Mondoweiss / April 19, 2022
Six months later, the Biden administration has not challenged the Israeli designation of six Palestinian civil society organizations as “terrorist institutions” in any way.
It’s been six months since the Israeli government designated multiple Palestinian civil society organizations as “terrorist institutions,” but despite repeated calls for action, the U.S. government has still not challenged the designations in any way.
In October 2021 Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz announced that six human rights groups (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) had ties to terrorists. Gantz claimed that the organizations “constitute an arm” of the Popular Front and their “main activity … is the liberation of Palestine and destruction of Israel.” The Israeli government has still not provided any evidence linking the groups with terrorism.
Israel has still not provided any public evidence linking the groups with terrorism and classified documents obtained by +972, Local Call, and The Intercept reveal that the accusations are probably dubious.
Israel’s move was widely criticized. “This designation is a frontal attack on the Palestinian human rights movement, and on human rights everywhere,” declared the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. “Silencing their voices is not what a democracy adhering to well-accepted human rights and humanitarian standards would do. We call upon the international community to defend the defenders.”
“This appalling and unjust decision is an attack by the Israeli government on the international human rights movement,” read a joint statement put out by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. “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.
Israel sent a delegation to The White House to provide the Biden administration with what they claimed was “unequivocal” evidence against the human rights groups. “We receive detailed information from the Israeli government. We appreciated the consultation,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price told reporters at the time. “We’re reviewing the information that they [Israel] provided us.”
Multiple lawmakers called for swift action from the President. Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN) introduced a resolution condemning the designations. It called on the Biden administration to denounce the move, pressure Israeli officials to rescind the decision, and publicly recognize the important work of Palestinian civil society groups. Eleven House members cosponsored the bill, including Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), and Cori Bush (D-MO.) Mondoweiss reached out to multiple cosponsors of the bill to ask about Biden’s lack of progress, but none had responded with comment before publication.
In November 2021 Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) sent a letter to Secretary of State Tony Blinken asking Biden to take action. “Mr. Secretary, it is not enough to have expressed an initial leeriness regarding Israel’s decision to designate these six organizations as terrorist groups,” it reads. “It is now time to firmly and unambiguously denounce the actions taken and urge the Israeli government to reverse its decisions.”
Six months later Biden still hasn’t take action. In fact, the administration claims it’s still looking at the evidence Israel provided last year. “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 a State Department press briefing last week. “We received detailed information from our Israeli partners on the basis for their designation. We’re taking a very close look at that ourselves.”
Earlier this month the six Palestinian groups issued a joint statement calling on the United States, the European Union, and intergovernmental organizations to “take concrete action against the Israeli occupation authorities’ continued harassment” and demand a “full revocation of the designation.”
“The Israeli occupation’s criminalization of the six Palestinian organizations is explicitly intended to have secondary and tertiary consequences for the capacity of the human rights and civil society organizations to continue their vital work, especially their work in holding Israel accountable for its crimes and international law violations committed against the Palestinian people,” reads the statement.
The groups note that these consequences are already being felt. In January 2022 the Dutch government cut funding to the Union of Agricultural Work Committees (UAWC), the European Commission suspended one of Al-Haq’s and one of UAWC’s projects, and a military court in the occupied West Bank sentenced the President of the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees, Khitam Sa’afin, to 16 months in prison.
“The Israeli government’s designation of DCIP as a terrorist organization is a blatant attempt to outlaw and eliminate our work documenting human rights violations against Palestinian children,” Defense for Children International – Palestine’s Miranda Cleland told Mondoweiss. “Just this week, our team has documented three cases where Israeli forces shot and killed Palestinian children with live ammunition. Last year was the deadliest year for Palestinian children since 2014, and despite the Israeli government targeting our lawful human rights work, we’re committed to protecting and defending Palestinian children’s rights, regardless of how long the U.S. takes to review unfounded accusations by the Israeli government that has already been rejected by other states and UN experts.”
Al-Haq Legal Research and Advocacy Officer Ahmed Abofoul addressed the six-month anniversary on Twitter. “Today marks 6 months since Israel’s apartheid regime brazenly and calumny designated 6 Palestinian civil society and human rights organizations as ‘terrorist organizations’ without presenting a shred of evidence to states, let alone the organizations,” tweeted Abofoul. “These designations will have a lasting damaging effect on the organizations and their staff. Western states are still seeking ‘information’ and Israel refuses to present any. These states haven’t condemned the move yet and continue waiting endlessly!”
Michael Arria is the U.S. correspondent for Mondoweiss