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Crafting an Alternate Image, Israeli Human Rights Group Opens Washington Office

Allan C. Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
November - December 2008

The Israeli human rights organiz¬ation B’Tselem has made its first foray abroad, establishing an office in Washington, D.C.  
Washington Jewish Week (Oct. 2, 2008) reports: “B’Tselem’s presence consists of a two-person virtual office, with a bricks-¬and-mortar site on K Street ... Founded in 1989, B’Tselem’s stated goal is largely to document and educate decision-makers, journalists and others about ‘human rights violations in the Occupied Territories’ and to ‘help create a human rights culture in Israel.’ Mitchell Plitnick, director of the new operation, said in an interview that he intends to carry on that mission by providing ‘people on the Hill and Americans in general’ with ‘balanced and fair information based on international law’ that recognizes Israel’s right to address its security needs, but ‘without unduly impacting innocent people.’”  
B’Tselem, which is Hebrew for “in the image of God,” was established by a group of academics, attorneys, journalists and politicians, and has published scores of reports on alleged torture, fatal shootings by Israeli security forces, expropriation of Palestinian land, administrative detention by Israeli authorities and settler violence.  
According to Washington Jewish Week, “Mitchell Plitnick grew up in Queens, N.Y. in an Orthodox household that was ‘very supportive of the Israeli settlement movement ... But over the years, I learned more about Israel and my political views changed.’ Plitnick said that religiously he is now ‘most closely aligned’ with the Reform movement ...Since arriving here in May, Plitnick said he has been ‘learning the ropes’ and meeting with Jewish leaders, congregational representatives and members of the human rights community. ‘The response has been overwhelmingly positive and enthusiastic from all quarters,’ he reported.”  
Rabbi Charles Feinberg of Conservative Adas Israel Congregation in Washington, D.C., said of B’Tselem: “It’s an important organization, and it’s done good work in Israel. It’s important that they have a D.C. office and a presence here.”  
Others, who are supportive of the settler movement, take a different view. Sarah Stern, president of the think-tank EMET-Endowment for Middle East Truth, said: “It is highly ironic that Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East … produces critics of Israel about its human rights, who feel the need to take their criticism of their country outside of Israel’s water’s edge and into our nation’s capital … I suppose that is the price of being a thriving, vibrant democracy.”  
The organization’s arrival in Washington was marked by a reception on Capitol Hill and one at the Sixth and I Historic Synagogue.

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