A different take on the NSO Group affair - opinion

Published date22 January 2022
Publication titleJerusalem Post, The: Web Edition Articles (Israel)
Hopefully, with the public outcry of all those who were able to conveniently ignore this crisis until it started to threaten them directly, the government will be forced to understand that a serious response is called for. If handled correctly, that response can present a rare opportunity for the Foreign Affairs Ministry to prove its strategic value and to chart a new course by introducing ethical dimensions into Israeli foreign policy. In so doing, it would also bolster Israel's standing in the world and instigate a move of public and political usefulness

To realize the extent of the opportunity at hand requires an understanding of the problem that has prompted harsh criticism of Israel over the use of technologies once considered the pride of the nation. The crux of the problem is not in the way companies such as the NSO Group, Candiru and others operate. Perhaps, one might have hoped that these firms would display greater responsibility in their commercial dealings with tyrants and human rights violators, but it is hard to blame them when the Defense Ministry and government license and even encourage their actions. The real problem lies in an oversight policy that fails to take proper consideration of the ethical aspects of Israeli defense exports and the egregious human rights violations they enable.

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Rather than regulating curbs on exports to regimes known for their poor human rights records, as every Western state has done, the human rights aspect is just one amongst a host of considerations weighed by the Israeli Defense Export Controls Agency (DECA) in its licensing process. In most cases, these consideration appear to be marginalized in favor of a narrow foreign policy, where economic and security interests reflect a limited perception of foreign policy grounded in realpolitik that views as legitimate tools all means fair and foul to promote Israel's immediate, short-term commercial and diplomatic interests. This perception was not born during the past decade, but one can safely say that it has characterized the foreign policy approach of former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

From his first day on the job, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid sought to make a clean break with such past policy. In the June 14, 2021 ceremony marking his entry into office, he suggested telling Israel's story differently in order to...

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