SEATTLE (01/25/2016) — Earlier this month, MintPress News reported on the sleazy tactics of Israel’s premier news magazine, “Uvdah,” which aired a segment smearing a leading Jewish human rights NGO that protects the rights of Palestinian farmers.
Two spies from Ad Kan (“No More”), an astroturf settler group created largely for the purpose of mounting this “sting,” infiltrated Ta’ayush. One of the spies, according to an Israeli who is familiar with the infiltrator’s personal circumstances, has a history of mental instability.
They created a hoax land deal for the purpose of ensnaring Ezra Nawi, a prominent Jewish activist. Nawi reported the land deal to the Palestinian Authority, even conceding on camera that the bogus land dealer might be tortured and executed.
After the TV segment aired, Nawi began receiving death threats. Some European activists urged Nawi to leave the country and seek a safe haven in Europe. He bought a ticket and traveled to Tel Aviv. On Jan. 11, he passed safely through Border Control at Ben Gurion Airport and boarded his plane, only to be removed by the police, who acted on the basis of the material aired on Uvdah.
He was arrested for “having contact with an enemy agent,” because he reported to the Palestinian Authority (PA) what he believed to be an illegal sale of Palestinian land to settlers. The “agents” are the very PA security forces which the local police and the country’s domestic security service who arrested Nawi interact with on a daily basis.
Even Shabak finds Nawi prosecution distasteful
An Israeli security source tells MintPress: “Nawi is being interrogated not by Shabak [also known as the Israel Security Service] but by [local West Bank Israeli] police, and this means that Shabak itself doesn’t take too seriously the ‘security suspicions’ against him.”
The source described the local West Bank Israeli police as “incompetent.” A further indication of the shoddy nature of the case is that one of Nawi’s attorneys is Eitan Peleg, a former agent of the country’s domestic security agency. It is highly unlikely that such an individual would take on a case the agency was itself prosecuting.
Another activist featured in the Uvdah TV segment was Guy Butavia, a filmmaker who works with B’Tselem. The NGO, which documents the excesses of Israeli occupation, theft of Palestinian land, and arrest of local activists, is constantly in the crosshairs of the Israeli right.
Former cabinet minister Eli Yishai even posted on his Facebook page that the group was guilty of the murder of Dafa Meir, who lived in the settlement of Othniel. She was killed by a 16-year-old Palestinian. In what appeared to be a chilling call for the murder of Israeli NGO workers, he said: “The incitement conducted by leftist groups like B’Tselem and Breaking the Silence is responsible for this disgusting murder. May God avenge her blood.”
Like Nawi, Butavia was also arrested by local West Bank police as he attempted to leave Israel from Ben Gurion Airport. His and Nawi’s cases had been under a security gag order and neither of their names could be reported by Israeli media until the order was lifted on Thursday. The Jewish suspects are expected to be released Sunday; the Palestinian suspect has been handed over by settler police to a military court in direct violation of a civil court order to release him; the gag order has been lifted.
A Haaretz article lists the charges against Butavia: “accomplice to manslaughter, conspiracy to commit murder, passing on information to a foreign agent, transporting a person without a legal entry permit into Israel, and use of drugs.”
This video clip of the activists charged in the case features Butavia speaking, despite the opposition of burly police “handlers:”
He declares the criminal case against him a concoction of the settler NGO, Ad Kan, and the government’s Shomron Regional Council in collaboration with the West Bank police. This, in effect, turns Ad Kan into an extension of the state.
As MintPress reported on Jan. 13, all the charges against Nawi refer to his secretly taped claims (which are false) that any Palestinian attempting to sell land to Israeli settlers would be arrested, tortured and eventually executed. The notion that someone can be arrested for manslaughter or murder conspiracy based on a hoax is preposterous.
A third individual, the Palestinian whose family’s lands were fraudulently being sold by the land dealer, has also been arrested under gag order. He is Nasser Nawaja’ah and works for B’Tselem as well. The organization released this statement of support for him.
On Jan. 13, Walla reported (in Hebrew; my English summary here) that Ad Kan received official government funding for its project. Thus, the organization acted with at least the tacit endorsement of the state of Israel, and with the financial participation of Israeli citizens, whose tax money underwrote this caper.
The report below (Israeli Government Busting Up NGO’s Through Spying, Subversion) was originally published on Jan 13, 2016
A pro-Palestine activist has become the latest victim of Israel’s ongoing attack on its human rights groups after he was tricked into making inflammatory comments about illegal land sales to Israeli settlers.
