From the "River to the Sea" : B'Tselem's Demonization Crosses the Line

By NGO Monitor

On January 12, 2021, the Israeli NGO B’Tselem launched a high-visibility international campaign, including a position paper, standalone website, outreach to sympathetic media platforms, as well as an eight-page insert in the Israeli daily Ha’aretz. Under the headline, “A regime of Jewish supremacy from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea: This is apartheid,” the organization escalated its political and ideological condemnations that go far beyond criticism of policies. The attack on Israel’s role as a haven for the Jewish people (the Law of Return) and the phrase “from the river to the sea” echo long-standing Palestinian terminology for the destruction of Israel. This highly destructive and polarizing program was funded and enabled by B’Tselem’s donors – primarily European governments.

B’Tselem’s language is essentially anti-Zionist, reflecting the organization’s accelerating departure from an emphasis on documenting alleged human rights violations in the West Bank to challenging the legitimacy of Israel’s existence. Phrases such as apartheid and “Jewish supremacy” repeat the canard that labels Jewish self-determination as inherently racist, and signals the embrace of a “one-state” agenda. At the end, the publication suggests the replacement of Israel with a bi-national state: “There are various political paths to a just future here, between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.”

The emphasis on the “apartheid” accusation – which B’Tselem had already deployed in 2002 – also advances the campaign lobbying the International Criminal Court (ICC) to launch a formal investigation into Israel, and to promote BDS (boycott, divestment, sanctions) internationally. The timing of this paper and exploitation of “supremacy” rhetoric also appears to be timed to influence policies of the incoming Biden administration and the Democratic Congress in the US.

Taken as a policy statement, B’Tselem’s “river to the sea” publication and campaign is deeply contradictory, at once castigating the possibility of Israeli annexation of portions of the West Bank as a violation of international law, while insisting that Israel establish a unified policy for all residents of Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza. As discussed below, the language mixes tired clichés with de-contexualized allegations that do not comport with reality.

B’Tselem’s announcement was widely portrayed in the media as dramatic and unexpected. However, as previously demonstrated in NGO Monitor research, B’Tselem has been pursuing an increasingly radicalized agenda since Hagai Elad became executive director in 2014. Human rights advocacy has been replaced with very divisive “ dissent” and lobbying in Europe and the US, while partnerships are formed with repressive regimes to demonize Israel at the UN, accompanied by thinly-veiled calls for international actors to impose BDS (boycott, divestment, sanctions) against Israel.

B’Tselem’s foreign funders – which include the EU, Switzerland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden (via the NGO Development Center), the NIF, and Bread for the World-EED (Germany) – have, to date, ignored this fundamental shift. The question remains whether they will continue to support this NGO as it becomes further marginalized. (See Appendix for details on B’Tselem funding.)

The following analysis highlights the numerous falsehoods in B’Tselem’s assertion of “apartheid,” providing missing context, exposing outdated sources, and debunking claims made in the NGO’s recent publication. (For more detailed analysis of the apartheid canard see NGO Apartheid State Campaign: Deliberately Immoral or Intellectually Lazy?) Additionally, it will describe the group’s BDS advocacy, while carefully avoiding using the term itself.