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 societies play essential roles in providing services and advocating for human right, protecting land, water, and speaking out against ongoing occupation and violations 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. They wrote, along with dozens of individuals and groups, “We defend Palestinian civil society organisations’ rights to perform their vital work.” We support the fundamental values of freedom of speech, power of solidarity and the right to justice and dignity for all. “
“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. We are human rights funders and we will not be intimidated or silenced. In our grant-making process, we conduct extensive due diligence. This includes [the] accompaniment to projects. Our boards and our conscience make funding decisions, 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. The Israeli government is not only supporting disinformation and spurious lawsuits but also outlawing those who resist its abuses. “
Latanya Mapp Frett, Global Fund for Women president and CEO, emphasized that “the philanthropic community must not be silent. Multiple sources of violence against Palestinian women, girls and gender-diverse, non-conforming people include the Israeli military occupation and a patriarchal society. “
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 organisations and human rights defenders. We defend our right to freedom of speech and financial support for organizations that promote human rights, dignity and well-being in Palestine. “
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