Two spies from Ad Kan (“No More”), a right-wing Israeli NGO, infiltrated into the ranks of Taayush, a prominent Israeli human rights NGO which accompanies Palestinian farmers into the fields to protect them from violence at the hands of settlers. While undercover, the agents surreptitiously videotaped their conversations with Ezra Nawi, one of the most well-known and controversial of the Israelis working with the group.
Ad Kan was founded by a former official of the Ministry of Internal Security, Aviram Zeevi, and current and former army officers. They are particularly irate at the success of the Israeli left in “tarnishing” Israel’s reputation, in their view, and posing obstacles to Israeli sovereignty over the entire Land of Israel.
Israeli newspaper Haaretz’s Amira Hass calls the group “a privatized mini-Shin Bet,” a reference to one of Israel’s major intelligence services. Blogger Yossi Gurvitz goes one step further showing that the group did not even incorporate itself legally until a few months ago, well after its spies had begun their work. This raises the distinct possibility that Ad Kan is an astro-turf organization, created solely for the purpose of legitimizing the spying operation and airing of its dirty linen on TV.
Nawi is a nonviolent Mizrahi gay activist who’s been a thorn in the side of Israeli authorities for years. He’s been charged with a variety of offenses including rape and assaulting police officers. Many of the charges are trumped-up in order to smear Nawi. In fact, he’s treated much the same way as Mordechai Vanunu, another Mizrahi bad-boy who revealed Israeli nuclear secrets.
The two Ad Kan members who infiltrated Taayush are Itzik Goldway (age 23) and his girlfriend, only known as Julia T. Further research by Israeli activists shows that her real name is Yulia Tarontorova (she uses the assumed name ‘Tarantula’ for her Facebook account).
The Israeli equivalent of “60 Minutes,” called “Uvdah,” took this video footage and, after doing almost no due diligence, aired it. “Uvdah” agreed to conceal the faces of the spies in the video footage. But their images and names were easily discovered by others. Their social media accounts show that they have traveled the world being photographed at exotic locations in the Far East. They’ve also apparently volunteered or served with IDF relief operations in Nepal.
Possible collusion of security services in spying on NGOs
Goldway was a sergeant in the IDF who served during Operation Protective Edge, Israel’s brutal assault on Gaza during the summer of 2014. It was also during this period he was cultivating his relationship with Nawi.
During that war he was called up for service and disappeared from his activity with Taayush. Later, he won a military award for outstanding service. Strangely, the IDF identified him only by his initials, a procedure followed to protect the identity of spies and agents from intelligence agencies like Mossad or Shin Bet, but not typically used for a mere sergeant. This indicates that the army was either colluding in this enterprise or that it was even more actively involved.
Ad Kan consists mostly of former IDF officers. So it stands to reason that Goldway either volunteered for this mission or was recruited for it. It’s unknown whether he joined the project while in military service or afterward.
In this picture, you can also see Tarantorova encircled by an IDF officer and Border Police personnel. She is holding a video camera which she used to film the NGO activists:
There isn’t a fellow activist in sight. It would be unusual for a single activist to be surrounded by security personnel in conversation. Her presence in this setting raises a red flag about the level of collaboration between the Ad Kan spies and Israeli security services.
Tarontorova’s Facebook account in particular is replete with racist taunts against Palestinians. One video she features has the caption “Palestinian homo breakdancing.” The word ‘homo’ in Hebrew has the same pejorative connotation it does in English.
The main “revelation” featured in the “Uvdah” segment is that Ezra Nawi received a telephone call while accompanied by Goldway, who was secretly filming him. The phone call is purported to be from a Palestinian land dealer who told the activist that he was brokering a deal to sell the land of a Palestinian family to a Jewish buyer. The land belonged to the family of Nasser Nawaj’ah, a field researcher for B’Tselem. Nawi knew Nasser and was especially motivated to prevent what he knew would be a fraudulent sale.
That’s one of the reasons that Nawi later bragged to Goldway that he would get the other Palestinian arrested, tortured and executed. Though such hot-tempered boasting is ill-advised, if not worse, in the heat of moment Nawi reacted to the injustice he feared might be committed against the Nawaj’ah family.
Later, when Nawi attempted to meet with the land dealer, the latter disappeared. It’s almost a given that Ad Kan “invented” a sham land deal and lured Nawi into a trap into which he willingly fell. To most other reputable news outlets, the proposal to air this would raise multiple red flags. But not “Uvdah.”
Land sales by Palestinians to Jews are prohibited under Palestinian law. There is a sentence of death on the books for this crime, but it is never implemented. But in this case, there never even was such a deal, the land dealer never had anything to sell, and the entire operation was a fraud to ensnare a gullible victim. Not only did Nawi not harm anyone, no Palestinian has been arrested for selling land to Jews since 2005. And none to my knowledge has ever been executed.
