Settler NGO Regavim’s racist legal actions and fear-inducing public relations invert the facts of Israel’s occupation and incite against Palestinians.
By Eliot Cohen | December 5, 2019
At a talk in north London on Sunday night, UK Lawyers for Israel (UKLFI) hosted Naomi Linder Kahn, director of the international division of the Israeli NGO Regavim. Initially scheduled for September and then cancelled, UKLFI quietly invited Regavim back to London. Na’amod, a movement of British Jews against the occupation, of which I am a member, blockaded the entrance to the event. We were there to send a clear message: our community is no home for racists and the far-right.
Since its founding in 2006 by Bezalel Smotrich — the leader of the National Union party who calls himself a “proud homophobe” — Regavim has spuriously painted the presence of Palestinians in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza Strip as “the quiet occupation” and a “silent conquest.” Claiming to advocate for the “protection” of Israel’s national land, Regavim initiates legal actions in Israeli courts to spur home demolitions and expulsions of Palestinians, particularly in the Negev Desert in southern Israel, and in the occupied West Bank. It further promotes its agenda by publishing reports and lobbying the Knesset regarding the so-called “hostile takeover of Judea and Samaria.”
Regavim’s strategy is to reframe the immoral and illegal military occupation of 52 years into a righteous battle between law-abiding Israeli citizens and thieving Palestinian squatters. It claims that “the Jewish people is being robbed of the Land of Israel,” and has been active in efforts — alongside the state — to evacuate Palestinian villages such as Susya and Khan al-Ahmar in order to make way for Jewish settlements. Regavim has the same ambitions for the unrecognized Bedouin villages of the Negev, calling to “resettle this population” — which it claims is “taking over the Negev” — while promoting the establishment of Jewish communities in their place.
Regavim further justifies its agenda by claiming that it is helping to crack down on “illegal construction” by Palestinians. Yet this approach is clearly one-sided, focused only on preventing Palestinian development: when the Israeli Supreme Court ordered the demolition of buildings in the settlement of Netiv HaAvot, which were illegally constructed on the private land of the Mussa family, Kahn slammed the decision as “draconian.”
In recent years Regavim has extended its activities internationally, including through meetings with European Parliament members, campaigning in favor of Brexit, and speaking at Jewish diaspora communal events. Most worrying of all, in August Regavim organized a tour of the occupied territories for a member of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), a political party described by the Central Council of Jews in Germany as supporting “anti-Jewish hate and Holocaust relativizing or even denial.”
This week was not the first time that Kahn has spoken to the British Jewish community. In May this year, at a “Day of Inspiration” organized by Mizrachi UK, a center for religious Zionism, and attended by U.K. Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis and Spanish and Portuguese Senior Rabbi Joseph Dweck, Kahn delivered a lecture entitled “Sovereignty over the Land of Israel.” The talk exhibited Regavim’s obsession with “restoring Israeli sovereignty” in areas seemingly threatened by Palestinian populations, even when the communities in question are Israeli citizens.
On this occasion, though, Kahn’s visit was facilitated by UKLFI, an organization of lawyers with an illustrious list of patrons. This includes Lord Pannick, a leading barrister for human rights and constitutional law, known for his work with businesswoman and activist Gina Miller in challenging the government’s approach to Brexit. Having previously lauded the Israeli Supreme Court for protecting human rights, one wonders why he would be comfortable with inviting an organization associated with the far-right, pro-settlement movement.
This is the same organization that received more than a million shekels from the Binyamin Regional Council, the local authority representing many numerous illegal settlements and outposts including Psagot and Kokhav HaShachar. Are Pannick and his fellow patrons, such as Baroness Deech, Lord Millett and Professor Richard Susskind, proud to welcome a group whose work foments incitement against an occupied population?
It is all too obvious that by hiding behind the hypocritical rhetoric of fact-finding and law-enforcement, Regavim attempts to invert the facts of the occupation. While the “rule of law” is one of the most basic constitutional safeguards of any country, in Israel, it also has a darker purpose: it is a central tool for the occupying state to rule over Palestinians and continually deny them rights, while retaining the legitimate veneer of a legal process. Through Regavim’s selective enforcement of planning law, Palestinian homes both within Israel and in the occupied territories are demolished, property is destroyed, and plans for development are rejected.
Regavim’s potent cocktail of “lawfare” and fear-inducing public relations thus amounts to incitement against the Palestinian people and portrays their very existence as an existential threat to Israel. Kahn both represents and bolsters this consistent disregard for Palestinian rights.
Such an unholy alliance must be strongly resisted by diaspora Jews who understand our own community’s fate to be bound up with those of other targeted minorities. Violence and incitement against Palestinians feeds into the rise of supremacist movements globally, which subsequently threatens local Jewish communities. We simply cannot allow our country’s elected representatives to be misled by Regavim and must oppose the normalization of its divisive, racist work and dangerous associations.
By creating a human barrier to prevent access to the event, Na’amod was recalling the rallying cry of “No pasarán” (“they shall not pass”) that rang throughout the anti-fascist struggles of the 1920s and 1930s. Standing up to the far-right was an imperative then, and is an imperative now. In our own small way, Na’amod refused to stand by as UKLFI created a space for extremists to justify their position in north London.
While Regavim calls for racist home demolitions, we must send a clear message that there is no home for such fascists in the U.K. Rather than listening to Regavim’s skewed ideology, we must call loudly for justice and compassion for the oppressed, whether in the U.K., Israel, or Palestine.