Palestinian NGO ban lays bare divisions in coalition

Left-wing Israeli Knesset parties expressed discomfort with the government’s decision to ban six Palestinian NGOs over their ties to a terrorist organization.

 Palestinian militants from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) take part in a military show to celebrate the 47th anniversary of the group's founding, in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip December 11, 2014.  (photo credit: REUTERS/IBRAHEEM ABU MUSTAFA)
Palestinian militants from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) take part in a military show to celebrate the 47th anniversary of the group's founding, in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip December 11, 2014.
(photo credit: REUTERS/IBRAHEEM ABU MUSTAFA)

Left-wing parties expressed discomfort with the government’s decision to ban six Palestinian NGOs over their ties to a terrorist organization, laying bare divisions in the coalition just two weeks before the vote on the budget it needs to pass in order to survive.

Transportation Minister and Labor leader Merav Michaeli and Health Minister and Meretz chairman Nitzan Horowitz demanded, following the NGOs announcement and plans to build 3,000 homes in settlements, that they be told in advance about controversial moves the government plans to make, in a meeting of coalition party leaders on Sunday. Defense Minister Benny Gantz, whose ministry released the information about the organizations’ proscription, was not in the meeting.

Michaeli said at Monday’s Labor faction meeting that "the way the decision was made about human rights organizations in the territories caused damage to the State of Israel in the world, mostly among our greatest allies."

Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev agreed with Michaeli, saying "there are ways to do it, not to wake up in the morning and read it in the newspaper."

 Minister of Transportation Merav Michaeli speaks during a memorial ceremony marking 26 years since the assassination of former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, at the Knesset, Israel's parliament, in Jerusalem on October 18, 2021.  (credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90) Minister of Transportation Merav Michaeli speaks during a memorial ceremony marking 26 years since the assassination of former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, at the Knesset, Israel's parliament, in Jerusalem on October 18, 2021. (credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)

Blue and White responded that they "suggest that Merav Michaeli, who doesn't know the details, not get in the way of the war on terror."

The Defense and Justice Ministries declared Addameer, Al Haq, Bisan Center, Defense for Children International – Palestine (DCI-P), Union Of Agricultural Work Committees (UAWC) and the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees (UPWC) to be terrorist organizations, due to their ties to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a designated terrorist group in Israel, the US, the EU and others.

The official declaration came out on Friday, but Israeli officials did not release any information or background to the decision until more than 24 hours later. In the interim, US State Department spokesperson Ned Price said that the US supports a strong civil society and respect for human rights, and will “be engaging our Israeli partners for more information regarding the basis for these designations.”

Senior defense sources said Israel, had, in fact, informed the US of the decision in advance, and argued that they have intelligence showing an “unambiguous and direct” connection between the NGOs in question and the PFLP. 

Representatives of the Shin Bet and Foreign Ministry plan to fly to Washington in the coming days to explain the decision again.

Israel had previously shared concerns about self-proclaimed human rights NGOs laundering funds to terrorist organizations in May with Switzerland, Germany, the Netherlands, the UK, Belgium, Sweden, Spain and the EU.

EU Special Representative for Human Rights Eamon Gilmore tweeted on Monday: "EU is taking very seriously the listing by Israel of six Palestinian organizations. EU is engaging with the Israeli authorities. The EU will continue to stand by international law and support [civil society organizations] who have an important role in promoting human rights and democratic values."

The Swedish Minister for International Development Cooperation and Humanitarian Affairs Per Olsoon Fridh tweeted that Stockholm was not informed in advance of the decision, and argued that "previous allegations of misuse of Swedish aid funds to Palestinian civil society organizations have not been substantiated after careful scrutiny...Civil society is a key player in the work of good governance and sustainable development in Palestine as elsewhere in the world."

Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) tweeted: "The apartheid regime's labeling of award-winning human rights groups as terrorist organizations—just because they speak truths about Israel’s violence & its human impact—is grossly antidemocratic and dangerous. The US must end funding for human rights abuses. Enough."

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) shared Tlaib's tweet.

Joint List chairman MK Ayman Odeh announced that his party will complain to the UN and the EU about the move. The Joint List also plans to meet with the NGOs’ leadership.

“If they are terrorists, then Martin Luther King [Jr.] and Nelson Mandela are terrorists,” Odeh said.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said at Yesh Atid’s faction meeting that the ban on the NGOs "is a good decision that had to be made.”

Sources close to Lapid and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett pushed back against reports that Gantz did not inform them in advance of the move.

The Foreign Ministry took to twitter to defend the designation of the six NGOs as terrorist groups.

"The PFLP, designated as a terrorist group by the US and the EU, operates an organizational and military apparatus, including a network of civilian institutions whose goal is to absorb donations from abroad and fund the group's critical needs on the ground," the ministry explained. "PFLP institutions operate under the guise of humanitarian aid, receiving funding primarily from Europe. These institutions serve as the main source of funds for the financing of the PFLP’s activities at all levels."

The Foreign Ministry said that the authorities' investigation found extensive evidence of the PFLP used donations to these organizations to fund terrorist activities and promote the PFLP in Palestinian society. The NGOs forged documents and defrauded European donors.

"In addition, these institutions serve as a place of employment for PFLP agents, including militants, allowing them to receive regular salaries, and their offices to serve as quarters for PFLP activities, focusing on the missions and activities of the terrorist organization," the ministry stated.

One piece of evidence the government has provided to show the connection between the organizations and the PFLP is a video from the Palestinian Wattan Media Network of leading figures in the NGOs, including Khaleeda Jarrar and Abdullatif Ghaith of Addameer, Shawan Jabarin of Al-Haq, Gebril Muhamad of Bisan, and Ahmad Saadat of the UPWC, at an event in a hall with dozens of PFLP flags hanging.

The event in Ramallah honored PFLP political bureau member Rabah Muhanna who, according information posted by the terrorist group, took part in the establishment of Addameer, UHWC and UAWC.

The PFLP is outlawed in Israel, the US, the EU, Canada, Australia and Japan, and is responsible for a series of hijackings in the 1960s.

More recently, PFLP terrorist attacks included the assassination of Israeli minister Rehavam Zeevi in 2001, suicide bombings during the Second Intifada that killed 10 Israelis, an attempt to assassinate former chief rabbi Ovadia Yosef, and the 2011 murder of five members of the Fogel family - parents and three children, one of whom was an infant.

In 2019, the PFLP planted a bomb, killing 17-year-old Rina Shnerb and injuring her relatives.

UAWC’s Finance and Administration director Abdul Razeq Farraj was indicted in October 2019 on four counts, including aiding an attempt to cause death in the terrorist attack on the Shnerb family. Farraj’s indictment refers to Ubai Aboudi, a PFLP member working with Farraj on recruitment, and the UAWC’s Monitoring and Evaluation Officer until April 2019. The commander of the PFLP terror cell that prepared and detonated the bomb was Samer Arbid, an accounted for UAWC at the time of his 2019 arrest.