Attorney presses A-G to probe Gantz over NGO terrorist label

Gantz’s action affected the freedom of movement and expression of those working in the NGOs, attorney Eitan Mack said in a letter to Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit.

 Israeli minister of Defense Benny Gantz attend a Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee meeting at the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem on October 19, 2021. (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
Israeli minister of Defense Benny Gantz attend a Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee meeting at the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem on October 19, 2021.
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

A criminal investigation should be opened against Defense Minister Benny Gantz for his decision last month to classify six Palestinian non-governmental groups as terrorist organizations, attorney Eitan Mack said in a letter he wrote on the matter to Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit.

“We asked that you open a criminal investigation against Minister Gantz for falsely declaring that six Palestinian human rights groups are terror organizations” and that “you freeze the declaration” until the investigation is completed, wrote Mack. He represents the left-wing Israeli NGO Combatants for Peace.

To back the legitimacy of his request for a criminal probe, Mack referenced section 281 from the Israeli penal code that allows for a four-year prison sentence to be imposed on someone who deliberately provides false information that leads to the deprivation of rights.

Gantz’s action, Mack said, has affected the freedom of movement and expression of those working in these organizations. It has also affected their freedom of occupation and association, he added.

In his letter to Mandelblit, Mack charged that Gantz had targeted these six NGOs because they had been critical of Israel and had provided information against Israel to the International Criminal Court, or had worked with Palestinian prisoners.

 Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit. He is something of a weather vane for the new government.  (credit: TOMER NEUBERG/FLASH90) Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit. He is something of a weather vane for the new government. (credit: TOMER NEUBERG/FLASH90)

On Wednesday, the Foreign Ministry said a plea agreement with a Spanish citizen who worked for the Palestinian NGO Health Work Committees had provided evidence that hundreds of thousands of euros have been funneled to terrorist activity.

The HWC had been previously outlawed by Gantz but was not one of the six organizations Israel targeted in October.

Those were: Al-Haq, Addameer, the Bisan Center, the Defense for Children International-Palestine, the Union for Agricultural Work Committees and the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees.

Gantz has been under fire from the Left and the international community since he issued the declaration, particularly since he didn’t provide concrete evidence to back up his claim that the groups were diverting humanitarian funds toward terrorist activity.

Ireland has said the evidence Israel provided on the groups to date was not credible.

On Monday, the United Nations Security Council held a closed-door meeting on the matter. In its aftermath, five European countries – France, Estonia, Norway, Ireland and Albania – called on Israel to provide evidence for the terrorist designation.

Tuesday, UN Humanitarian Coordinator for the Palestinian Territories Lynn Hastings similarly said that neither the UN nor the Association of International Development Agencies had been given evidence to back up the terrorist charge.

“These allegations are taken very seriously. To date, none of the UN agencies nor AIDA organizations have received written documentation which could serve as a basis for the allegations”, Hastings said.

Her office said the UN had worked with the six NGOs and that it was concerned that Israel’s 2016 anti-terrorism legislation had been misapplied.