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A boy with his teddy bear sits on the ruins of buildings destroyed by Israeli airstrikes in the Sheikh Ridvan neighborhood in Gaza City on May 19, 2021. (Photo: Ali Jadallah/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

US Coalition Calls on Biden to Denounce Israel's Crackdown on Palestinian Rights Groups

"A threat against the Palestinian human rights movement is a threat against movements for social justice everywhere," nearly 300 U.S.-based civil society groups told Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

Kenny Stancil

A broad coalition of nearly 300 U.S.-based social justice groups on Friday urged the Biden administration to "immediately and unequivocally" condemn the Israeli government's recent decision to classify a half-dozen Palestinian human rights groups as "terrorist organizations."

"Smearing the promotion and defense of human rights as 'terrorist' activity is a dangerous, well-worn tactic of authoritarian regimes."

"These actions by the Israeli government are a clear attack on human rights," says the coalition in its letter to U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken. "As such, we urge you to issue a swift rejection of this unprecedented attack on Palestinian human rights organizations and the attempt by the Israeli government to shut down, delegitimize, isolate, and chill a growing human rights movement."

Last week, as Common Dreams reported, Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz's punitive designation targeted six groups—Addameer, AlHaq, the Bisan Center for Research and Development, Defense for Children International - Palestine, the Union of Agricultural Work Committees, and the Union of Palestinian Women's Committees.

Under the apartheid regime's Counter-Terrorism Law of 2016, "these human rights organizations now face possible mass arrest and being shut down by the Israeli government, and anyone identifying with the groups can also be subject to imprisonment," the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), one of the groups that spearheaded Friday's letter, warned in a statement.

Israel's move was quickly rebuked by progressive lawmakers, including U.S. Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), and advocates from CCR, Human Rights Watch (HRW), Amnesty International, and 21 Israel-based groups.

In their letter to Blinken, the coalition points out that "smearing the promotion and defense of human rights as 'terrorist' activity is a dangerous, well-worn tactic of authoritarian regimes and a shameful political maneuver to undermine the vital work of these organizations."

Describing the six recently criminalized groups as "trusted partners in our collective work to secure human rights for all," the coalition notes that they "form part of the bedrock of Palestinian civil society that has been protecting and advancing Palestinian human rights for decades across the full spectrum of issues of global concern, including children's rights, prisoners' rights, women's rights, socio-economic rights, the rights of farmworkers, and justice and accountability for international crimes."

Ahmad Abuznaid, executive director of the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights (USCPR), said in a statement that "Israel's authoritarian attack on these six leading Palestinian human rights organizations is designed to stop their work exposing Israel's government for what it is: a separate-and-unequal apartheid regime engaging in ongoing settler-colonial violence against the Palestinian people."

The letter cites last week's joint statement from HRW and Amnesty, which said that "for decades, Israeli authorities have systematically sought to muzzle human rights monitoring and punish those who criticize its repressive rule over Palestinians."

"For decades, the Israeli apartheid government has faced little to no accountability for its repressive actions."

"Palestinian human rights defenders have always borne the brunt of the repression," HRW and Amnesty noted, warning that Gantz's "appalling and unjust" attempt to outlaw certain groups is "an alarming escalation that threatens to shut down the work of Palestine's most prominent civil society organizations."

HRW and Amnesty attributed Israel's brazen authoritarianism to "the decadeslong failure of the international community to challenge grave Israeli human rights abuses and impose meaningful consequences for them."

Stefanie Fox, executive director of Jewish Voice for Peace Action, concurred. Fox argued Friday that "the Israeli government is openly attacking prominent Palestinian human rights organizations and threatening human rights defenders with mass arrest... because for decades, the Israeli apartheid government has faced little to no accountability for its repressive actions."

Calling Israel's "outrageous" decision to ostracize Palestinian civil society organizations "an attack... on the international human rights movement," HRW and Amnesty stressed last week that "how the international community responds will be a true test of its resolve to protect human rights defenders."

The coalition, for its part, has answered by arguing that international responses to Israel's ongoing human rights violations have been "inadequate" and "should change."

"A threat against the Palestinian human rights movement is a threat against movements for social justice everywhere," the letter states, "and in order to protect human rights and human rights defenders, all states must be held accountable for taking such manifestly unjust actions."

"As groups committed to social justice, civil rights, and universal human rights," the letter continues, "we have seen first hand the ways that the charge of 'terrorist' and the so-called 'war on terror' threatens not only international human rights defenders, but also social movements and marginalized communities here in the U.S.: Indigenous, Black, brown, Muslim, and Arab activists and communities have similarly faced silencing, intimidation, criminalization, and surveillance under such baseless charges."

Although the U.S. government "has long offered unconditional support to the Israeli government," the letter adds, "our movements and organizations will always stand first and foremost with the rights and safety of people."

To that end, signatories demanded that Blinken take the following steps:

  1. Affirm that the Biden administration's commitment to human rights has universal applicability;
  2. Issue a public statement that rejects the Israeli government's false accusations levied against Palestinian civil society organizations;
  3. Publicly condemn and rebuke Israel for this authoritarian action, and call on Israeli authorities to immediately reverse their decision and end all efforts aimed at delegitimizing and criminalizing Palestinian human rights defenders; and
  4. Support Palestinians seeking the protection and promotion of fundamental human rights, justice, and accountability, including at the International Criminal Court.

In addition to CCR, the letter was initiated by USCPR, Jewish Voice for Peace Action, and Adalah Justice Project. It garnered support from a wide array of groups, including CodePink, Just Foreign Policy, and Oxfam America.

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