Israel’s defamation of Palestinian NGOs isn’t a first and won’t be the last

First published by TRT World on 26/10/2021

Who next will Israel label as “antisemitic” or “terrorist” in its attempts to silence its critics and to impede the work of human rights in the territory it controls?

Israel’s ongoing attempts to label its critics as either “antisemities” or “terrorists” took a new turn when its Defence Minister, Benni Gantz, recently declared six prominent Palestinian human rights groups as “terrorist” organisations. 

Gantz accuses Al-Haq, Addameer, Defence for Children International – Palestine (DCIP), the Bisan Center for Research and Development, the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees and the Union of Agricultural Work Committees of being fronts for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).

The decision was condemned widely. International human rights watchdogs called it “appalling and unjust.” This move constitutes “an attack by the Israeli government on the international human rights movement,” said Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch in a joint statement, adding that, “This decision is an alarming escalation that threatens to shut down the work of Palestine’s most prominent civil society organizations”. 

In a joint statement with over 20 other Israeli human rights organisations, B’Tselem said that Israel’s move is “not merely declarative…it is a characteristic act of totalitarian regimes, with the clear purpose of shutting down these organizations.” 

The Palestinian Authority condemned what it called the “unhinged assault” on Palestinian civil society, and three Israeli ministers, including the Minister of Regional Cooperation Issawi Freij,   came out against Gantz’ decision. “There is no connection between these organisations and terrorism,” he said. 

The notion that the Biden Administration would rush to condemn Gantz outrageous decision was quickly quashed when the Department of State spokesperson Ned Price said his office had not been given advance warning of the designation.

“We will be engaging our Israeli partners for more information regarding the basis for the designation,” he said during a telephone briefing with reporters in Washington.

Neither the Foreign Secretary nor the Shadow Foreign Secretary in the UK commented on the announcement.

Stifling the Palestinian rights movement

Not only are there now questions about what lies ahead for the six organisations in the near future, but there are immediate questions this raised about their ability to continue to work in their fields, whether documenting Israeli violations and bringing them to the world’s attention or supporting Palestinian prisoners. 

This is ongoing work. One has to question what will happen to lawyers and other employees attending Israeli courts on behalf of Palestinian prisoners from the so-called “terrorist” organisations. Will Israeli their employees be denied entry to countries like the US and UK?

Israel has been working for several years to demonise its opponents through labelling them antisemites or terrorists. This included inciting against the peaceful Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS), labelling it as antisemitic and this resulting in its co-founder Omar Barghouti being denied entry to the US.

Israel created a well-funded ministry to pursue the BDS campaign around the world, criminalising it and accusing it of connection to terrorist organisations, which is factually untrue.

In 2017, the Knesset passed a law to ban the entry of BDS proponents to Israel. I was denied entry because of this law, as have others, including Jews who stand for Palestinian rights.

The reason behind the law given at the time was said to be to deny proponents of the BDS the opportunity to enter Israel to gather data in support of their campaigns against individual companies.

Israel’s Strategic Affairs Ministry produced dubious reports that included ‘Terrorists in Suits’, to cast aspersions of antisemitism and connections to terrorist organisations on human rights defenders across the world.

The push by Israel and its ardent supporters to allow for accusations of antisemitisim against genuine antiracists and human rights defenders led to the creation of the discredited International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism, which has contributed to a chilling effect on advocating for legitimate Palestinian rights.

The most recent decision is not just a continuation of the Israeli policy to label supporters of the Palestinians as terrorists and antisemites, but also to restrict the collection of data on Israeli abuses and to to reduce opportunities for collection of robust data on its abuses of the Palestinian people.

It is worth noting that Israel failed to allow investigations by the UN into the Jenin Massacre and the repeated wars on Gaza. Tel Aviv has not allowed successive Special Rapporteurs on the situation of human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory entry to undertake their work freely, including current office holder Michael Link. This was reportedby one of the organisations in question, Al-Haq.

Professor Link himself condemned the raid in August DCIP, in which Israeli forces seized confidential documents and office equipment.

Which organisation or individual will be next to be labelled an antisemite or a terrorist by Israel in its attempts to silence its critics and to impede the work of human rights in the territory it controls?

Supporters of justice and Palestinian rights have continued to campaign against its refined policies of oppression since its creation in 1948 in the land of the Palestinian people and against their will.

Israel is emptying the term antisemitism of its true horrible meaning by bandying it around at will to criticise its opponents. It is emptying the word terrorism of its meaning when it labels Palestinians “terrorists” at will. When critics call for boycotts, it is “economic terror”. Bringing cases to the ICC is “legal terror” and defending Palestinian rights, “political terror”. 

Resisting occupation and seeking freedom, justice and equality in accordance with international law is neither antisemitic nor terrorism. It is a duty.

If Israel made an effort to seek genuine peace based on justice rather than smearing and attacking the Palestinians and their supporters, it would be that much closer to peace. 

Its policies to challenge its delegitimisation are backfiring as more and more people see what is happening. Israel is an apartheid state, as both B’Tselem and Human Rights Watch concluded earlier this year. 

It cannot wash that away by intimidation and false accusations and smears. In fact, it will succeed in emboldening support for Palestine and Palestinian rights. The tide is turning but not in the direction Israel wishes.

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