Israel enraged by French human rights prize

France has honored Al-Haq and B’Tselem with the prestigious Human Rights Prize of the French Republic.

This came despite heavy pressure from Israel on the French government to pull the award from the two groups which document Israeli war crimes and abuses against Palestinians.

French justice minister Nicole Belloubet did however give in to the pressure and refused to attend the award ceremony in Paris last Monday.

The French Israel lobby group CRIF wrote to Belloubet alleging that the two winners “call for the boycott of Israel,” and claimed that for the French justice ministry to give them the award “even in the absence of the minister, is insulting justice.”

In his acceptance speech, B’Tselem executive director Hagai El-Ad characterized the Israeli government’s response as “hysterical.”

El-Ad said that Israel’s attempt to pressure French officials “illustrates the reality within which we work: propaganda, lies, and threats by a government which believes that silencing and coverup will enable further human rights violations.”

Al-Haq director Shawan Jabarin told The Electronic Intifada that the award is a recognition his group’s work at a time when the organization is being targeted by Israeli smear campaigns.

The 10 December award ceremony coincided with the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the 20th anniversary of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.

Furious response

Israel reacted with fury to the announcement that France was giving the prestigious prize to the two groups.

“France gives its highest award to B’Tselem and Al-Haq, organizations that accuse Israel of apartheid, delegitimize us internationally, defend terror and support BDS,” Michael Oren, Israel’s deputy minister for diplomacy, claimed.

BDS stands for boycott, divestment and sanctions – a nonviolent Palestinian-led campaign to hold Israel accountable for violating Palestinian rights, modeled on the successful international solidarity movement that helped end apartheid in South Africa.

Israel’s embassy in France tweeted it was “shocked” at the award and alleged that Al-Haq is linked to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a political party and resistance organization Israel deems a “terrorist” group.

Israeli culture minister Miri Regev said that B’Tselem and its members should feel “ashamed,” describing the prize as a “badge of shame.”

Israeli deputy foreign minister Tzipi Hotovely called the award “deplorable” and asked the French government to reconsider.

Hotovely claimed that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also expressed his opposition in a meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron.

Closing space

Al-Haq director Shawan Jabarin spoke to The Electronic Intifada in The Hague, a few days before traveling to Paris for the award ceremony.

He said that the award came at a moment when Israel is “trying to close the space” for human rights work.

The French recognition means even more to Al-Haq, he said, because it “comes on the same day as the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”

Jabarin said that the award was “for the victims in Palestine” and was “recognition of their rights.”

But he cautioned that victims need much more than symbolic recognition.

“France needs to act according to its obligations,” he said, referring to international treaties it has signed on human rights.

Time for action

Seven decades since the Nakba – the expulsion of the Palestinians – and after 51 years of military occupation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Jabarin said, “nothing has changed, the situation is deteriorating, the occupation is deepening, the suffering is deepening.”

Jabarin’s message to the French government is that “if they really want to have peace in Palestine and elsewhere, they have to act.”

To change the reality, Jabarin said there must be sanctions on Israel, including the banning of trade in settlement products and an arms embargo.

Europeans should not “let the criminals travel to their countries,” Jabarin added.

“Without the criminals paying the price of their crimes, there’s no way to rethink or to change their actions and policies.”

ICC leaning toward Israeli narrative?

Jabarin also expressed disappointment in the International Criminal Court, which since 2015 has been carrying out a “preliminary examination” of alleged Israeli war crimes against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.

“This is a long time,” Jabarin said.

A preliminary examination is the first step in the court’s process to determine whether to open a formal investigation, which can then lead to charges and trials.

But while a preliminary examination is carried out whenever a referral is made, it is open-ended and can continue for years, at the discretion of the chief prosecutor.

Although Fatou Bensouda, the chief prosecutor, warned Israeli leaders last April that they could face trial for the killings of unarmed Palestinians in the Gaza Strip during the Great March of Return, the court has not launched a formal investigation.

The “victims, the people who are suffering, they can’t wait anymore,” Jabarin said. “This institution has to act according to its mandate and not to deal with things from a political point of view.”

Jabarin called the court’s latest annual progress report disappointing.

The report affirms that “the prosecutor intends to complete the preliminary examination as early as possible,” but provides no firm deadline.

Jabarin described the report as “messy” in its use of legal terminology and concepts. He is worried that the prosecutor has slipped in “the direction of the Israeli narrative.”

But he sees “good signs here and there.”

He hopes the prosecutor will move swiftly to open a formal investigation and “go after the criminals and later on issue arrest warrants.”

“I trust the professionalism and independence of the prosecutor,” Jabarin said. “My message to her is that time flies and suffering continues. It is time for her to proceed.”

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Given that this prize has been awarded by a French state which set its face against Palestinian rights decades ago, the announcement carries a significance beyond the normal course of events. And it's a reminder that even within governments formally aligned with Israel there are countervailing elements at high levels determined to change policy. Ireland, small as it is, presents an example of this lesson. Ten years ago, there was no talk in Dublin from political leaders about legislation to check Israeli depredations. Today the Senate has passed a ban on trade with the settlements. This can be replicated elsewhere. The important point is not to concede the places of power to Israel. Contact your parliament, your congress, and put candidates on the ballot who can rally voters on behalf of justice for Palestinians. BDS is having an impact at municipal levels and soon the national stage, and yelps from the likes of Michael Oren and the Israeli diplomatic corps are sure signs of progress. Israel couldn't stop this state prize from going to two esteemed human rights organisations. All they could do with their bullying and howls of indignation is demonstrate why the award was deserved, and show that they have a grubby little minister in their pocket, which won't come as a great surprise to most French citizens.

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It's not the first time the French authorities give in to pressure from the Crif (which is 'representative council of Jewish institutions in France', the 'j' is missing though, but it's really an umbrella of Israeli lobby groups including most major religious and secular Jewish organizations): in 2009 the PNGO was honored with the same Prize, and the Crif went nuts back then too. Although the invitations indicated that the ceremony would be at the Quai d'Orsay (the Foreign Ministry), it was ultimately changed to Science Po, and Bernard Kouchner, at the time Minister of Foreign Affairs, expressed his disapproval when giving the Prize to PNGO .....

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“This institution has to act according to its mandate and not to deal with things from a political point of view.” Easier said than done when the court has zero enforcement capacity and the powers that do have declared it dead.
Perhaps the court is trying to figure out how to ensure its ruling has an impact, or at least can somehow avoid making of itself a laughingstock.

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Michael Oren has gone from an author/'historian' who feigned humility when asked to go to the White House to counsel George Bush on the Middle East to a shameful Zionist propagandist who denies Israel is an apartheid state. He should read Israeli historian Uri Davis's analysis and conclusion about Israel's Basic Laws from 1948, "Apartheid Israel". M.O. has always been nothing but a poser.

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This is the validation of several years worth of BDS observance! It's a pain in the keister, but it IS working! Keep strict observance of listed products, check frequently for updates on added & REMOVED products & companies, check & recheck your retirement plan & investments & STAY THE COURSE! Keep the subject alive in your blogs & writings to neighbors, friends & political representatives! WE ARE WINNING!!!!!!!!!

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Adri Nieuwhof

Adri Nieuwhof's picture

Adri Nieuwhof is a human rights advocate based in the Netherlands and former anti-apartheid activist at the Holland Committee on Southern Africa. Twitter: @steketeh