Israel faces vast backlash after labeling human rights groups terrorist organizations

Israeli Minister of Defense Benny Gantz (Jack Sanders)

Michael Arria

Mondoweiss  /  October 25, 2021

Human rights groups and activists want Israel to reverse its dangerous decision to label human rights groups as terrorist organizations.

Last week Israel designated six Palestinian civil society groups as terrorist organizations. The move has been condemned by the United Nations, human rights groups, and activists across the world.

Israeli defense minister Benny Gantz claimed that the organizations Addameer, Al-Haq, Defense for Children International – Palestine, the Bisan Centre for Research and Development, the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees, and the Union of Agricultural Work Committees are all connected to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. The organization has an armed wing that has claimed responsibility for suicide bombings.

“Counter-terrorism legislation must not be used to constrain legitimate human rights and humanitarian work,” reads a statement put out by The United Nations Human Rights Office in the Palestinian territories. “…these designations are the latest development in a long stigmatizing campaign against these and other organizations, damaging their ability to deliver on their crucial work.”

“Israel’s expansion of the so-called ‘terrorist’ designation is racist propaganda based on unfounded accusations,” tweeted the group Palestine Legal. “It’s another escalation of Israeli efforts to isolate Palestinians organizations doing critical work to expose Israel’s constant violations of Palestinian rights.”

Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), the only Palestinian member of congress, shared the Palestine Legal tweet and wrote, “The apartheid regime’s labeling of award-winning human rights groups as terrorist organizations—just because they speak truths about Israel’s violence & its human impact—is grossly antidemocratic and dangerous. The U.S. must end funding for human rights abuses. Enough.”

“This is a clear declaration of war against Palestinian civil society,” tweeted the Palestinian activist and writer Mohammed el-Kurd. “These orgs, which the public relies heavily on, provide the world with vital data and analyses that expose Israeli crimes. “Anti-terrorism legislation” is nothing but a racist tool to crush Palestinian society.”

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, who work with some of the targeted groups, put out a joint statement condemning the move:

 This appalling and unjust decision is an attack by the Israeli government on the international human rights movement. For decades, Israeli authorities have systematically sought to muzzle human rights monitoring and punish those who criticize its repressive rule over Palestinians. While staff members of our organizations have faced deportation and travel bans, Palestinian human rights defenders have always borne the brunt of the repression. This decision is an alarming escalation that threatens to shut down the work of Palestine’s most prominent civil society organizations. The decades-long failure of the international community to challenge grave Israeli human rights abuses and impose meaningful consequences for them has emboldened Israeli authorities to act in this brazen manner.

 How the international community responds will be a true test of its resolve to protect human rights defenders. We are proud to work with our Palestinian partners and have been doing so for decades. They represent the best of global civil society. We stand with them in challenging this outrageous decision.

Twenty-five Israeli human rights organizations have signed onto a statement criticizing the designation. “The Minister of Defense’s designation of prominent Palestinian civil society organizations, among them our colleagues in the Palestinian human rights community, as terrorist organizations, is a draconian measure that criminalizes critical human rights work,” it reads. “Documentation, advocacy, and legal aid are fundamental activities for the protection of human rights worldwide. Criminalizing such work is an act of cowardice, characteristic of repressive authoritarian regimes. Civil society and human rights defenders must be protected. We stand in solidarity with our Palestinian colleagues, and call on members of the Israeli government and the international community to oppose this decision unequivocally.”

The Biden administration has yet to criticize the move in any capacity. When asked about the announcement during a briefing on Friday, State Department spokesman Ned Price suggested that reporters talk to the Israeli government.

“That’s it?,” asked MSNBC host Mehdi Hasan on his show this weekend. “Go talk to the Israeli government? Really? Supporters of Israel often say to critics, ‘Stop singling out Israel. Stop picking on Israel. Treat Israel like any other country.’

Well, okay then. Let’s condemn them for doing this then because when our other allies, like Turkey or Saudi Arabia or Egypt, crack down on human rights groups, we condemn them for it. We criticize them. So why give Israel a pass? How is that not ‘singling out’ Israel for special treatment? Look I agree, we shouldn’t pick on Israel. We should just hold them to the same standard on human rights as we do everyone else.”

The Israeli government is expected to send representatives from Foreign Ministry and Shin Bet to Washington soon. They will allegedly provide U.S. leaders with more information about why they made the controversial decision.

Michael Arria is the U.S. correspondent for Mondoweiss