Tony Greenstein | 31 March 2017 | Post Views:

What kind of state you might ask creates a fake offshoot of an internationally renowned charity in order to try and prevent that charity criticising it?  A police state would be the obvious answer.  Most western democracies are not to perturbed about human rights organisations that operate on their territory.  Israel however bans people from for example Human Rights Watch from even entering the country.  Its own, genuine, human rights organisations like B’tselem and Breaking the Silence are under constant attack and subject to constant vilification by the Israeli state.
People should bear in mind that the creation of a covertly state-controlled Amnesty International did not occur under Benjamin Netanyahu or his Likud predecessors.  It was an Israeli Labour Government that used the state to set up a bogus branch of Amnesty International.
Having had a look at Amnesty International – Israel’s homepage it would appear to no longer be a wing of the Israeli state, however I have to confess I have never heard mention of AI-Israel either.  I would hope that in the wake of these allegations, that Amnesty International investigates what happened in the 1970’s and whether or not the Augean stables have been cleansed of state control.
Tony Greenstein  


Amnesty International in Israel was Created & Controlled by the Foreign
Documents Reveal How Israel Made Amnesty’s Local Branch a Front for the Foreign
Ministry in the 70s
Israeli government funded the establishment and activity of the Amnesty
International branch in Israel in the 1960s and 70s. Official documents reveal
that the chairman of the organization was in constant contact with the Foreign
Ministry and received instructions from it.
Uri Blau
Mar 18, 2017 8:53 PM
At the
beginning of April 1970 Police Minister Shlomo Hillel stepped up to the Knesset
podium. He updated the legislators on contacts between the government of Israel
and Amnesty International concerning detainees imprisoned in Israel and
torture. He concluded: “We can no long trust the goodwill and fairness of the
Amnesty organization.”
What the
minister reported to the Knesset was that for a number of years, Israel had
tried to influence the Amnesty’s activity from within. Documents collected by
the Akevot Institute for Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Research and revealed
here for the first time show that some of the people who headed Amnesty Israel
from the end of the 1960s to the mid-1970s reported on their activity directly
and in real time to the Foreign Ministry, consulted with its officials and
requested instructions on how to proceed. Moreover, the Amnesty office was at
the time supported by steady funding transferred to it through the Ministry of
Foreign Affairs: hundreds of Israeli pounds for flights abroad, per diem
allowances, registration fees and dues payments to the organization’s
documents show that the most substantive connection was between the Foreign
Ministry and Prof. Yoram Dinstein, who headed the branch between 1974 and 1976.
Dinstein, an internationally renowned expert on the laws of war who later
served as president of Tel Aviv University, had previously been a Foreign
Ministry official and served as the Israeli consul in New York.
his time as chairman of Amnesty Israel, years after he left the ministry, he
regularly reported to his former colleagues on his activities and contacts with
the international organization.
International was founded in London in 1961 by British lawyer Peter Benenson,
who, incensed over the arrests of Portuguese students, started enlisting people
to petition their governments to release those who have since then been defined
as “prisoners of conscience.”
years later, the Israeli branch of Amnesty began operations. They were
volunteers working on behalf of prisoners worldwide. This activity, however,
which from the outset was fairly limited, was damaged in the wake of a report
Amnesty International published in 1969 about the situation of the Palestinians
imprisoned in Israel. This dispute is the background to Minister Hillel’s
report to the Knesset. “The Amnesty branch in Israel consists of one person
(more precisely, one woman), who is Ms. Bella Ravdin who lives in Haifa. We are
maintaining contact with her but it is not possible to trust her on every
issue,” wrote Nathan Bar-Yaacov, the director of the Foreign Ministry
department that dealt with international organizations and United Nations
bodies, to head of the ministry director general’s office Hannan Bar-On in
December 1971.
