Report reveals a pattern of attempts at silencing Palestinian rights advocates in the Netherlands

Cover report

The European Legal Support Center  /  October 12, 2021 

Press Release

Today, the European Legal Support Center (ELSC), an organisation that monitors incidents of repression against Palestinian rights advocates in Europe and provides them with legal support, published a report on chilling Palestinian rights advocacy in the Netherlands. The report, which is the first of its kind ever published, highlights the many attempts to stifle activism, human rights work, artistic activities or simple political expression on Israel and the Palestinian people.

The report highlights how, as the public awareness and criticism of illegal Israeli policies directed against the Palestinian people grew in the 21st century, the Israeli government launched a global campaign to silence voices critical of its policy. With the help of supporters in think tanks, advocacy groups, political allies and some media, the efforts to stifle domestic critique of Israeli policies and advocacy for Palestinian rights intensified and took the form of tactics that follow similar patterns, as shown in the report.

Research in the report is based on 76 incidents of attacks on Palestinian rights advocacy that happened between 2015 and 2020 in the Netherlands, primarily targeting individuals – including activists, NGO staff, journalists, professors, politicians – and civil society organisations. Examples of cases in the report show (attempted) defunding, denial of space, restriction of academic freedom, threats with violence or cyberattacks, threats with lawsuits, and smear campaigns that baselessly conflate legitimate criticism of policies and solidarity initiatives with antisemitism or support to terrorism. These attacks have had immediate impacts on the targeted people’s reputation, mental health and resources, but also longer term effects such as intimidation and self-censorship.

Despite the broad civic space provided by the institutions in the Netherlands, and even though the attacks often don’t succeed, the report exposes a genuine chilling effect and an environment in which Palestinian rights advocates can be attacked for exercising their fundamental rights. Among the perpetrators are well identified actors such as Israel-advocacy groups, specific media outlets and right-wing and Christian political parties, but also centrist parties or mainstream media that plays an important role in enabling and amplifying the disinformation and/or attacks of the primary actors, as stated in the report.

“Compared to other countries in Europe such as Germany or the UK, the Netherlands has a relatively favourable environment for advocating for Palestinian rights and upholding freedom of expression. But many of the attacks and incidents against human rights defenders that we have been monitoring could be avoided if the government was opposing harder the smear campaigns and pressure from Israel-advocacy groups.” said Giovanni Fassina, the Programme Director of the ELSC.

The report calls on the Dutch government and other public institutions such as universities or city councils to comply more proactively with their positive obligation to protect civic space. Members of Parliament and civil society have a particular duty and leverage towards the government in that regard, and media, donors and financial services providers also bear their own responsibilities in the observed shrinking space for open and democratic debate.

Read the report – Dutch version / See an infographic of the main findings – Dutch version

The European Legal Support Center was established in 2019 in Amsterdam as the first organisation to defend and empower the Palestine solidarity movement in Europe, including the UK, through legal means. The ELSC provides free legal advice and assistance to associations, NGOs, groups and individuals advocating for Palestinian rights in Europe. Press contact: Alice Garcia, alice@elsc.support.