In other words, Ad Kan invented a sham exposé. And “Uvdah” and the segment’s presenter, Ilana Dayan, were willingly taken in by the whole hoax. A decent journalistic operation would’ve explored this subject with some context. It would’ve noted the sensitive subject of Palestinian dispossession from their lands at the hands of unscrupulous settlers and the state itself. It would’ve noted the numerous court decisions revoking land sales due to precisely the sort of fraud invoked here. But “Uvdah” wanted ambush, not quality journalism, which is surprising since the show generally has a reputation of being a cut above other TV news fare.
What’s even more alarming concerning the TV segment is that, in the current environment, the very existence of Israeli human rights NGOs is under threat. Politicians thunder on the Knesset rostrum that they are enemies of the state. Violence is not just a possibility, but guaranteed. Settlers might easily be incited to commit acts of violence against them. Ezra Nawi has received numerous death threats and also been physically attacked. Do you think Israel will protect him?
For that reason, on Monday he attempted to leave Israel and fly to Europe. An Israeli Knesset staff member told me he was arrested on the plane after he passed through Border Control. Technically, Israel should not have had any jurisdiction over him, since no order had been filed preventing him from leaving the country nor had he been summoned for questioning, which is standard procedure for someone suspected of a crime. In some democratic countries, this might even be considered state-sponsored kidnapping.
He was arrested “on suspicion of conspiracy to commit a crime.” At first, not even the police appeared to know what the crime was. This is what they’d call an “audible” in football: the quarterback gets up to the line of scrimmage, doesn’t like something on the defensive side of the ball, and extemporizes. Except that this is law enforcement and not sports. There are supposed to be rules regarding such matters, but apparently Israeli police get to make things up as they go along.
Nawi appeared in court on Tuesday. By then the Shin Bet, according to a confidential source, had improvised a new criminal theory and leaked it to a willing media chorus: Nawi had engaged in contact with “foreign agents.” Who were these so-called enemy spies? None other than the very Palestinian Authority officials to whom Nawi reported the bogus land deal.
Parse this carefully: these same Shin Bet agents consult with PA security officials on an almost daily basis. Abbas has even hosted the Israeli security agency’s chief, Yoram Cohen. But when Israeli agents do it they’re “maintaining the nation’s security.” When Nawi does virtually the same thing, then it’s sedition
Further, Nawi is accused of “preparing to commit a crime.” Presumably, the crime he sought to commit was to report the fake Israeli land dealer to Palestinian security forces. But if the land sale itself was fake, then what crime did he commit? Not to mention, how is it a crime under Israeli law for an Israeli citizen to report what is a crime under Palestinian law to Palestinian security officials?
This is Kafka turned farce. That’s why even some Israelis view their own security apparatus as a laughingstock. If they want you, they will get you. If they have to, they will make it up as they go along.
The Shin Bet has even been known to fall prey to hoax crimes that never happened. In one such case, its able interrogators secured a confession from a poor Palestinian to the fake crime. It’s reminiscent of this old Israeli joke:
Three spy agencies had a contest: who could be first to capture a fox in a dense forest.
The first fox was released. Tens of FBI agents entered the forest with helicopters and sensors. Within four hours they returned with the fox.
The second fox was released. The KGB sent ten agents with eavesdropping equipment and within three hours the agents returned with wide smiles on their lips and with the fox in hand.
The third fox was released. Two Shin Bet agents wearing sunglasses entered the dark woods. After ten minutes they came out with a squirrel: “Under interrogation, he confessed he was a fox!”
So lest you believe that all will end well for Nawi and that he will be redeemed in the end by reason, keep this incident in mind.
To add insult to injury, the case has now been placed under gag order. So though Israelis knew yesterday that Nawi had been arrested because their media told them so, today they must forget what they knew yesterday.
Israel is a kingdom of smoke and mirrors, where the police can find an accusation to pin on anyone. When I asked the security source mentioned above whether the charges against him were new or based on the “Uvdah” segment alone, he replied that they rested solely on the TV broadcast. In other words, he has committed no crime. But the Israeli far-right is up in arms and needs the blood of a sacrificial victim to slake its thirst.
Ezra Nawi is a prisoner of conscience. For all his flaws, the flaws of those imprisoning him are far worse.
