(CNSNews.com) – The Israeli government is sending a delegation to Washington to explain a controversial decision to outlaw six Palestinian non-governmental organizations operating in the disputed territories.
Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz has accused the six NGOs of links to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organization.
The decision to outlaw the groups sparked an outcry, with U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet calling it “an attack on human rights defenders” and urging a reversal.
The Biden administration also took issue with the move, albeit using more cautious language.
“We believe respect for human rights, fundamental freedoms, and a strong civil society are critically important to responsible and responsive governance,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said on Friday, when first asked about the decision.
“We’ll be engaging our Israeli partners for more information regarding the basis for these designations,” he said, adding that the Israeli government had not given the U.S. advance notice.
This past weekend, Israel’s defense ministry disputed that, saying the U.S. had been informed. In response to the claim, Price said on Monday, “it is, to the best of our knowledge, accurate that we did not receive a specific heads-up about any forthcoming designations.”
As criticism continued to pour in, especially from the U.N., Israel’s foreign ministry said on Tuesday an “envoy” was heading to Washington to share the intelligence behind the decision.
At a briefing on Tuesday, Price confirmed that the department would be meeting with “an Israeli delegation” to discuss the issue. He then repeated the earlier talking point about the critical importance of respect for human rights.
“And these are conversations that we look forward to having with our Israeli partners.”
Terror links claimed
The six NGOs are Al Haq, Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association, Defense for Children International – Palestine, the Union of Agricultural Work Committees (UAWC), Bisan Center for Research and Development, and the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees.
Bachelet’s office in Geneva described them as “some of the most reputable human rights and humanitarian groups in the occupied Palestinian territory” which “for decades have worked closely with the U.N.”
But Israeli officials and independent researchers have for years accused them of having links to the PFLP, a small but violent faction of the Palestine Liberation Organization which has been designated as an FTO by the U.S. government since 1997.
The defense ministry accused the NGOs of using funds raised from European and other sources to benefit the PFLP, including paying for recruitment, the promotion of terror activity, and stipends to the families of prisoners and “martyrs.”
In a May 2020 report that focused on Addameer, Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs named several of the NGO’s staff, board members, and members of its “general assembly” who had been PFLP members, in some cases until recently.
It said Samer Arbeed, the leader of a PFLP cell that carried out an Aug. 2019 bombing which killed a 17-year-old Israeli and wounded her father and brother, had worked as Addameer's accountant as recently as two years earlier. At the time of the actual bombing, Arbeed was reportedly employed as an accountant for another of the six NGOs, the UAWC.
Khalida Jarrar, Addameer’s director from 1993 to 2005 and still a board member, is a senior PFLP member in the West Bank. Running on a PFLP ticket, Jarrar was elected onto the Palestinian Legislative Council in 2006. (The PLC has been suspended for the past 14 years.)
The Ministry of Strategic Affairs report, which also examined ten other Addameer board members or staffers linked to the PFLP, noted that Addameer had received nearly two million euros ($2.3 million) in funding from European governments from 2013-2019.
NGO Monitor, an Israeli watchdog of civil society groups, has carried our research for years into the documented PFLP links of officials in the targeted “civil society” groups – including involvement in terror plotting and attacks. NGO Monitor last week summarized some of its findings.
Responding to the Israeli government’s decision, two coalitions of Palestinian NGOs in a joint statement called the move “a sinister, unprecedented, and blanket attack on Palestinian human rights defenders and civil society organizations.”
“The designations represent an unprecedented and ominous attempt by the Israeli occupying authorities to silence and criminalize Palestinian CSOs that challenge Israel’s prolonged military occupation, entrenched settler-colonization and apartheid of Palestine,” it said.
The groups called for international condemnation and pressure on Israel. The statement did not address the Israeli allegations of PFLP associations.
Formed in 1967, the Marxist PFLP was notorious in the 1960s and 1970s for plane hijackings, but continues to advocate violence and to carry out terror attacks, such as the Aug. 2019 bombing that killed the teenager.
In addition to the U.S. government’s FTO listing, the PFLP is also considered a terrorist organization by Canada, Australia and the European Union.