As organizations dedicated to the protection and promotion of human rights—including those acting as legal representatives for war crimes victims— we are disappointed by B’Tselem’s active participation in an upcoming event at which former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will be featured as a keynote speaker.Olmert has been implicated in the commission of war crimes and other serious violations of international law for his role in Operation ‘Cast Lead’, Israel’s winter 2008-2009 onslaught on the Gaza Strip. A court in the U.K. has already issued an arrest warrant for one of Olmert’s alleged co-conspirators in these acts, former foreign minister Tzipi Livni.
Olmert will speak at a gala dinner on Monday hosted by J Street, a self-described “pro-Israel, pro-peace” lobby group in Washington, DC. Olmert’s speech will be the keynote for J Street’s annual conference. Last week, B’Tselem sent an email to its supporters announcing that it was “proud” of its role in the conference, explicitly mentioning Olmert as a featured speaker.
B’Tselem’s active participation in this event sends a dangerous message. It undermines the fundamental importance of accountability for international crimes, disregards victims’ right to dignity and justice, and implies that political processes may override human rights standards. B’Tselem should be protesting, not celebrating, an event welcoming Olmert.
The decision to release this statement was not taken lightly. We highly value the relationship between Palestinian, Israeli and international human rights organizations, and can look back on many years of successful professional cooperation.
For some Palestinian organizations – particularly those from the Gaza Strip – the relationship with Israeli counterparts is often the last remaining link with Israeli society. This is a link which we all wish to see strengthened and developed.
However, as human rights defenders, we are united by our standards: by our belief in the universality of human rights and the rule of international law. Our legitimacy derives from our unwavering commitment to these principles, and our obligations to act in the best interests of the victims we represent.
We call upon B’Tselem to withdraw from this event, and to use this opportunity to highlight the need for accountability, justice, and the enforcement of the rule of law.
The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights
Al Dameer Association for Human Rights
The Palestinian NGO Network (representative of 132 Palestinian ngo’s)