Congresswoman Betty McCollum, chair of the US House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee. (AFP/File)
She said the designation of six Palestinian organizations ‘is a sign of incredible weakness more aligned with an authoritarian regime than a healthy democracy’
CHICAGO: Congresswoman Betty McCollum, chair of the US House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, on Thursday introduced a resolution condemning Israeli authorities for labeling six human rights organizations as “terrorist groups.”
Defense Minister Benny Gantz, who is in a power-sharing agreement to take over as Prime Minister from incumbent Naftali Bennett in two years, announced the designation of the groups last week. It gives authorities the power to close offices, seize assets and arrest and imprison staff without trial or formal public proceedings.
“When a government uses the label of ‘terrorist’ as a weapon to silence the work of human rights organizations and advocates who courageously represent vulnerable people living in under military occupation, it is a sign of incredible weakness more aligned with an authoritarian regime than a healthy democracy,” McCollum said in a prepared statement released with the resolution.
“Israel’s decision to brand these prominent Palestinian civil-society groups as terrorist organizations exposes the truth that Israel’s occupation is violent, immoral and unjust, and that peaceful efforts to defend the rights of Palestinian children, women, farmers or prisoners must be declared illegal.”
The six organizations targeted by Israel’s government are Al-Haq, Addameer, Defense for Children Palestine, the Union of Agricultural Work Committees, the Bisan Center for Research and Development, and the Union of Palestinian Women Committees.
Al-Haq, an independent, non-governmental human rights organization, was founded in 1979 to defend the Rule of Law in the occupied territories. Addameer, named after the Arabic word for conscience, focuses on abuses of civilians arrested, detained and imprisoned for political reasons. Currently, 4,650 Palestinian political dissidents are imprisoned by Israel.
McCollum, whose subcommittee has significant influence over foreign-aid funding, said: “The US invests billions of our taxpayers’ dollars to support Israel’s security, not Israel’s system of occupation and repression of Palestinians. It is incumbent upon Democrats in the US House and the Biden administration to condemn this Israeli decision and draw a clear line that anti-democratic repression of Palestinian civil society is not tolerated.”
McCollum’s resolution is cosponsored by Michigan Rep. Rashida Tlaib, New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Arizona Rep. Raul Grijalva, Indiana Rep. Andre Carson, McCollum’s Minnesota colleague Rep. Ilhan Omar, Illinois Rep. Marie Newman, Massachusetts Rep. Ayanna Pressley and Missouri Rep. Cori Bush.
Israel’s attack on the human rights organizations was widely condemned internationally. Critics in the US include the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.
“This is another blatant attempt by Israel to curb the growing support for Palestinians living under occupation, part of a pattern and practice by the Israeli government to silence the voices that challenge their apartheid regime,” ADC President Samer Khalaf wrote in a letter to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
“Israel has continuously attacked the human rights of Palestinians, whether it is by limiting water supplies, using checkpoints to hinder travel for work and school, unlawfully arresting individuals, or demolishing Palestinian graves to build theme parks and the likes.
“The Israeli government is using this designation to further impose its authoritarian regime on a people who are already oppressed by their laws. It must be noted that Israel has been designated by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch as an apartheid state that has violated several international laws.”
The classification of the human rights organizations as terrorist groups prompted calls from some in Israel for the label to be applied to pro-Palestinian Israeli groups.
On Thursday, right-wing Israeli Knesset member Avigdor Maoz wrote to Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit demanding that the Jewish-led Combatants for Peace, an organization of former Israeli soldiers who advocate for peace, and B’Tselem, an Israeli Human rights group, also be designated as terrorist organizations because they condemned Gantz’s declaration and support the six Palestinian organizations.