Mondoweiss / August 19, 2022
The Biden administration says it “doesn’t share Israel’s position” on criminalizing 6 Palestinian NGOs, but also won’t criticize Israel following a military raid on the organizations.
On August 18 Israeli forces carried out an overnight raid on the offices of seven Palestinian civil society organizations in the occupied West Bank. Armed soldiers stole documents, damaged property, and welded the office doors shut.
Six of the seven targeted groups (Al-Haq, Addameer, Defense for Children International – Palestine, the Union of Agricultural Work Committees, The Bisan Center for Research and Development, and the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees) had been designated as terrorist organizations by the Israeli government in October 2021. Israel has never provided any public evidence to back up these allegations and classified documents obtained by +972, Local Call, and The Intercept show that the accusations are dubious.
Shortly after Israel designated the groups as terrorists, they presented the Biden administration with what they claimed to be “unequivocal” intelligence against the Palestinian NGOs. “We receive detailed information from the Israeli government,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters at the time. “We appreciated the consultation. We’re reviewing the information that they provided us.”
That was ten months ago, but the Biden administration has still not made a public conclusion about the evidence. At an April 2022 State Department briefing Price reiterated the same sentiments from October and did not indicate that they were any closer to reaching a verdict. “We have received detailed information on that very question from our Israeli partners, and it’s something that we’re continuing to review,” he said. “We received detailed information from our Israeli partners on the basis for their designation. We’re taking a very close look at that ourselves.”
At yesterday’s briefing Price was hit with a barrage of questions from the AP’s Matt Lee and Al Quds’ Said Arikat about the raid. Price expressed “concern” about the raids and said the administration was awaiting information about situation from its Israeli partners, the reporters asked why it hadn’t released a statement about the evidence from October and why people should expect them to assess any new evidence in a timely manner. Lee told Price that the administration seemed to be in a “perpetual state of limbo.”
“We have not seen anything that has caused us to change our position,” Price eventually admitted, which marks the first time that the administration has acknowledged that it doesn’t share Israel’s position on the issue. However, Price refused to disagree with the Israeli government directly, much less accuse them of lying.
“So you don’t believe the Israelis’ information?,” asked Lee at one point.
“Intelligence information is always information that is the subject of analysis and different parties can read information differently,” responded Price. “They can perceive of threats differently. Our own analysis heretofore of the information that was provided last year has not caused us to change our approach to these organizations.”
When Price was asked why the administration is simply voicing concern, instead of condemning the raids, he curiously referenced October evidence. “I think the fact is that our Israeli partners … took an action … to designate these organizations as so-called ‘terrorist organizations’, said Price. “What we’ve seen publicly, what they’ve conveyed privately in recent hours, is that there’s an appropriate basis for the actions that they have taken. It will be a matter of urgency for us to review the basis for that information.”
On Twitter some pointed out that the Biden administration helped facilitate the raids via their inaction in regards to the original intelligence. “To be clear, while this is the furthest the U.S. government has come, it still falls very short of where it needs to be,” wrote the Palestinian-American political analyst Yousef Munayyer. “Their equivocation for months emboldened Israel to raid these offices today. When will the US finally condemn these actions, how much further does Israel have to go?”
“The Biden Admin has had Israel’s ‘evidence’ for almost a year,” wrote Foundation for Middle East Peace president Lara Friedman. “It clearly knows this ‘evidence’ is BS — otherwise there is zero doubt they would have validated Israel’s designations/designated the groups themselves. But knowing the evidence was BS, they appear to have taken the politically & morally cowardly approach of staying silent — an approach that amounts to foreign policy gross negligence/complicity.”
“Make no mistake: This is a Chekov’s gun situation,” she continued. “Israel put the gun on the table last October. The Biden Admin saw that gun and decided to do nothing to pressure Israel to remove it. Now, the Biden Admin cannot claim surprise when Israel aims/fires that gun at Palestinian human rights defenders.”
A few Democratic House members also called Biden to act. “I am upset by the latest attacks by the Israeli army on Palestinian human rights groups,” tweeted Rep. Andre Carson (D-IN). “Silencing human rights defenders is an attempt to avoid accountability. I reiterate calls from myself and my colleagues that the Biden administration immediately condemn this repression.”
“Once again the IDF has launched a chilling attack on Defense for Children International-Palestine, a human rights organization supporting Palestinian children,” wrote Rep. Betty McCollum. “The Biden administration must condemn these efforts to silence groups advocating for Palestinian human rights and civil society.”
Last year McCollum introduced a resolution calling on the administration to condemn Israel’s “authoritarian and antidemocratic” repression of the human rights groups.
Michael Arria is the U.S. correspondent for Mondoweiss