A 1975
article about Ravdin in Haaretz described her as a serial writer of letters to
the editor at various newspapers and an activist for various issues, from
legalization of prostitution to benefits for students. According to the
article, she invested the money she received as German reparations for her
mother’s death in a concentration camp into developing the Amnesty branch. The
report says that her criticism of the organization’s attitude towards Israel
ultimately led her to cease acting on its behalf.
to Foreign Ministry documents, Ravdin’s activity was subsidized by the state,
which paid her Amnesty International membership dues and funded her trip to the
organization’s international conference in 1969. At the time, Ravdin was
briefed to bring up the problem of the Jews in Arab countries at the conference
and on how to react if the subject of “the Arab detainees in the territories”
was raised. Bar-Yaacov wrote: “It is desirable from our perspective that the
connection between her and the organization continue in the future as well and
therefore it is desirable to make it possible for her to pay the membership
fee. Last year, too, we approved this sum for the same purpose.” He signed his
letter with a recommendation: “At this juncture it is perhaps desirable to
think about establishing a branch of Amnesty in Israel consisting of people who
are of somewhat higher status and have executive ability.”
was not the only one at the Foreign Ministry who thought so. In a 1971 letter
Mordecai Kidron, the foreign minister’s advisor on the UN, wrote to his
colleague Shmuel Dibon, the minister’s advisor in charge of public diplomacy:
“Thus far, as you know, we haven’t found the suitable instruments for building
a positive image abroad concerning human rights in Israel and in the occupied
territories, and on this particular issue it is not possible to make do with
government instruments. The establishment of a non-governmental body … which
would be actively connected to organizations and personages abroad would be
very useful to us.”
In 1971
and 1972, Dinstein tried to establish a human rights institute at Tel Aviv
University that would be funded by the Foreign Ministry. He discussed this idea
with ministry officials but it was rejected, in part because of the size of the
budget Dinstein requested – about 100,000 Israeli pounds (about $23,000 at the
time, which, corrected for inflation, is in the neighborhood of $120,000
today). In July of 1972 the Israeli branch of Amnesty was reorganized and four
lawyers were appointed to lead it in coordination with the organization’s
headquarters. The Foreign Ministry documents have little to say about this
period and there are hardly any reports in the various archives about what
happened in the organization during the subsequent year and a half.
changed at the beginning of 1974, when Dinstein himself was chosen to head the
local Amnesty branch. One of the documents shows that the meeting at which he
was selected for the position was also attended by the Foreign Ministry officer
who Dinstein would be in contact with during his time in office: the deputy
director of the international organizations division, Sinai Rome.
immediately shifted the organization’s activity into higher gear: For the first
time, Amnesty was officially registered as an association and adopted its
articles of association. On May 22, 1974, Dinstein updated Rome on his
activities – for the most part technical – since he had taken up the position.
He requested 2,500 Israeli pounds (just under $600 in 1974; about $3,135 today)
for routine expenses and attached an internal Amnesty document that detailed
his income from branches abroad. Less than a month later, Rome wrote to “Dear
Yoram” that his request had been granted and that 2,000 Israeli pounds (about
$476 then; $2,490 today) had been transferred to him.
At least
judging from the Foreign Ministry correspondence, Dinstein viewed his work at
Amnesty through the narrow prism of making the case for Israel’s position.
Thus, for example, he conveyed through the Foreign Ministry an article he wrote
in response to an article critical of Israel published by human rights lawyer
Felicia Langer in June of 1974. He began by noting that he was writing as
“chairman of the Israel national section of amnesty” and did not mention his
connection to the Foreign Ministry. Shortly thereafter Dinstein reported to
Rome that he had received a letter from an Arab women’s organization in the
United States requesting any information he had about Palestinian detainees and
prisoners. Including their letter, in which they also requested information
about the Israeli branch of Amnesty, Dinstein wrote that he was leaning toward
not replying but wished to consult with Rome on the matter. Rome replied: “It
seems to us that there is scope for answering the letter and writing that
‘there are no Palestinian prisoners of conscience in the prisons but rather
terrorists and others who have been tried for security offenses.’” He asked
that all the correspondence be forwarded to Israeli consulates in New York and
Los Angeles.
