Israel pressuring Biden to accept terrorist designation for Palestinian NGOs

US President Joe Biden (Gage Skidmore)

Michael Arria

Mondoweiss  /  September 14, 2022

An Israeli delegation recently traveled to Washington, D.C. to pressure the Biden administration into accepting its terror designation for six Palestinian human rights groups.

Last week an Israeli delegation was in Washington, D.C. trying to pressure the Biden administration into accepting its terror designation for six Palestinian human rights groups. “Israeli officials told me the delegation that went to Washington last week included officials from the Shin Bet domestic intelligence agency, the Foreign Ministry and the Ministry of Defense financial intelligence unit that was spearheading the designation of the NGOs,” reported Axios’ Barak Ravid.

According to Ravid, Israeli officials met with the State Department, CIA and the office of the Director of National Intelligence to present them with updated intelligence about the six groups.

“Our Israeli partners have in recent days provided us with additional information,” confirmed State Department spokesman Ned Price at a State Department briefing on Tuesday. “They provided this information not only to the department but also to a range of our interagency partners. We are continuing to review this and that process is ongoing,” he continued. Price refrained from saying more about the new information telling reporters he didn’t want to “prejudge” the information.

In October 2021 Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz publicly declared that 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 direct links to militant terror groups. According to Gantz, the civil society organizations “promote the goals of the terror organization , including the armed struggle destruction of Israel.” Israel has never provided any public evidence to back up these claims and when +972, Local Call, and The Intercept obtained a secret dossier used by the country to justify the accusations last year, they found no proof for the accusations.

“Despite claiming to center human rights in U.S. foreign policy, the Biden administration has repeatedly failed to take action and stand up for Palestinian civil society and human rights organizations increasingly under attack by the Israeli government,” Defense for Children International – Palestine senior policy and advocacy adviser Brad Parker told Mondoweiss. “We have no reason to believe this meeting between Israeli and U.S. officials will result in a different outcome. The Biden administration has made it clear that the Israeli apartheid regime has their unwavering support even if it means criminalizing and closing down prominent Palestinian human rights institutions despite international backlash.”

“This isn’t about intel sharing or security,” tweeted Senator Bernie Sanders’ Foreign Policy Advisor Matt Duss. “It’s political pressure to justify political repression. The admin knows, as our allies do, that the designations are false. The question is whether they’re willing to do anything about it.”

Israel sent an envoy to The White House shortly after making the designations, ostensibly to provide the administration with evidence about the groups, but also to repair any rift with Biden that the announcement might have created.  “We have received detailed information on that very question from our Israeli partners, and it’s something that we’re continuing to review,” said Ned Price at the time. “We received detailed information from our Israeli partners on the basis for their designation. We’re taking a very close look at that ourselves.”

Nearly a year later the Biden administration continues to suggest that it’s still reviewing Israel’s alleged evidence and has refused to publicly state that the accusations are dubious. While being bombarded by questions about the distinctions during a State Department briefing last month Price admitted that the administration had “not seen anything that has caused us to change our position.” It was the first time that Price had acknowledged that The White House does not currently share Israel’s position on the issue.

August Raids

During the night of August 18 Israeli forces raided the offices of all six organizations, stealing documents, damaging property, and welding their office doors shut. The overnight raid also targeted a seventh group, the Union of Health Work Committees (UHWC). The Biden administration expressed “concern” over the raids, but refused to condemn them.  “I think the fact is that our Israeli partners.. took an action.. to designate these organizations as so-called ‘terrorist organizations’,” Ned Price told reporters. “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.”

Many believe that Biden’s inaction on the issue helped embolden Israel to carry out the raids. “The Biden Admin has had Israel’s ‘evidence’ for almost a year,” wrote Foundation for Middle East Peace president Lara Friedman on Twitter. “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.”

Congressional Dems mount pressure

A number of Democratic lawmakers have called on the Biden administration to publicly reject the designations. In July Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) led a letter on the issue that was sent to U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines.

“The U.S. must always and consistently speak out against efforts by all countries attempting to undermine civil society and the necessary work of humanitarian organizations,” it reads. “Counter-terrorism legislation must not be applied to legitimate human rights and humanitarian activities.

Furthermore, repressive tactics such as criminalizing organizations must not be used to suppress or deny the right to freedom of association, or to quash political dissent, or limit the peaceful activities of civil society.”

Last year Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN) introduced House Resolution 751, which condemns the designations and calls on the U.S. government to recognize the important work that the organizations do. That bill currently has 11 cosponsors.

Michael Arria is the U.S. correspondent for Mondoweiss