JERUSALEM—Several members of the Israeli Parliament were caught in diplomatic crosshairs earlier this week when the Chinese Embassy demanded they retract their signatures from a petition.
The petition dealt with the crime of illegal organ harvesting in China and was bound for U.N. headquarters in Geneva. Nine members of Parliament signed the petition, but were summarily contacted by the Parliament’s political adviser, Oded Ben-Hur, who advised that signatures be retracted and an apology letter be signed.
According to multiple sources close to the situation, Ben-Hur was acting at the behest of the Chinese Embassy. Three signatories were pushed into withdrawing their signatures and support for the petition.
One of the petition’s staunchest supporters, Member of Parliament (MP) Uri Orbach, said he signed it because he “agreed with its contents.”
“It looks to me just and fair,” said Orbach in an interview by phone with The Epoch Times. “I am familiar with the topic—I read about it.”
Orbach said he was asked to cancel his signature and that he also saw an apology letter intended for the Chinese Embassy, but he refused to sign it.
“I am not signing something that I don’t believe in,” he said of the apology letter, adding that he didn’t understand why the Chinese Embassy would even ask for an apology.
“To apologize for what?” said Orbach. “Only because somebody is strong?”
The Epoch Times broke the story in March 2006 of the forced, live organ harvesting in China from practitioners of the spiritual discipline Falun Gong. According to The Epoch Times sources, practitioners were being tissue-typed, blood-typed, and held in detention as a giant, live organ bank. When a patient in a Chinese hospital needed an organ, the retail organs would be taken from the practitioner, killing him or her.
Soon after the first Epoch Times reports appeared, the Canadians David Kilgour, a former Canadian secretary of state (Asia-Pacific) and crown prosecutor, and David Matas, an international human rights lawyer and Nazi hunter, launched an independent investigation of the allegations.
In a report published in July 2006, Kilgour and Matas concluded that the allegations were true. They estimated that in the years 2000–2005, 41,500 organ transplantations took place for which the most likely source for the organs was detained Falun Gong practitioners. Their groundbreaking work has since been corroborated by other investigators.
While the rate of organ transplantation in China has declined significantly from its peak in 2005, the transplantation industry in China still does 10,000 transplants a year. Matas estimates that the organs for 8,000 of those transplants come from Falun Gong practitioners.
To apologize for what? … Only because somebody is strong?
—MP Uri Orbach
In July 1999 the then-head of the Chinese Communist Party Jiang Zemin, fearing that an estimated 100 million Chinese had taken up the practice—a number greater than the membership of the Communist Party—and that Falun Gong’s traditional moral teachings might prove more attractive than communist ideology, ordered the practice be eradicated.
According to investigators, what Matas has called a “new form of evil on this planet” began being used systematically against Falun Gong practitioners in 2000.
Foreign Ministry’s Role
The row over the Israeli petition was started when the media outlet Arutz Sheva published an article on its website with the headline “Israeli MKs [Members of Knesset] to the UN: Investigate China’s organ harvest.”
Israel’s Foreign Ministry is taking the official stance that MPs are entitled to express themselves in any way they see fit, including signing a petition.
“The Chinese Embassy contacted us regarding the petition,” said Yigal Palmor, Foreign Ministry spokesman of the incident. “They wanted to understand whether the MPs who had signed it represented a policy against their government.”
Palmor went on to say that it is “not true that the Israeli government asked the MPs to send a written apology or retract. We conveyed the conversation with the Chinese Embassy.”
But according to a report published in the large Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz by diplomatic correspondent Barak Ravid, the Foreign Ministry directly updated the Knesset political adviser Oded Ben-Hur and Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, who then reached out to the MPs who had signed the petition.
Due to the pressure three of the nine MPs withdrew their signatures. One of those who refused to backpedal was MP Daniel Ben Simon.
“I read it (the petition) and I stand behind my signature,” said Ben Simon. He noted that he was asked after signing it if his signature was final, and he said it was.
One of the sticks used on MPs who had signed the petition was the threat that if they stood by their decision to sign against organ harvesting, they might be barred from visiting China in the future.
MP Ben Simon is unfazed by the prospect of being blacklisted for his stance on a human rights issue.
Of possibly being barred from going to China in the future, he says simply: “I can live with it.”
With additional reporting by Dina Gordon.