Inès Abdel Razek
Palestine Institute for Public Diplomacy (PIPD)
International Advocacy Officer
Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association
Head of Palestine/Israel Program and Senior Fellow
Arab Center Washington DC
Head of Legal Research and Advocacy
Arab Center Washington DC
On November 18, 2021, Arab Center Washington DC (ACW) hosted a webinar titled “The Political and Legal Implications of Israel’s Crackdown on Palestinian NGOs.” Panelists were Inès Abdel Razek, Advocacy Director of the Palestinian Institute for Public Diplomacy; Milena Ansari, International Advocacy Officer at Addameer Prisoner and Human Rights Association; Yousef Munayyer, Non-resident Fellow at ACW; and Susan Power, Head of Legal Research and Advocacy at Al-Haq. ACW Executive Director Khalil E. Jahshan moderated the event.
Inès Abdel Razek began her presentation by highlighting the fact that the Israeli government’s decision to designate Palestinian human rights groups terrorist organizations is only part of a long-running campaign to hinder their work. She spoke of the essential role played by Israel’s Ministry for Strategic Affairs to monitor actions and agendas of Palestinian organizations exposing wrongdoing. Specifically important, she said, has been the ministry’s work in developing an international network of pro-Israel organizations that advertise themselves as working on human rights issues but in reality work to smear, harass, and sue groups exposing Israeli policies and practices. Abdel Razek said that “the tactics are like smearing online, to harassment of staff, to launching all kinds of lawsuits against NGOs in the United States and Europe…Over the past few years, this has been escalating…and finally led to the decision in October.” She stated that they Israel has no evidence to support its claims that criticism of its practices amount to anti-Semitism, which helps in “shrinking the space for civil society.” Abdel Razek finally lamented the fact that the media and many politicians in the United States and Europe have bought into what these networks publish, which in the end forces Palestinian organizations to spend time and energy refuting their claims instead of documenting Israeli violations.
Milena Ansari started by emphasizing the fact that the Israeli designation has impact beyond the six Palestinian organizations to the entire society of nongovernmental organizations as well as international organizations. She pointed out that the extension of the decision by the military administration to the occupied West Bank has had a chilling effect on organizations working to document abuses there. She said that “the Israeli military occupation is intensifying its attack and the Israeli military commander has issued orders that expand the scope of this decision and the military order designates these organizations as unlawful.” Employees of Palestinian and other NGOs feel intimidated and fearful that they will be arrested or lose their property. To be sure, she added, soldiers have the legal authority to search any property and actually seize it. What adds to the danger of the order is that spying through the Pegasus software is helping occupation authorities to increase their surveillance and harassment. Additionally, she said, Israeli counterterrorism laws are being used to intimidate all activists and threaten them with long imprisonment. Attending meetings or even collecting information about anything relating to treatment of Palestinians has become unlawful. All of this, she added, is to dampen NGOs’ fundraising efforts. She ended by criticizing the international community for not being forceful enough to take action instead of only issuing condemnations against Israel.
Yousef Munayyer discussed how the Biden Administration is dealing with the Israeli designation. He said that despite Washington’s declared policy of protecting human rights around the world, the administration has not done much regarding this designation. He agreed with Inès Abdel Razek’s point about the network of pro-Israel organizations’ work of defending Israel, and pointed out that the Biden Administration has not done much to counter them. He criticized the administration for not opposing the lawsuits that pro-Israel organizations have brought against activists; for objecting to the International Criminal Court’s looking into Israeli practices; for allowing US states to pass legislation recognizing the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism which considers any criticism of Israel anti-Semitic; and for allowing anti-Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions laws without opposition. Munayyer said that the Biden Administration has been sending messages that it will not oppose Israeli policies. He stated that “the total message that the Israelis take from this of course is that the United States is not opposed to their repressive effort in the United States or elsewhere. So it should come as no surprise that they were emboldened to take this latest step in attempting to silence and outlaw the six organizations.” Munayyer ended his presentation by saying that the United States is directly contradicting its own declarations about supporting and defending human rights issues around the world.
Susan Power explained that her organization, Al-Haq, was established in 1979 and has cooperated with American organizations on researching legal issues and accountability of Israel for violations of international law, such as at the International Criminal Court. She said that Israel systematically denies access by local and international organizations to the occupied West Bank. International human rights organizations actually rely on Al-Haq and others to document killings, arrests, home demolitions, and practices of apartheid. This is why the Israeli decision came to sever this relationship and to help de-fund Palestinian organizations. Power said that Israel has an aggressive campaign at the United Nations, and in the United States and Europe, to stop funding of groups exposing its practices. She said that “accusations against Al-Haq have been directly linked to our international advocacy work at the United Nations.” Power said that the documents Israel is distributing in Europe to explain its decision are met with skepticism. She added that the decision means that any international organization can lose its funding if it comes through Israeli banks. Finally, answering her own question of why is Israel doing this now, Power said that the decision comes because “we are now entering the final and completing stages of Israel’s colonization project,” mentioning the hundreds of illegal settlements in the West Bank and the hundreds of thousands of Israeli settlers living in them.