Israel stands by decision to link NGOs to terror

Believing that Israel is criminalizing Palestinian civil society, the US and EU demand proof.

By Israel Kasnett,

In light of the commotion following Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s announcement on Oct. 22 that accused six NGOs of connections to terrorism, Israel has now sent an envoy to Washington, D.C., to explain why.

Joshua Zarka, deputy director-general of strategy at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told Israel’s Army Radio in an interview last week that the envoy would “give them all the details and present them all with the intelligence,” according to an Associated Press report.

Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Lior Hayat told JNS “we are sharing information with countries and organizations that prove beyond all doubt the different connections of those NGOs to the PFLP terror organization.”

The Ministry of Defense designated the following six NGOs as terrorist organizations: Defense for Children International-Palestine (DCI-P), Union of Agricultural Work Committees, Al-Haq, Addameer, Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees (UPWC) and Bisan.

“These organizations present themselves as acting for humanitarian purposes; however, they serve as a cover for the PFLP’s propaganda and financing,” Gantz said in a statement. “These organizations received large sums of money from European countries and international organizations, using various methods of forgery and deceit,” it continued, adding that the funds are used to support PFLP activities.

Israel has for years either suspected or known about the groups’ links to the PFLP but stopped short of labeling them as terrorist groups. This latest move indicates a change in that approach.

These organizations have been described by Nour Odeh, a former spokesperson within the Palestinian Authority government offices, as the “crème de la crème of the human rights community.”

Based on its response to Israel’s announcement, the international community appeared to agree with Odeh’s assessment and her belief that by designating these NGOs as terror organizations, Israel is criminalizing Palestinian civil society and undermining the Palestinian struggle for freedom.

‘It is time for Europeans to freeze grants’

According to Yochanan Tzoreff, a senior research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies, “some of the six NGOs have gained a good reputation in international human-rights forums, earned professional recognition and many awards … and enjoyed the assistance and funding of many governmental and non-governmental entities.”

The question then is whether this is a trust issue. Do the United States and the European Union not believe Israel’s assessment; are they truly incredulous of the accusations that these six NGOs are connected to the PFLP? The evidence supposedly is precise, with these organizations having already been exposed as having prior connections to the PFLP.

Or is it a political issue? Are America and Europe simply downplaying the accusations by Jerusalem because they want to be able to continue funding these organizations, which serve a larger political purpose in keeping the dream for a Palestinian state alive?

Furthermore, the fuzzy series of events that have taken place since Gantz’s announcement begs the question of why Israel needs to explain anything at this point if it did indeed inform the United States of its decision in the first place.

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At a press briefing last week, a few days after Gantz’s announcement, U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price denied that they had received advance information on the matter.

“It is to the best of our knowledge accurate that we did not receive a specific heads-up about any forthcoming designations,” he said.

Adding to the confusion, Zarka said he personally updated U.S. officials on Israel’s intention to outlaw the groups and believed that perhaps Washington simply wanted a more thorough explanation of the decision.

‘What will we have achieved?’

Tzoreff told JNS he believes that while there may be enough evidence to place these organizations on the list of terror supporters or collaborators, “this is not the issue.”

According to him, Israel needs to consider the ramifications of such a decision and should also consider the strategic aspect, which in this case involves multiple NGOs, the European Union and the United States.

Tzoreff expressed worry that Israel may come under so much pressure that it will be forced to reverse its decision “and then what will we have achieved?” he asked.

He suggested that instead of outlawing the NGOs, Israel needs to sometimes learn to live with contradictions in order to avoid these types of international blowups.

The question, he posed, is “how do we do it in a smart way and not in a way that complicates the situation?”

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“The Israeli security establishment is known for professionalism and caution in its long deliberations before taking steps such as the closure of Palestinian bodies and institutions,” he wrote for INSS. “It is possible to arrest people on a terrorist charge, but closing an association or public body on a similar charge requires further thought and the inclusion of additional levels of government.”

In contrast to Tzoreff’s opinion that Israel should have perhaps taken a different route, Yossi Kuperwasser, a senior project director at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, told JNS designating these organizations “was the right thing to do” since they serve as fronts for the PFLP.

“Many of their operatives are PFLP members,” he emphasized.

If Israel is justified in its designation of these NGOs as aiding and abetting terrorism, the question must also be asked as to why Europe and America aren’t vetting these organizations? Or if they have been, then why are they pouring millions of dollars of taxpayer money into them?

Kuperwasser said the Shin Bet presented the international community with hard evidence in May of NGO collaboration with the PFLP, and while some countries did take note of the information and cut their aid, others ignored it.

He added that “those Europeans who insist on supporting these organizations don’t do due diligence.”