Israel’s Justice Minister’s campaign against human rights NGOs
The justice minister is proposing a new law that would force NGOs which receive foreign governmental funding to publicly acknowledge this by forcing them to wear an ID badge (which I liken to a badge of shame) when they visit the Knesset to lobby or conduct business with legislators. It would also force left-wing NGOs to publicly list their foreign foundation and government donors, while right-wing NGOs, which receive funding almost entirely from foreign individuals, could retain absolutely anonymity. For example, NGO Monitor and Im Tirzu, two far-right NGOs, refuse to reveal their donors, claiming that they are protecting them from threats. Under the new law, they could continue doing so.
There is a brutal reign of terror in Israel now. Palestinian babies are burned to death in their cribs then Israeli settlers stab images of those babies with knives at wedding celebrations. Daily threats of death are made against Israeli activists.
Sunday, a fire struck the offices of the Israeli NGO B’Tselem. The immediate fear of many Israelis was that the fire was set deliberately by settlers engaging in practice known as “price tag.” Thankfully, the fire appeared to have be electrical in nature and not arson as was first reported. But in the current environment in which Israeli television shows permit themselves to be exploited on behalf of right-wing hate, it’s not hard to believe that Israeli or Palestinian peace activists will be the next victims.
Ilana Dayan and “Uvdah” bear a great responsibility in the eventuality of such a tragedy. They aired shoddy journalism that was poorly researched, and took as its target the weak and the powerless.
Israeli progressive media has generally done a decent job of exposing the shoddy treatment afforded Taayush and Nawi. But Yossi Gurvitz wrote that if Nawi had actually threatened to have a Palestinian land dealer arrested tortured and killed, that Nawi himself should now be investigated, charged, arrested and punished severely. Gurvitz had to know, even at the time of writing his post, that Nawi had not actually harmed anyone. So why this statement was even necessary is beyond me, unless he was attempting to claim some sort of moral high ground.
Nawi had spoken boastfully and unjustifiably in what he thought was a private conversation with a fellow activist. There are few of us who write or read this post who will not have spoken in such terms at some point in our lives. Most of the time we do not have to face the consequences of such overstatement. But when we do, we have to face the vanity of our own egos and be brought down a peg or two. But must we face a police investigation as well as criminal charges?
Gurvitz now has to deal with the fact that Israeli prosecutors have done precisely what he suggested: they’ve arrested Nawi on sham charges and, if they could, they would punish him severely just as Gurvitz said they should. In truth, Nawi has done nothing that most of the rest of the world hasn’t done at some point or other. But his sin is certainly not a violation of any law.
The system however, may point to Yossi Gurvitz to justify its continuing abuse of Nawi.
Another Israeli NGO exposes a spy in its midst
In light of the “Uvdah” expose, another Israeli human rights NGO dug up another spy in its midst. Breaking the Silence (BtS), one of the most hated of “leftist” organizations because it compiles testimony from serving IDF personnel about potential war crimes, was also targeted. Amir Beit Arie presented himself to BtS as a veteran who’d witnessed abuse of Palestinian children at the hands of IDF personnel. After conveying his testimony, the organization could not corroborate it. BtS goes through a thorough vetting process by which it attempts to verify reports it receives with corroborating materials from other veterans. If it cannot do so, it refuses to make use of such information in the regular public reports it releases.
Had Beit Arie succeeded in persuading BtS to use his testimony, whoever sponsored him would then be able to crow to the public about the fraud perpetrated on the organization. That, in turn would further besmirch its reputation, already under fire, in the eyes of the Israeli public and world opinion.
Despite the group’s refusal to use his “evidence,” he remained as a volunteer in the public affairs unit. He was caught once taping a staff meeting and roundly criticized for it. Though, even after this, no one at BtS suspected him, Beit Arie nevertheless abandoned the group and never returned.
The power of paranoia
The use of undercover spies by the far-right serves a number of important purposes. If the infiltrated NGO works with Palestinians, the latter will hold the Israeli left in even greater suspicion. This in turn will decrease the effectiveness of the aid offered to the Palestinians and the level of political solidarity between both communities. If the NGO works with IDF soldiers, then those who seek to report war crimes committed by their units will have to think twice and thrice about the possibility that there is a mole among them who is photographing them and reporting them to IDF intelligence units.
Paranoia is a highly effective tool when used by authoritarian regimes to neutralize the power of solidarity. Israel is a country steeped in paranoia. Not just the type I’ve outlined here — the political leadership instills deep suspicion and fear in the Israeli Jewish population of The Other, whether they be Palestinian, African refugees, or any of the country’s Arab neighbors — they are all suspect.
They are all out to do Israel harm. The country portrays itself as a victim of the conniving of its enemies, even when those enemies are their own citizens, like the human rights NGOs.