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The Rise of “Bad Civil Society” in Israel

Nationalist Civil Society Organizations and the Politics of Delegitimization

SWP Comment 2018/C 02, 15.01.2018, 8 Pages Research Areas

Civil society in Israel has been undergoing a growing conflict that mirrors broader trends taking place in Israeli society, namely the conflict between the rising conservative nationalist social forces and the dwindling liberal and humanist camp represented by human rights organizations (HROs). There has been a clear rise in the power of conservative nationalist civil society organizations (CSOs), which receive firm support from politicians who have influential positions in the Israeli government. These organizations have been leading aggressive political and media campaigns against HROs, especially those involved in defending the rights of Palestinians living under Israeli occupation in the West Bank and under siege in the Gaza Strip. The conservative nationalist CSOs accuse HROs of being anti-patriotic and cooperating with the enemies of society and the state. They utilize three strategies to promote their agenda. The first is delegitimizing HROs through naming and shaming tactics. They lead well-orchestrated political and media campaigns that associate HROs with terrorist organizations. The second is silencing HROs by shaming the institutions – educational, cultural, and media – that invite the former to speak to their audiences. The third strategy is cutting off the sources of funding for HROs through lobbying activities in donor countries and putting pressure on governments to stop their funding of the former.