Leftist Israeli groups facing inquiry

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Partisan politics heats up in Israel as right-wing Israeli politicians take on left-wing non-government organizations, which they accuse of smearing Israel's international reputation. The World's Matthew Bell reports.

In recent years, Israeli officials have become more and more worried about what they see as a concerted international campaign to de-legitimize the Jewish state.

Right-wing Israeli politicians have also complained about an enemy within, funded by foreign governments. They say left-wing non-governmental organizations inside Israel are part and parcel of this campaign to smear Israel's government and military with lies.

The hard-line party of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman ? Yisrael Beitenu ? is sponsoring a bill that would launch an investigation into the funding sources of left-wing rights groups.

The bill accuses a host of organizations of falsely portraying members of the Israeli military as war criminals and rights abusers.

When the bill came up for debate on the floor of the Israeli parliament this week, things got pretty heated, even by the Knesset's own standards for being a place where politics is conducted bare knuckle-style.

One lawmaker said the bill said amounted to ?borderline McCarthyism.?

Another called out, ?it's a black day for Israel,? only to be shouted down by someone saying, ?it's a black day for the enemies of Israel.?

The proposed bill is now headed toward a full Knesset vote.

If it passes, some Israeli rights groups would be investigated by parliament to see if they are being funded by unfriendly foreign governments.

Mikhael Manekin is co-director of Breaking the Silence, one of the organizations likely to be targetted. The group is a veterans' organization that collects anonymous testimony from Israeli soldiers who've served in the Palestinian territories.

?We actually don't have a problem with the [Israeli] military or with the soldiers, but rather with the policy of occupation,? Manekin told The World.

?Bascially, the bottom line of the organization is that occupation is an ugly thing and that what we experienced is that you can't occupy a people politely if they don't want you there.?

Manekin said he puzzled by the proposed investigation. He said there is no need for an probe into where his group's funding comes from, because everything is right there on its website.

As for the charge that organizations like Breaking the Silence are providing ammunition to those who seek to delegitimize Israel, Manekin said Israel's policies speak for themselves.

?If an Israeli goes abroad today and he's embarrassed, he's not embarrassed because of an organization like Breaking the Silence, he's embarrassed because of Israeli policy. Because Israeli policy doesn't fall in line with what the western world expects.?

Manekin said, ?I look at this not only as an Israeli, but the Jewish world in general. They want an affiliation not with any type of Israel. They want an affiliation, not with any type of Israel, they want an affiliation with an Israel that they can be proud of, which falls in line with their value system. And that's what's on the table at this point.?

Last month, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the most serious threats facing the state of Israel right now are Iran's nuclear program, the missile threat from Islamist groups Hamas and Hezbollah, and then, what he called the ?Goldstone threat.?

That was a reference to the United Nations inquiry into Israel's war in Gaza that ended in 2009. The inquiry was headed South African judge, Richard Goldstone.

Netanyanhu said ?Goldstone? is a code-word for the international attempt to de-legitimize Israel's right to self-defense.

Knesset member Danny Danon says the Goldstone report is just one example of how left-wing non-governmental groups are hurting Israel.

?We see riots in Israel, demonstrations, and when you see who is causing all those problems, it's the same extreme left NGOs,? Danon said.

?I cherish the freedom of speech. But when I see foreign governments intervening in our democracy, it is unacceptable and that's why I am committed to change it.?

Danon ? who is mentioned as a possible candidate to lead any investigation into left-wing groups ? said if these groups had nothing to hide, they would not be complaining about a possible investigation.

On the other hand, human rights activists say if the proposed investigation was really about transparency, it would also target right-wing organizations. And those include pro-settler groups receiving money abroad.

The Obama administration also seems to be worried about Israel's reputation on the world stage. According to one of the Wikeleaks cables, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has expressed concern about the potential fallout for a quote ?steadfast ally Israel.?

But the cable goes on to suggest that the solution is to make ?urgent headway? on resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.