Mondoweiss / November 9, 2021
Israeli attorney Michael Sfard issues an urgent warning about the threat posed by Israel’s designation of six Palestinian human rights organizations as terrorist groups.
The Israeli human rights attorney Michael Sfard issued an urgent warning yesterday about the threat posed by Israel’s designation of six leading Palestinian civil society groups as terrorist groups a month ago. Sfard called the designation an “act of tyranny” aimed at the “backbone” of Palestinian society, but said that the claim is “completely shattered at the moment” due to widespread repudiation of the so-called evidence against the groups.
So the pressure is growing on the U.S. government — from both Israel’s supporters and its critics — to accept the terror designation or call on Israel to reverse it.
Yesterday State Department spokesperson Ned Price ducked the question. He noted that U.S. government officials were briefed by a delegation of Israeli officials about the supposed evidence, and the U.S. is assessing it.
“We had a constructive discussion with an Israeli delegation that was visiting last week. The delegation provided a verbal briefing on information that they had on certain groups. They also provided written materials. We’ve provided those written materials to our counterparts in the administration. We’re going to take a very close look at them [and] from that we’ll form an informed judgment.
The battle is now raging inside the U.S. discourse. And the Israel lobby is stepping up attacks on the Palestinian civil society groups.
Sfard’s webinar to Americans for Peace Now yesterday was clarifying as to the politics of the designation. Sfard has offered legal advice to one of the targeted groups, Al-Haq. Here are some of his insights:
The U.S. government can force Israel to reverse:
The two main actors in the international arena that may that have leverage against Israel… the first and most powerful one is the American administration [the other being Europe]. The American administration could have said… This is not acceptable, this is not what countries that purport to be democratic do. This is an act– I’m saying this– is an act of tyranny: To outlaw human rights organizations, in an occupied territory, where people anyway do not have civil and political rights, and the work of human rights organization is four times more important than in in democracies. If the American administration would say that, Israel would have to reverse.
Israel is pushing the U.S. because its dossier on the groups has been “shattered”:
The Israeli government is trying to… garner legitimization…. If American officials come out and say, We’ve seen it, it’s pretty heavy, we are convinced, that would be a huge contribution for the legitimacy of this act that is completely shattered at the moment, completely in shatters. Because the government of Israel… has not presented any evidence… The Government of Israel definitely did not want the public to know what’s in the dossier because it’s so poor. The government has not of its own initiative presented a shred of evidence to the public..
So they need the American administration or American Congressmen and women and senators to say we’ve seen it, It’s strong.
Americans should call on Congress-people and Jewish leaders to oppose the designation:
Every statement by American representatives, any statement by Jewish leaders, any statement by credible associations that are known– in favor of reversal is extremely important, because at the end of the day, we need them. We need a critical mass in order for the government to say, Okay, it’s not worth it. It’s a PR disaster, and we are losing some of our allies, we’re losing some of our friends.
The Israeli attack is a watershed moment in the Israeli Palestinian conflict:
This is a huge earthquake. This is a watershed moment in the Israeli Palestinian conflict. The six organizations that were designated, three of them are human rights organizations, and the three others are community organizers. All of them are civil society organizations. They have not been established yesterday. Some of them were established 40 years ago, others 30 years ago. They’re all… well known in the… international community of human rights. They are known to be extremely professional there. They have won prizes… Some of them have official status at the UN.
Their reports have been used and their reputation is extremely high. In a way the six organizations are the backbone of Palestinian civil society and the Palestinian cry for democratization and respect for human rights. So declaring them as terrorist organization is an equivalent of the American government declaring the ACLU and Human Rights Watch as a terrorist organization. That’s how huge it is in Palestinian terms….everyone is in shock…
Israel is attacking the organizations because they represent a strategic threat to Israeli governance by fostering the BDS campaign and the International Criminal Court investigation of Israel.
[This campaign] started in the Ministry of Strategic Affairs, which was headed by Gilad Erdan, now the Israeli ambassador to the UN, when, in 2017-2018, these organizations were identified and categorized as not terror organizations, but rather delegitimization organizations. And why were they categorized that way? Because of their political human rights work, because they advance or promote BDS, and more importantly, because they support and advance and promote International Criminal Court investigations into alleged crimes committed by Israelis. And these two issues, but mainly and I put an emphasis on the ICC, the International Criminal Court. The ICC activity was the reason why they were identified and targeted. And the the method chosen to deal with these organizations was to dry out their funding to go to their donors and convince the donors, most of them European governments, to stop supporting these organizations.
The European governments rejected the evidence as amounting to “absolutely nothing”
Now, the European governments have looked into the evidence presented by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs which worked in in coordination with the Ministry of Strategic Affairs and said that’s not enough, we don’t we don’t buy that. These are well known established human rights organizations who are working in complete independence. They criticize both Israel and and the Palestinian Authority, and all these evidence is amounts to absolutely nothing. There were several rounds of Israeli governmental efforts to convince European governments. It began in 2019.
And then in 2021, this summer, that was the last effort going back to the European governments telling them now we have real evidence… On 972 mag there is this splendid article that runs through the full dossier that was presented in May to the European governments. And the European governments, some of them said, we don’t buy that. But for your peace of mind, we will perform a special in depth audit of the organizations that we support in order to make sure that no cent is diverted to an illegitimate goal… [They] sent people from Europe to Ramallah and looked at every piece of, you know, accounting and receipts and all and came back recently saying, ‘We found nothing. We found absolutely nothing.’
The goal is to stop donations to the organizations so as to end a strategic threat to Israeli control:
When the strategy of convincing the donors to stop donating failed, massively failed, then Israel has taken the unilateral violent step of declaring these organizations, terrorist organizations, and by doing that, it created the administrative power to block every donation that would be transmitted from any country in the world to the organization’s bank accounts in Ramallah…
The only reason they made the designation is in order to stop the donations. That’s the only reason, the only reason and by doing that, the Israeli government has completely depleted the concept of terrorism, just the way it does with antisemitism. If, if everyone is antisemite, then no one is, if everyone is a terrorist, even human rights defenders, then no one is a terrorist…
But the goal was to silence these organizations, to shut down their offices and stop their work that is seen by Israel, rightly or wrongly as a strategic threat, not a security threat, but a political strategic threat.
The left Zionists inside the new Israeli government coalition have not stood up– because Palestinians don’t get to vote.
That opposition is not rigorous. And I say that with sorrow, because you know, Meretz is supposed to be the party that is… the home for.. the human rights community. And while it did to a certain degree condemn the act, it did not follow through, it did not make… a political crisis out of it. And I have to say, again, with deep sadness, that it seemed like the ministers of Meretz wanted the news cycle to be over and get back to other stuff. Because it’s not their constituency. Palestinians do not get to vote. They do not have representation. That’s what the occupation is all about. And so they don’t have people working for them in the corridors of power where decisions are made. And so it’s really very, very sad.
Netanyahu’s possible return is more of a concern to liberal Zionists than the recent killings of 60 Palestinians in the West Bank:
For them, the threat of having Netanyahu back in power is more serious than anything that this government can do– whether it builds 4000 new units in settlements, whether it is involved in severe violence against Palestinians, and only, you know, in the last 4-1/2 months since this government took power, more than 60 Palestinian civilians were killed in demonstrations in the West Bank– and even when human rights groups that some of the parliament members of Meretz know personally are being designated terror organizations. So unfortunately, it seems like nothing serious will come out from that opposition within the coalition.
There is more from Sfard on twitter.
Philip Weiss is senior editor of Mondoweiss.net and founded the site in 2005-2006