Israel told EU in advance of plan to label rights groups ‘terrorist’

Shawan Jabarin, general director of the Palestinian human rights group Al-Haq (Pierre Albouy - Reuters)

Ali Abunimah

The Electronic Intifada  /  October 29, 2021

The European Union was told in advance by Israel that it was going to designate six Palestinian rights groups as “terrorist” organizations.

According to information received by The Electronic Intifada, the prior notice was conveyed to the European Union’s embassy in Tel Aviv about a week before the Israeli defense ministry announced the designations on 22 October.

The Electronic Intifada put the allegation to the EU’s spokesperson for external affairs on Wednesday and received a reply Friday – but only after this writer also tweeted about the matter:

The response from EU spokesperson Peter Stano completely failed to address the question of when the EU learned about Israel’s intention to act against the groups.

“We will be engaging Israeli authorities for more information regarding the basis for these designations,” Stano said.

“The European Union is proud of its continued support to civil society that contributes to peace efforts and confidence building between Israelis and Palestinians.”

“Indirect confirmation”

The bottom line is that the EU was unable to offer a clear and simple denial of the information received by The Electronic Intifada.

“They didn’t answer and this can be taken as a kind of indirect confirmation,” Shawan Jabarin, the director of Al-Haq, one of the human rights groups Israel labeled as “terrorist,” told The Electronic Intifada on Friday.

“The EU is still not standing fully behind its values, its principles and also its partners,” Jabarin added. “It’s not just a financial matter. It’s also to fully stand behind them in the face of oppression and smear campaigns.”

“Unfortunately, not all of the EU institutions or people are on the same page regarding this issue,” Jabarin said. “We appreciate their support. But I think there are groups and individuals who are not working for the interests and values of the EU.”

Jabarin pointedly praised the work of the EU mission in Jerusalem – a suggestion that perhaps not all EU bodies deserved the same credit.

It is notable that both the United States and EU member Ireland publicly stated that they were given no prior warning by Israel.

In addition to Al-Haq, the six groups include Addameer, Defense for Children International Palestine, the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees, the Union of Agricultural Work Committees and the Bisan Center for Research and Development.

Israel’s claim they are involved in “terrorism” is part of a long-term effort to choke off international support for organizations that document Israel’s crimes and aim to hold it accountable.

The EU and its member governments fund several of the groups. Israeli occupation forces could now arrest their staff, seize their assets and close their offices.

Israel accuses the globally respected organizations of effectively channeling money to support the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

Like virtually all Palestinian political parties, Israel considers the PFLP to be a “terrorist” organization – a designation intended to delegitimize any form of resistance to Israel’s military occupation and apartheid regime.

Over the last week, the Israeli move has been forcefully denounced by international, Israeli and Palestinian human rights groups, as well as UN experts.

Even the staunchly pro-Israel German government has publicly criticized it.

Some of the six groups have been working with the International Criminal Court on its investigation of war crimes in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Deference to Tel Aviv

None of the EU’s statements so far, including ones issued on Wednesday and Thursday, have said when Brussels learned about Israel’s intentions.

Instead, the general message the EU has sent out is one of extreme deference, repeatedly vowing to investigate allegations made by Tel Aviv without a shred of evidence.

The advance notice apparently received by the EU deepens the bloc’s already significant complicity in Israel’s war on Palestinian human rights defenders.

The EU could have used the time to warn Israel not to launch its attack on human rights groups, or to demand clear and convincing evidence – which Israel has yet to produce.

This submissiveness is all the more remarkable since the EU acknowledges that similar Israeli accusations of diversion of funds by Palestinian organizations have been unfounded.

The EU should also have informed its member states, who could then have pushed back collectively. As noted, the statement from the Irish government is clear that Dublin received no advance warning.

Ireland and other member states should demand an explanation from Brussels.

In the meantime, Al-Haq’s Jabarin insists that he and his colleagues will not be derailed from their human rights work.

“Even after the designation, until today, we continue our work as usual,” he said. “We will continue business as usual. We have nothing to hide and we are not ashamed of what we are doing.”

Ali Abunimah is co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of The Battle for Justice in Palestine (Haymarket Books)