The Trouble with B’Tselem
‘Commentary’ article alleges bias, wonders why State Dept. doesn’t see it
Noah Pollak has penned a long indictment in Commentary of B’Tselem, the Israeli human rights organization that is frequently treated as neutral by mainstream (extremely mainstream) sources like Thomas Friedman and the U.S. State Department, but in fact, according to Pollak, endeavors to serve as the “primary resource for those journalists, officials, and activists who saw in Israel’s self-defense the full flowering of a new age of Israeli oppression and criminality.”
It is a deliberate grenade of a polemic—it’s titled “The B’Tselem Witch Trials”—and I’m not sure I would go as far as Pollak does in his condemnations of the organization. “B’Tselem conducts itself as though its true purpose is not trying to convince Israelis to change their policies from within,” Pollak reports, “but rather aiding international efforts to pressure Israel to adopt the kind of policies Israelis themselves have repeatedly rejected in elections.” Well … it’s a private group, and maybe it is hoping that Israelis won’t reject those policies in the next round of elections? B’Tselem tries to pass itself off as apolitical when it really isn’t, Pollak notes, but, again, it’s a private group, entitled to advocate for itself (and anyway, I don’t see Pollak’s own Emergency Committee for Israel acknowledging expressly that is, for absolutely all intents and purposes, a Republican advocacy group). Pollak notes that B’Tselem derives much of its crediblity from being a nominally Israeli organization staffed by Israelis—even the name, he might have noted, gives it extra ground to stand on—though it is funded mainly by European and American groups; while that is relevant, I don’t think B’Tselem is required to answer for it.
If there are people who should be uneasy, in fact, I don’t think it’s B’Tselem, but folks who do treat it and its facts as totally unbiased: “Folks” like the United Nations and, indeed, the State Department. Pollak doesn’t convince me that there is anything inherently wrong with B’Tselem’s biases—and he provides insufficient evidence for his accusation that they push an “anti-Zionist agenda.” But he does persuade me of its biases, and thereby raises the question of whether others are adding the necessary grains of salt to B’Tselem’s “findings.”