On the 19th of October, the Israeli government labelled six Palestinian human rights groups as terrorist organisations, claiming that they have “undercover links to a militant movement”. Most of the groups which have been condemned have been known and active critics of the human rights violations committed by Israel, therefore making this castigation an unsurprising move of the regime. The alleged terrorist organisations include Addameer, Al-Haq, Defense for Children International – Palestine, the Union of Agricultural Work Committees, the Bisan Center for Research and Development, and the Union of Palestinian Women Committees. By labelling them as terrorist organisations, Israel is securitizing human rights groups, seeking to legitimize potentially drastic measures the government may have to take to hinder reports on their perpetration of human rights violations. These measures will allow the Israeli military to “arrest their staff, shutter their offices, confiscate assets and prohibit their activities” and makes it unquestionably clear that Israel is not the democratic state it claims to be.
UN experts have deemed Israel’s action as “a frontal attack on the Palestinian human rights movement, and on human rights everywhere”. They added that “the Israeli military has frequently targeted human rights defenders in recent years, as its occupation has deepened, its defiance of international law has continued and its record of human rights violations has worsened”. It is therefore obvious that what is ostensibly being presented as a security manoeuvre is actually a mere political camouflage designed to enable the continuation of the ethnic cleansing and human rights abuses against Palestinians under the guise of Israeli defence.
B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights organisation, expressed its outrage against this decision by stating that it is “an act characteristic of totalitarian regimes, with the clear purpose of shutting down these organisations”. The fact that Israel has gone so far as to enact a policy change in order to facilitate their suppression of human rights reporting on their state’s behaviour paints a deeply concerning picture about the extent of violations being perpetrated within the state and the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT). Raja Shehadeh has poignantly noted how this further attack on the universality of human rights by the Israeli government is reflective of the confidence it has gained from a lack of consequences for persistently breaking international law and relentlessly violating the rights of Palestinians.
A coalition of over 288 US-based social, civil, and human rights organisations are now calling upon the Biden administration to rebuke this decision by the Israeli government. The open letter issued asserts that the administration “has no choice but to condemn and push back against this move if it is to fulfil its avowed commitment to human rights”. The US’ backing of Israel has always been morally questionable, however, if the administration stands silent or issues anything less than an unequivocal denunciation of this securitization of human rights groups, the administration will have lost all moral ground in their foreign policy. Inaction would expose the US administration as a champion of rights in theory and purely for public support rather than in practice, highlighting that the US is no protector of human rights, nor at home or abroad.