Obama administration, responding to query on B’tselem, says it believes in a ‘free civil society’

Ron Kampeas

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Asked about punitive action initiated by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu against B’Tselem, a human rights watchdog, the Obama administration said it is “troubled by instances anywhere in the world” where civil society is threatened.

“I am not going to comment on everything that has been said,” John Kirby, the State Department spokesman, said in a statement to the Israeli daily Haaretz, after the newspaper sought comment on Netanyahu’s bid to penalize B’Tselem for testifying at a UN Security Council session on Israel’s settlement expansion.

“In general, we believe that a free and unfettered civil society is a critical component of democracy,” Kirby said.

“As we have said many times, we believe it is important that governments protect the freedoms of expression, and create an atmosphere where all voices can be heard,” he said. “We are troubled by instances anywhere in the world where these principles are threatened.”


Netanyahu said this week he would seek to amend the country’s national service law so that young Israelis will no longer be able to serve at B’Tselem. B’Tselem currently is entitled to fill one national service slot, paid for in part by the government.

Hagai El-Ad, the group’s executive director, last week told the Security Council it has “a moral responsibility” to take action to end the occupation.

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