TEL AVIV The footage, aired on a respected Israeli news show, appeared damning: a left-wing activist, driving through the West Bank, casually describing how he has turned Palestinian real estate brokers over to Palestinian authorities, subjecting them to a possible death sentence.
Asked what happens to the Palestinians involved in the deals he admitted to setting up, Ezra Nawi says the PA captures them and kills them. Selling land to Jews is a capital crime under Palestinian law.
Nawi, a Jewish-Israeli who is well-known for protesting Israeli settlement in the West Bank, was arrested shortly after the Jan. 8 broadcast of the investigative program Uvda as he was seeking to board a flight out of the country.
Two other activists also were arrested Guy Butavia, also a Jewish-Israeli, and Nasser Nawajah, a Palestinian field worker for the human rights group BTselem.
Nawi and Butavia were released to house arrest Sunday, while Nawajah was released the next night.
The Uvda footage has caused a stir in Israel and heightened already mounting tensions between activists on the left and right.
Read related news coverage, “A lethal entrapment?“
Left-wing groups, already inflamed by a proposed NGO transparency law they say is aimed at undermining them, have rallied to Nawis defense, claiming the video and the undercover operation that produced it are merely the latest installments in a broad effort to silence the governments liberal critics.
On the right, the footage has been taken as further evidence of leftist hypocrisy campaigning for Palestinian rights but prepared to murder individual Palestinians.
This is a classic example of how rigid ideologists become immoral and subvert the ideals that they set out to uphold, said Yossi Klein Halevi, a senior fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute.
This is the smoking gun for the hard left not only Nawis admission, but the outrageous response of his comrades, the outrageous way his colleagues stood by him and lashed out at the critics.
THE FOOTAGE was captured in the summer of 2014 by Ad Kan, a pro-settler group that aims to conduct undercover stings of human rights groups. In it, Nawi admits to luring sellers into deals only to turn them over to the Palestinian authorities, where they could face a death sentence.
In one scene, Nawi is seen impersonating a broker in a meeting with a Palestinian interested in selling land to Jews. Nawi is then seen seeking help from two fellow activists Butavia and Nawajah as well as a Palestinian intelligence official in alerting Palestinian forces.
What was exposed deserves all condemnation, said Amir Fuchs, head of the Defending Democratic Values project at the Israel Democracy Institute. But, he added, Its clearly part of the long campaign of delegitimization, trying to portray human rights organizations as moles, foreign agents, enemies.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, writing Jan. 8 on Facebook, said the investigation demands unequivocal condemnation from all parts of Israeli society.
To date, no major Israeli human rights group has bowed to the prime ministers demand. Instead, several have rallied to Nawis defense. Outside a Jerusalem police station where Nawi and the others were being held, protesters gathered last week with signs bearing their photos.
The California-based Jewish Voice for Peace, a group that supports the anti-Israel Boycott, Sanctions and Divestment movement, sent out two emails in the last week on Nawis behalf.
Hagai El-Ad, the executive director of BTselem, told JTA that the video of Nawi was produced by a group committed to smearing Israels human rights community and showed no evidence of wrongdoing. The land broker Nawi meets with in the video, an Arab-Israeli, is alive and well.
Theres missing context, El-Ad said. They got a crooked view of the reality in the South Hebron Hills, where there are Palestinians fighting against all odds to keep their land. This is promotional work by a group that views leftist activists as if theyre hostile.
In December, Israels government barred Breaking the Silence, an organization of military veterans that draws attention to alleged Israeli military abuses in the West Bank, from appearing at schools or army bases.
In December, the right-wing Im Tirtzu launched a campaign accusing left-wing groups of being foreign moles.
On Monday, Jan. 25, the Knesset was expected to advance a bill that would require some Israeli nongovernmental organizations to publicly declare their foreign government funding.
Filmed as policemen escorted him in a courthouse, Butavia was unrepentant.
This is entirely a political arrest, he said in a video released by ActiveStills, a left-wing photographers collective. Its whole goal is to prevent our activism for human rights in the territories, and against the crimes and criminals of the occupation. They wont succeed in breaking us.