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The Backlash Against Israeli Human Rights NGOs: Grounds, Players, and Implications

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This article examines the recent backlash against Israeli human rights and advocacy NGOs led jointly by right-wing organizations, by mainstream media, and by the government. Contrarily to what was theorized in the literature dedicated to movement/countermovement dynamics, it suggests that the birth and rise of ultra-nationalist movements created in reaction to domestic NGOs dealing with the consequences of the occupation cannot be explained by the achievements of the latter or by the threats they pose locally to segments of the Israeli population. Rather, this article shows they are an indirect consequence of recent global developments mainly stemming from the Palestinian internationalization strategy. Yet, these developments have strong effects not only at the international level but also at the local level. One of them lies in the fact that NGOs are now presented as “foreign agents” for obliquely nurturing voices that speak up worldwide against Israeli policy.

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  1. “FAQ,” Im Tirzu (n.d.-a), accessed September 23, 2017:

  2. These practices include infiltrating activists, using hidden cameras, giving false testimonies to an NGO documenting the soldiers’ behavior in the West Bank, or sending a private detective to search the garbage of a prominent human rights lawyer.

  3. The organizations and movements mentioned in this article are recapped in the end of this article.

  4. “Home,” Im Tirzu (n.d.-b), accessed September 15, 2017,

  5. This can be explained by the fact that they depend financially on donors, who could be offended by such declarations and withdraw their support, as well as by the fact that their goal is to document human rights violations rather than to cause a “moral shock” (Jasper 1997) by taking part in violent confrontations.

  6. For more about grassroots movements in Israel during the 2000s, see Lamarche (2013).

  7. Note that there is no attempt to be exhaustive here. Therefore, not all Israeli human rights NGOs are mentioned but only a few, selected for the wide range of goals they reflect, rather than for their significance.

  8. “About us: organization,” Breaking the Silence, accessed October 12, 2017,

  9. Common expression among Israeli activists to describe the ability of some groups to be taken seriously compared to others, whose supposedly “radical” views render the expression of dissent completely inaudible.

  10. This paper deals mostly with the attacks against NGOs. Therefore, grassroots movements and peace groups will not be the subject of a detailed description here.

  11. Ha’Emet Sheli, accessed August 23, 2017,

  12. “Ad Kan,” OneIsraelFund (n.d.), accessed November 13, 2017,

  13. Yael Berda argues that Im Tirzu’s size is largely overestimated. The movement claims to have 10,000 volunteers. However, according to her, most of them never “met each other, [took] decisions together or [were] in any way partners to the movement’s political trail blazing.” (Berda 2015: p. 118)

  14. The video can be watched on Im Tirzu’s (n.d.-c) YouTube channel, accessed June 23, 2017,

  15. I therefore consciously set other aspects aside considering their importance has already been convincingly demonstrated. For instance, as already mentioned, Neve Gordon showed how the increasing appeal to universal jurisdiction led neoconservative actors to reframe human rights NGOs as a security threat by labelling their work as “lawfare” (2014).

  16. See for instance the report by Reut Institute and the Anti-Defamation League (2017).

  17. Later on, following an appeal by Israeli rights groups, the Israeli Supreme Court canceled one clause of the law—allowing plaintiffs to file lawsuits without needing to show damages—but upheld its key provisions.

  18. Note that Israel is not the only country where boycott calls have become illegal: anti-boycott legislations have been passed in several American states and in France enabling the prosecution of boycott supporters.

  19. For more information about Hasbara, see the report published by the Israeli think-tank Molad (2012).

  20. Referral by the State of Palestine Pursuant to Articles l3(a) and 14 of the Rome Statute, accessed August 24, 2018,

  21. Quoted by Tahhan (2018).

  22. Due to their annexation in 1980 and 1981, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights have different statuses. This is why they are not mentioned here.

  23. Declaration of Israel’s representative before the vote at the United Nations which granted Palestine a non-member observer State status (press coverage of the Sixty-seventh General Assembly Plenary 2012).

  24. Comparatively, only 12.6% of Israeli Arab citizens did so.

  25. For a short history of Matzpen, see Lutz 2017.

  26. According to B’tselem, about 700 Israeli civilians were killed by Palestinians between September 2000 and Operation Cast Lead in 2008 (B'tselemn.d.).

  27. The few exceptions mostly concern settlers suspected of planning terror attacks against Palestinians.

  28. On April 2011, Judge Goldstone expressed regrets in a piece published in The Washington Post and titled “Reconsidering the Goldstone Report on Israel and war crimes.”

  29. By October 2009, almost 1000 lawsuits had been filed around the world against Israelis accused of committing war crimes, genocide, torture, and crimes against humanity (Sapsted 2009).

  30. “About,” 'NGO Monitor (n.d.), accessed October 25, 2017,


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I would like to thank the organizers of and participants in the “Citizen Loyalties” workshop held at the Institut für Europäische Ethnologie (Berlin) in June 2016 for their comments on the first draft of this paper. Many thanks also to Maxime, Marcus, Amiel, and Tal for their invaluable help.

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Correspondence to Karine Lamarche.

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Table 1 Groups, NGOs, and extra-parliamentary movements mentioned in the article
Table 2 Excerpt of an interview with Yuli Novak on Walla!

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Lamarche, K. The Backlash Against Israeli Human Rights NGOs: Grounds, Players, and Implications. Int J Polit Cult Soc 32, 301–322 (2019).

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