February 1975 Dinstein notified Rome about a letter he received from the French
Amnesty branch concerning Police Minister Hillel’s remarks on the dispute with
Amnesty. Dinstein advised the Foreign Ministry to “send the questioner public
diplomacy material in French.” Rome replied: “As you have suggested, I am
hereby forwarding Mr. Sinai’s[SIC] letter to Mr. Shlomo Drori, of our embassy
in France, for his attention, together with the summary of our relations with
Amnesty International.”
In May of
that year, Dinstein asked Rome for funding for a trip to an Amnesty conference
in Switzerland. Rome was glad to tell him that he would receive 6,000 Israeli
pounds ($1,000 at the time; about $4,650 today) for a plane ticket and four
days per diem allowance. “Please inform me as to which travel agency we should
send the money,” he answered. After the conference, which was held that
September, Dinstein sent a report with a survey of the organization’s
activities and noted that Dr. Nitza Shapiro-Libai also attended the conference
as an observer on behalf of the branch. Dinstein wrote that Amnesty’s political
leanings were generally left-ish but it could not be said that it was an
extreme leftist organization. He explained that there had been a discussion
about relocating the organization’s headquarters to Geneva and that the
decision had not yet been taken. “The atmosphere that prevails in all of the
international organizations centered in Geneva will, in my opinion, be a
stumbling block for Israel,” he wrote.
In an
accompanying letter to Rome, he wrote: “I am not forwarding this report to
other people at the ministry, and therefore it is up to you to decide whether
to send it on to anyone for their perusal (for example, to the embassy in
London).” Rome thanked him for sending the report and wrote that they were
accepting his recommendation “to distribute our replies to Amnesty concerning
the report on the prisoners of war in Syria and in Israel to our diplomatic
missions aboard.”
made it clear in a conversation last week that he does not think highly
Amnesty. “I resigned after a few years when I became aware that this is a
populist organization very far from everything I believe in, which is research
and knowledge,” he said. According to him, “Today Amnesty International is
dealing with an area about which it understands nothing – international
humanitarian law.” Throughout the conversation, he denied that he had been in
constant contact with the Foreign Ministry and had received funding from it
during the period he ran the branch. When asked where the funding for the
organization came from in those years, he said he had raised the money from his
own sources. “There was no need for much of a budget. We employed people
part-time then.”
How was
the Foreign Ministry involved? “There was no involvement. The Foreign Ministry
had no interest.”
Who is
Sinai Rome? “He was head of a department at the Foreign Ministry. I knew him
but I had no contact with him about this.”
don’t know anything,” replied Dinstein when told of evidence that shows
otherwise. He added, “I don’t remember,” and ended the conversation.
those years, Avi Primor was a diplomat in the Foreign Ministry. He too is
mentioned in a few items of correspondence from 1977, which were addressed to
him as head of the international organizations division. He has known Dinstein
personally ever since they were both 17-year-old university students before
their conscription into the Israel Defense Forces.
“He is a
patriot in the sense of ‘whatever my country does is right,’ an absolute
patriot,” said Primor of Dinstein. “I freed myself from that when I reached a
certain age. He – less so.”
related that Dinstein joined the Foreign Ministry at the same time he did, but
did not stay there for very long because he preferred the academic world.
As for
the Foreign Ministry’s conduct with respect to international organizations
during those years, Primor explained: “Our aim was to influence. Not to fight
them, not to vilify and not to forbid them to enter they do today. The aim was
to debate, to persuade. I didn’t engage in that but I assume that persuading
and influencing in every possible way also includes money.”
It is
difficult to imagine a situation today in which senior officials of a human
rights organizations would maintain a relationship with the establishment and
receive funding from it.
can’t compare. It’s a different atmosphere and different concepts.
Organizations like Breaking the Silence or B’Tselem – there wasn’t anything of
the sort back then,” said Primor. “There were a few people,
individuals, and they were perceived as naïve … In the first years of the
occupation it was seen as something temporary. No one thought it would go on
for 50 years. That was something unimaginable.”
that period, Dr. Edward Kaufman, who later became the chairman of the board of
B’Tselem: The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied
Territories, worked alongside Dinstein at Amnesty. “It was a club of jurists
and lawyers,” he told Haaretz this week. Kaufman relates that he had a conflict
with Dinstein over the latter’s activity to benefit the state of Israel.” He
saw himself as the State of Israel’s watchdog,” he recalls.
