US: Israel must defend closing of NGO offices, prove terror connection

The U.S. will “form its own judgements” regarding whether Israeli raids of terror-affiliated NGOs were legitimate, says State Department spokesman. 

By Lauren Marcus, World Israel News

The U.S. State Department said it has yet to see sufficient evidence proving the connection between a number of Palestinian NGOs and terror groups, with a spokesman saying that there is a “very high bar” for Washington to support closure of “civil society” groups.

In October 2021, Defense Minister Benny Gantz announced that six prominent Palestinians NGOs were affiliated with particular terror groups that use the NGOs for money-laundering and other nefarious activity.

The announcement sparked backlash, with five of the NGOs appealing the decision and both the U.S. and EU demanding concrete proof of the ties between the groups and terror. Israel largely allowed the NGOs to continue operating as normal until the case was settled in court.

But on Thursday, Israeli security forces raided the offices of several of the NGOs in Palestinian Authority-controlled cities, seizing computers and other equipment and posting notices on the building declaring that the organizations were now closed.

The UN Human Rights Office swiftly issued a statement charging that the raids had been “arbitrary” and accusing Israel of launching “unjustified attacks” on “human rights defenders.”

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State Department spokesman Ned Price told Jewish Insider that the U.S. would not release a statement condemning or supporting the closure of the NGOs until it reviewed information about the organization that Israel had provided Washington.

“There is no question regarding the terrorist threat that Israel faces. We’ve all been reminded of that tragically and vividly, to include in recent days,” Price told Jewish Insider.

“Israel cites security concerns, Israel cites terrorist threats, we will be looking to the information that they provide to us, as we form our own judgment regarding these organizations and recent actions.”

In a previous public statement on Thursday, Price stressed that the U.S. would review Israel’s evidence for the raids “on a timely basis and very carefully.”

He said the U.S. had expressed to Israel “that there must be a very high bar to take action against civil society organizations,” he continued.

“Our Israeli partners, in turn, have conveyed back to us that they have met that high bar. That is why we are going to carefully review the information that they have pledged to provide. We will form a conclusion on the basis of that information.”

European countries condemn raid

Nine European nations condemned the IDF raid of the NGOs’ offices in a statement on Friday, claiming that “no substantial information was received from Israel that would justify reviewing our policy towards the six Palestinian NGOs on the basis of the Israeli decision to designate these NGOs as ‘terrorist organizations.’”

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The statement, which came from the foreign ministries of Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and Sweden, reiterated Europe’s support for NGOs working “to uphold the right to freedom of expression and association in the OPT [Occupied Palestinian Territories]. A free and strong civil society is indispensable for promoting democratic values and for a two-state solution.”

A May 2020 report by Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs warned that funds donated to Palestinian aid organizations, from both European state sources and private donors, are being used to support terrorism.

The terror cell that planned and executed the murder of Rina Schnerb, a 17-year-old Israeli girl killed by a roadside bomb, included several men who were employed by NGOs funded by the Dutch government.