Middle East Eye / October 22, 2020
Amnesty International accuses US government of trying to ‘silence and intimidate’ rights groups and stop criticism of Israeli policy.
A number of human rights organisations have hit back at threats by the Trump administration to have them branded antisemitic due to their reporting on abuses by Israel.
Amnesty International said the US government was attempting to “silence and intimidate international human rights organisations”, following a report in Politico that officials were on the verge of applying the antisemitic label to several organisations – including Amnesty, Oxfam and Human Rights Watch – and encouraging governments not to work with them.
According to a congressional aide with contacts inside the US State Department, the move was primarily being pushed by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo as a means of shoring up the pro-Israel and evangelical Republican base ahead of the elections.
The report also suggested that Pompeo could be eyeing a future presidential run himself and that the move was part of the process of beginning to build a coalition of support.
Any declaration is likely to stem from the office of Elan Carr, the US special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism, and will point to the organisations’ perceived support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign and press statements criticising Israeli actions in the occupied Palestinian territories.
In a statement released on Wednesday, Amnesty International USA said the government was “spreading misinformation and working to undermine those who are working to protect human rights”.
The statement continued: “We advocate for the release of Jewish prisoners of conscience, condemn acts of terrorism against Jewish communities, and call on governments to condemn neo-Nazi and other hate groups across the US and throughout the world.
“We are deeply concerned that conflating antisemitism with legitimate criticism of Israeli government policy is detrimental not only to ending serious crimes under international law, but also to efforts to address and end antisemitism – and it may encourage other countries to make such baseless claims.”
In separate statements, Oxfam said the accusations were “false, baseless, and offensive” while Human Rights Watch said “criticising government policy is not the same as attacking a specific group of people”.
According to the sources speaking to Politico, a number of career State Department employees have expressed alarm at the proposals.
Department lawyers have warned that the proposals could lead to lawsuits and lack a legal administrative basis.
Since coming into office in 2016, Donald Trump’s administration has been avowedly pro-Israel and has enacted a number of moves to appease Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing government, including moving the US embassy to Jerusalem and brokering a normalisation deal with the UAE and Bahrain.