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A Palestinian boy sits on a chair with a national flag as Israeli authorities demolish a school site in the village of Yatta, south of the West Bank city of Hebron on July 11, 2018. (Photo: Hazem Bader/AFP via Getty Images)

A Palestinian boy sits on a chair with a national flag as Israeli authorities demolish a school site in the village of Yatta, south of the West Bank city of Hebron on July 11, 2018. (Photo: Hazem Bader/AFP via Getty Images)

100+ Global Donors Pen Letter to 'Stand With' Palestinian Rights Groups Outlawed by Israel

Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz's "attempt to 'chill' our funding and solidarity will not work," said dozens of philanthropic foundations and individual donors.

Kenny Stancil

More than 100 global philanthropic foundations and individual donors on Tuesday joined a growing chorus of human rights advocates who have condemned Israel for its recent decision to label six prominent Palestinian civil society groups as "terrorist organizations," and stressed that the apartheid regime's move will not affect their funding decisions.

"The cynical weaponization of anti-terrorism laws poses an existential threat both for Palestinian human rights defenders and those defending human rights globally."

The punitive classification, issued last month by Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz, targeted a half-dozen 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—that serve millions of Palestinians living in the occupied territories.

"This designation criminalizes the work of these organizations and allows the closure of their offices, seizing of files and equipment, and arresting of staff members, as well as aim[s] to criminalize those who fund or support them in other ways," a coalition of dozens of philanthropic foundations and individual donors, most of them based in the United States, wrote in an open letter.

"Foundations and international donors play an essential role in supporting communities on the forefront of promoting social justice across the globe, particularly in areas where the well-being and human rights of marginalized peoples are most threatened," the coalition added. "In Palestine, civil society organizations fill essential roles in providing services, advocating for human rights, protecting land and water resources, and speaking out against the ongoing occupation and violations of international laws."

Last week, researchers revealed that before their groups were outlawed by the Israeli government, the cellphones of six Palestinian activists were infected with Pegasus spyware, an invasive technology sold by private Israeli company NSO Group and used to target journalists and dissidents worldwide.

"The exposure of illegal spying on peaceful Palestinian human rights defenders, coming on top of baseless terrorism claims against internationally respected human rights organizations, underscores how important it is that the international community continue supporting their legitimate work," Andrew Anderson, executive director of Front Line Defenders, said in a statement.

"Surely this episode will serve as a stark warning against any deployment of the term 'terrorist' against human rights defenders anywhere in the world," he added, "and renew efforts to rein in the use of spyware against human rights defenders, journalists, and other civil society activists."

In its open letter, the coalition wrote that "the targeted assault against six of the leading civil society organizations in Palestine is a blatant attempt to silence and criminalize dissent against the human rights violations of the Israeli government," including its plan to construct more than 3,100 new illegal settlements on Palestinian lands, announced just days after the six groups were banned.

"The cynical weaponization of anti-terrorism laws," said Lara Friedman, president of the Foundation for Middle East Peace, "poses an existential threat both for Palestinian human rights defenders and those defending human rights globally."

"Our funding decisions belong to our boards and our conscience, not the Israeli Defense Department."

"The breadth of signers of this letter underscores funders' shared recognition of the urgency of challenging this dangerous tactic, and of the moral obligation to defend partners on the ground who, in essence, have been singled out for attack because they have done their work defending human and civil rights too well," she added.

Additional signatories include the American Friends Service Committee, Right Livelihood, and the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee. Alongside dozens of other groups and individuals, they wrote: "We defend the rights of Palestinian civil society organizations to carry out their crucial work. We uphold the key values of the freedom of speech, the power of solidarity, and the right of all people to justice and dignity."

"The additional threat to criminalize those who speak in defense of these organizations (including funding them) is a direct attack on the freedom and purpose of global funders to stand in solidarity with Palestine," noted the coalition. "As funders invested in human rights, we refuse to be silenced or intimidated. We conduct thorough due diligence processes in our grant-making, including [the] accompaniment of projects. Our funding decisions belong to our boards and our conscience, not the Israeli Defense Department."

The global foundations and individual donors stressed that "we stand in solidarity with civil society organizations" that are under attack in Palestine.

Gantz's decision to slap six prominent human rights groups with a "terrorist" designation, said Kay Guinane, founder and senior adviser at the Charity & Security Network, "mark[s] a crescendo, not an opening salvo, in the Israeli government's long-standing campaign to suppress Palestinian civil society."

"For over a decade, Israel has been working with a network of legal outfits and disinformation groups to distract, defund, and delegitimize organizations in Palestine and internationally that work to support Palestinian needs and end Israel's human rights abuses," Guinane noted. "Now, in addition to supporting disinformation and spurious lawsuits, the Israeli government is simply outlawing those who stand up to its abuses."

Latanya Mapp Frett, Global Fund for Women president and CEO, emphasized that "the philanthropic community must not be silent. Palestinian women, girls, and gender-diverse and nonconforming people face multiple sources of violence—from the Israeli military occupation to a society dominated by patriarchy."

The open letter implores the U.S. government, European Union, and other governments around the world to protect Palestinian civil society by taking the following actions: 

  • Denounce all smear campaigns against Palestinian civil society organizations and press the Israeli government to immediately and fully rescind Gantz's designation of so-called "terrorist organization" against the six Palestinian human rights organizations;
  • Hold the Israeli government accountable to adhere to international law and human rights standards; and
  • Ensure that any philanthropic funds designated toward civil society organizations in Palestine reach them without interference by the Israeli government or financial institutions. 

"As global funders of human rights and democracy, this attempt to 'chill' our funding and solidarity will not work," the coalition wrote. "We stand with Palestinian civil society organizations and human rights defenders. We assert our right to free speech and to provide financial support to organizations advancing human rights, dignity, and well-being for the Palestinian people."

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