White House is waving ‘red flag to a bull’ for Israel to crackdown on Palestinian groups

Philip Weiss

Mondoweiss  /  August 31, 2022

Israel is seeking to “liquidate” the Palestinian issue in its crackdown on human rights groups and Europe knows it, Khaled Elgindy says.

Three experts on U.S. policy say that the Biden administration is giving the green light to Israeli persecution of Palestinian human rights and civil society groups when it states that it seeks more information from Israel about the groups’ supposed links to terrorism.

Israel cracked down on the groups two weeks ago after compiling a dossier of allegations against the organizations’ that international actors including the CIA have said is baseless. But the State Department has said, “we’ll continue to seek additional information… from our Israeli partners.”

“Waiting for more information is not a passive statement, it is an active green light and encouragement for Israel to crack down further on these groups,” Lara Friedman of the Foundation for Middle East Peace told an August 26 panel about the repression held by the Middle East Institute.

“The U.S. statement about waiting more evidence is like waving a red flag in front of a bull and saying go ahead and do it, and the raids [on the organizations] that we saw last week are the beginning of that,” Friedman said.

Khaled Elgindy of the Middle East Institute said the crisis is an “existential” moment for the Palestine question internationally. Israel is seeking to “liquidate” the Palestinian issue, and if European countries can’t stand up for these organizations, which they have funded, and demand accountability for Israel’s crackdown on the groups and their leaders, then the west has crossed a line in its purported support for a two-state solution.

Zaha Hassan of Carnegie Endowment said that the U.S. position has been clear for years: the seven organizations were “untouchable” for the U.S. government merely because of Israel’s say-so.

“What the State Department spokesperson did not say is that these civil society organizations working to protect Palestinian human rights… have effectively been blacklisted by the U.S. for years, and are treated as untouchable by the US government officials based merely on Israeli allegations,” Hassan said. “U.S. officials do not generally meet with these organizations and they don’t reach out to them.. As the State Department spokesperson pointed out twice, the United States government doesn’t fund these organizations.”

The State Department desire for more information “is essentially saying these organizations will remain untouchables and that Israel’s word about them is enough for them.”

Friedman said she had seen Israel’s dossier on the groups and “it consisted virtually entirely of circumstantial evidence in the form of statements made by Palestinians under interrogation after they had been arrested by Israelis for similar charges. This is coercive interrogation.”

The U.S. is now enabling those abuses of due process by seeking more information, encouraging Israel “to manufacture more circumstantial evidence.”

And meantime, the Palestinian leaders are bravely risking years in prison by continuing to carry on their work. “The Israeli justice system is designed to either find Palestinians guilty if they go through trial or to force them to plead in order to find them guilty indirectly and use that as evidence against other people,” Friedman said. So the U.S. position is “something extraordinarily irresponsible, indefensible.”

Khaled Elgindy said the White House commitment to Israel is so complete that even when our leaders disagree with Israeli policies, they then “defer”. He cited the U.S. opposition to settlements– and doing nothing to stop them.

“That impunity over the decades has emboldened Israel, has actually made Israeli governments successively, more extreme, because there has never been a cost for anything they’ve done,” he said.

The Israeli right even brags about this pattern, Elgindy said. The right says they are constantly warned that the sky will fall if Israel builds in certain areas, but then Israel builds and the sky doesn’t fall! Because the U.S. protects Israel from any consequences internationally.

The crackdown on the Palestinian groups is a major test for the international community because “there is a full-court press to liquidate the Palestinian issue, from the Israeli stand point,” Elgindy said. “I can’t think of another instance of something of this magnitude where the stakes are so high, where there is a consensus, almost unanimity, across the board, the United States [the CIA], European countries, and other donors, some more vocal than others, in rejecting Israel’s designations and its evidence.”

But where is the follow through? “Unless those words are somehow matched with some sort of action, some sort of accountability,” they’re meaningless, Elgindy said.

So we are reaching “a point of no return” on the question of Palestinian sovereignty. “There has to be a point at which they say, this is the last straw… If they can’t respond to this and effectively reverse it– they have the means, they have the leverage, it’s just a matter of demonstrating the political will.”

Calling Israel to account on the seven Palestinian organizations would have a huge effect, Elgindy said. “It would be unprecedented… it could have a real snowball effect, if finally once and for all, a line is drawn in the stand… I feel it needs to [be drawn] otherwise no one can be taken seriously about their talk of two states or peaceful resolution of any kind.”

Friedman said that the White House has been clear about its priorities. It will spend no political capital publicly clashing with Israel, or even privately, because it is saving its political capital for the Iran deal. But Friedman said that the White House was forced by Congress to spend political capital on the Israeli killing of Shireen Abu Akleh in May, more than anyone could have imagined it doing. And such political leverage needs to be applied here too.

Hassan pointed out that one of the organizations’ leaders, Ubai al-Aboudi of the Bisan Center, is an American citizen now subject to a travel ban by Israel. But the U.S. has not lifted a finger on his behalf. “Why isn’t the State Department interested even in Ubai’s case?” she asked.

Hassan said it is distressing that the U.S. has “left the door indefinitely open to Israel to come up with some new information to justify its designation. And so the “untouchable status may continue forever.”

Israel’s mere raising of a question about an individual or an organization appears enough to get a Palestinian civil society organization and its leadership and staff blacklisted without due process or substantial evidence. Their work may be hamstrung without any action by the U.S. Effectively, the U.S. has granted Israel veto power over which civil society organizations groups the U.S. can engage with.

It is time, Hassan said, for international actors to impose sanctions and financial restrictions on Israel for its violations of human rights, including the crime of apartheid.

On the same day as this panel, Elgindy tweeted about the White House changing messaging on two states: “The Biden admin’s ‘equal measures of security, freedom, & prosperity for Israelis and Palestinians’ formula is rapidly replacing ‘2 states for 2 peoples’ as the most vacuous and disingenuous of all official platitudes.”

He also said during the panel that Europeans were saving their political capital to try to get the Iran deal through. “Maybe Palestinians and their civil society groups are somewhat expendable when it comes to these other broader strategic interests.”

Philip Weiss is senior editor of Mondoweiss.net and founded the site in 2005-2006