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Israel Is Widely Criticized for Labeling Palestinian Human Rights Groups "Terrorists"

Allan C. Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
December 2021

On Oct. 19, the Israeli Ministry of Defense issued a military order declaring key  
Palestinian human rights organizations to be “terrorist organizations.” The named  
groups include: Defense for Children International-Palestine, Al-Haq, Addameer,  
Bison, the Union of Agricultural Working Committees, and the Union of Palestinian  
Women’s Committees. The declaration effectively outlaws these groups.  
This action has been widely criticized. The American Friends Service Committee  
(AFSC), a Quaker organization that has been working with Israelis and  
Palestinians since 1948, points out that, “The Israeli government has targeted  
these organizations for decades because of their human rights activism. They have  
arrested and detained staff, raided offices and made similar accusations to the  
organizations’ donors.” Michael Merryman-Lotze, Middle East program director of  
AFSC said, “This is an outrageous and dangerous escalation of Israel’s attacks on  
civil society.”  
The U.N. Human Rights Office in the Palestinian Territories declared: “Counter-  
terrorism legislation must not be used to constrain legitimate human rights and  
humanitarian work. These designations are the latest development in a long  
stigmatizing campaign against these and other organizations, damaging their  
ability to deliver on their crucial work.” Human Rights Watch and Amnesty  
International, which work with some of the targeted groups, issued a joint  
statement: “This appalling and unjust decision is an attack by the Israeli  
government on the international human rights movement. For decades, the Israeli  
government has systematically sought to muzzle human rights monitoring.”  
In Israel, 25 human rights organizations, including B’Tselem, called the  
“terrorist” designation “a draconian measure that criminalizes critical human  
rights work. Criminalizing such work is an act of cowardice, characteristic of  
repressive authoritarian regimes.” In the U.S., a broad coalition of more than  
288 social justice, civil rights and human rights groups called on the Biden  
administration to condemn the Israeli government’s “terrorist” designation. The  
statement was initiated by, among other groups, Jewish Voice for Peace Action.  
Among those joining this effort are Amnesty USA, Global Ministries of the  
Disciples of Christ, the Episcopal Peace Fellowship, the Center for Jewish Non-  
violence, the Unitarian-Universalist Service Committee and the Armenian-American  
action Network.  
Israel, critics charge, hoped that a classified Shin Bet document would convince  
European governments to stop funding Palestinian human rights groups. The Israeli  
magazine +972 (Nov. 4, 2021) got hold of the dossier’s testimonies and found no  
evidence to justify Israel’s claims. It declared that, “Israel has failed to  
present any documents directly or indirectly linking the six organizations to the  
Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) or to any violent activity…  
Contrary to the Defense Ministry’s claims, the dossier did not provide a single  
piece of evidence proving the six organizations diverted their funds to the PFLP  
or to violent activities.”  
European governments also found no evidence to confirm Israel’s charges against  
the human rights organizations. +972 reports: “Belgium’s Minister of Development  
Cooperation Meryame Kitir said, ‘Our investigation revealed that there is not a  
single piece of concrete evidence in the Israeli document that raises suspicions  
that there was fraud in these organizations…I have determined that there is no  
reason to freeze funding for these organizations.’ Dutch Foreign Minister Sigrid  
Kaag said: ‘There is no concrete evidence linking the organizations to the PFLP’…  
A senior European official we spoke to this week said, ‘The document provided to  
us by Israel in May was unconvincing, to say the least. We contacted the Israelis  
again immediately after the announcement to ask for more information, but…we have  
not received anything.’”  
John Dugard, former U.N. Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in the Occupied  
Palestinian Territory, and author of the book, “Confronting Apartheid: A Personal  
History of South Africa, Namibia and Palestine,” notes that, “When I was U.N.  
Special Rapporteur, I reported that I had no doubt that Israel’s law and  
practices constituted apartheid, an assessment based on forty years of living  
under apartheid in South Africa and directing a human rights advocacy body for  
more than a decade.”  
Israel’s outlawing of Palestinian human rights groups, Dugard points out, is even  
more extreme than South Africa’s response to such groups: “South Africa had  
legislation resembling the 2016 Israeli law, which allowed it to declare  
organizations unlawful. In the late 1970s, at the height of apartheid, a number  
of human rights organizations were established, mainly funded by the U.S. The  
apartheid regime made it clear it disliked these organizations, but it didn’t  
outlaw them.” South Africa was, he recalls, concerned with how the world viewed  
it. “Israel,” in his view, “is not concerned about its image.”  
Israeli human rights activist Jeff Halper notes that, “The irony of a state that  
uses terrorism routinely against a civilian population held under conditions of  
imprisonment, robbed of their human and civil rights, robbed of their lands and  
lives, victims of a relentless policy of home demolitions, labeling a legitimate  
part of a liberation movement ‘terrorist’ is not lost on us.” ***

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© 2010 The American Council For Judaism.