US offering $1 million to report on Israeli human rights violations

The grant raised concerns for the potential of abuse by organizations to act against Israel via BDS and international law tribunals.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken delivers remarks on the Havana Syndrome, which U.S. officials refer to as "anomalous health incidents", in the Benjamin Franklin Room of the State Department in Washington, DC, US November 5, 2021 (photo credit: ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/REUTERS)
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken delivers remarks on the Havana Syndrome, which U.S. officials refer to as "anomalous health incidents", in the Benjamin Franklin Room of the State Department in Washington, DC, US November 5, 2021
(photo credit: ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/REUTERS)

The US State Department has offered a grant of up to $987,654 for projects that include reporting human rights violations by Israel, raising concern about the potential for abuse by organizations seeking boycotts, sanctions and international law tribunals against Israel.

The Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (DRL) announced “an open competition for projects that strengthen accountability and human rights in Israel and the West Bank and Gaza” last month, thought to be the first of its kind from Washington.

The proposals are meant to “collect, archive and maintain human rights documentation to support justice and accountability and civil society-led advocacy efforts, which may include documentation of legal or security sector violations and housing, land and property rights.”

The projects can also “take meaningful action in pursuing truth, accountability and memorialization; and/or provide psychosocial support to survivors of atrocities.”

DRL will favor projects led by local organizations with a proven ability to implement programs in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza.

 KARIM KHAN, new ICC prosecutor.  (credit: MICHAEL KOOREN / REUTERS) KARIM KHAN, new ICC prosecutor. (credit: MICHAEL KOOREN / REUTERS)

The contest rules state that applications cannot “reflect any type of support for any member, affiliate or representative of a designated terrorist organization.” Projects that directly benefit foreign militaries or paramilitary groups will also not be considered.

Applicants must pass vetting to evaluate the risk that the funding will go to terrorists or their supporters, according to the State Department website.

Prof. Gerald Steinberg, director of NGO Monitor, which tracks funding for NGOs dealing with Israel-related issues, said he has never seen a US funding announcement of this kind.

US funding “generally was not for these more political NGOs under the headings of human rights,” he said.

Steinberg wrote a letter to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken saying that NGO projects of the kind described “are exploited for campaigns targeting Israel. These grantees lobby the International Criminal Court and UN frameworks – such as biased Commissions of Inquiry – to sanction Israel, promote BDS and use the ‘apartheid’ label.”

The Biden administration has opposed the ICC investigation of Israel, the use of “apartheid” to describe Israel, and the UN Commission of Inquiry against Israel.

“In light of the Biden Administration’s repeated rejection of such campaigns, we call on the State Department to reconsider this program,” Steinberg wrote. “If however the NOFO [notice of funding opportunity] proceeds, the application of clear and rigorous safeguards will be necessary to ensure that taxpayer funds are not provided to organizations advancing a discriminatory, anti-Israel agenda under the façade of accountability and human rights.”

According to Steinberg, “the language [of the NOFO] is reflective of what European governments use to justify funding organizations like Al Haq and Breaking the Silence,” Palestinian and Israeli human rights organizations, respectively, that have advocated for boycotts of Israel and for Israeli officials to be tried for war crimes.

“It’s hard to see any other explanation for this type of grant,” he said.

Such human rights organizations targeting Israel are “an industry on the order of at least $50 million to Israel and Palestinian groups from European governments, plus there is UN support. It’s even more if you include Human Rights Watch and Amnesty” – which have accused Israel of being an apartheid state – “and this funding could, in theory, go to them,” Steinberg said.

Blinken recently met with Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth and Amnesty’s Secretary-General Agnes Callamard, releasing only a brief tweet in which he said: “We support the important work of human rights defenders.” He commended their work in a speech about the genocide of the Rohingya in Myanmar.