security Council resolution that imposes unfavorable terms on Israel, satisfying B’Tselem’s political vision. This would be far easier than real human rights work, such as convincing Israelis that its political agenda is both feasible and in Israel’s best interests.

The truth is, B’Tselem’s greatest diplomatic achievement has been to convince European governments to bankroll its political campaigns.

Despite the lack of Israeli receptivity to its message, the European Union, Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, and Switzerland continue to fund B’Tselem. For instance, in 2015 alone the European Union provided B’Tselem with nearly $1.5 million. The Human Rights and International Law Secretariat (a joint funding mechanism of Sweden, Switzerland, Denmark and the Netherlands) provided approximately another $1 million.

At the end of the day, B’Tselem can self-identify as an Israeli organization – after all, it has offices in Jerusalem. But as the UN Security Council speech shows, with the exception of international audiences such as donors in Europe and repressive regimes at the UN, nobody is listening to B’Tselem’s narrative.



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Naftali Balanson is chief of staff at the NGO Monitor.