Kaufman too is mentioned in Foreign Ministry documents as someone who was in
contact with ministry staff, though he is depicted as less fervid than
Dinstein. For instance, Rome thanks Kaufman for a report the he sent about an
Amnesty conference on the subject of torture held toward the end of 1973,
following the Yom Kippur War. “The main objective toward which the delegation
worked was the release of the Israeli captives in Syria,” Kaufman wrote. He
added that the cooperation with officials at the Israeli Embassy was productive
and included a letter he had sent after the conference to the secretary of
Amnesty International.
confirmed this and gave it context: He described an completely different
atmosphere among human rights groups and the Israeli left operating under a
different government than the one that prevails today, and notably, a different
personal feeling toward the state. “There wasn’t a sense that there were grave
problems with human rights. We are talking about the period of ‘enlightened
occupation’ and at that time I felt quite good with respect to the situation of
human rights in Israel and in the territories.” The Foreign Ministry, he said,
wanted him to explain what was happening at Amnesty. “I don’t remember that I
was given any briefing to do anything or to fight against anything,” he said.
resigned from his position at Amnesty against the backdrop of conflict that
developed with Kaufman. Shapiro-Libai, who replaced Dinstein and served in the
position until the mid-1980s, said that in her day, the branch didn’t receive
any funding from the Foreign Ministry – Amnesty International paid its
operating budget. “I think there was an interest that Israel should be a part
of Amnesty because it is an important human rights organization,” she said. “I
didn’t know that [Dinstein] reported in writing to the Foreign Ministry. I
don’t assume that anyone knew but I do assume that he didn’t see any conflict
of interest in that.”
Yavne, the executive director of Akevot, who found the documents, told Haaretz:
“The manipulative exploitation of the civil society organizations in the years
1969 to 1976 in order to advance Israeli public diplomacy and refute findings
and claims concerning violations of human rights in the territories is
reminiscent of the activities of organizations and groups in recent years that
supposedly originate in the civil society but have murky sources of funding and
operate to damage the legitimacy of human rights organizations critical of the
policy of the Israeli government. Now as then, this attack undermines the very
existence of a free civil society.”
Israeli branch of Amnesty now operating in Tel Aviv was registered as a
nonprofit organization in 1988 and is a late incarnation of the association
established some three decades earlier. In recent years nearly its entire
budget comes from Amnesty International. The organization does not receive any
money from the Israeli government and last year there was even an attempt in
the Knesset to deny its donors tax benefits.
In a
statement, Amnesty’s International Secretariat responded that the documents
“present serious allegations suggesting that the leadership of our former
Israel section acted in a manner that was blatantly at odds with Amnesty
International’s principles.” Touting “impartiality and
independence” as the organization’s core tenets, the statement points to a
policy of not accepting government funds for any of its research or campaigns.
“Our records show this principle was first formally agreed by the movement
in 1975. No government should feel it is beyond our scrutiny,” said the
statement says that “Amnesty International maintained rules at the time
prohibiting sections from working on cases of human rights violations in their
own country. Our work on Israel was therefore determined by the International
Secretariat, not the former Israel section. Throughout this time Amnesty
International highlighted human rights abuses being committed by the Israeli
authorities, including calling for the suspension of Israel’s use of
administrative detention.
the period in question we were a movement that was still in its infancy. As we
grew to become the truly global movement we are today, we have continued to
develop robust governance policies and procedures to ensure stringent
impartiality and accountability.”
Israel said that the documents it received demonstrates that the government of
Israel has never refrained from making use of any means to evade accountability
for the violation of human rights it conducts, in the 1970s as well as today.
The branch said that the documents also show that the previous branch of
Amnesty, registered as an Ottoman association in 1974, is not the branch that
operates today, which was registered as an Israeli nonprofit in 1988, and added
that the current Israeli branch is an active and integral part of the worldwide
Amnesty movement.–

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