A few weeks ago, Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz identified six Palestinian “rights organizations” as terror groups, sparking a strong backlash from the U.S. State Department and some European Union nations. Their objection generally was that Israel lacked proof.
This is despite mountains of evidence detailing the connection of these non-governmental organizations to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP)—provided to the State Department by both the Israeli government and the independent nonprofit NGO Monitor.
Perhaps functionaries in the State Department failed to pass Israel’s evidence up the chain of command. Perhaps this truth simply triggers cognitive dissonance for Arabists in the State Department, whose careers are invested in strengthening ties to the Palestinian Authority. They can’t believe it, because they don’t want to believe it.
The six proscribed Palestinian NGOs are Defense for Children International-Palestine (DCI-P), Union of Agricultural Work Committees, Al-Haq, Addameer, Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees (UPWC) and Bisan. According to Gantz, these groups are operated by and for the benefit of the PFLP, which is itself designated as a terrorist organization by the United States, European Union, Canada and Israel.
The PFLP has been on the State Department’s list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations since 1997. The group was well known for pioneering armed aircraft hijackings in the late 1960s and early 1970s. It has the blood of dozens of Israelis and other nationals on its hands.
More recently, the PFLP helped perpetrate the 2014 murder of five worshippers at a Jerusalem synagogue, as well as a police officer who responded to the terror attack. Only two years ago, several PFLP officials were arrested and charged with the Aug. 26, 2019 bombing that killed Israeli 17-year-old Rina Shnerb, and wounded her father and brother.
The PFLP does not recognize the State of Israel and opposes any relations with it. It considers both Hamas and Fatah illegitimate and is against the two-state solution. As a Marxist-Leninist revolutionary socialist organization, it was originally aligned with the Soviet Union, but now it allies with Syria, Libya and Iran.
Gantz laid out the case against the offending NGOs. “Those organizations were active under the cover of civil society organizations, but in practice belong and constitute an arm of the [PFLP] leadership, the main activity of which is the liberation of Palestine and destruction of Israel,” Gantz’s office said in a statement. According to the Israeli Defense Ministry, all six organizations employed senior PFLP members, “including activists involved in terror activity.”
For example, Salah Hamouri was a PFLP operative convicted of plotting to assassinate Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, Israel’s former chief Sephardi rabbi. He later began working with the NGO Addameer. Khalida Jarrar, former director and then-deputy director of Addameer’s board pleaded guilty to being a member of PFLP in 2019.
Two PFLP terrorists involved in the murder of 17-year-old Shnerb, including Samer Arbid, were employed by the Union of Agricultural Work Committees. PFLP operative Shawan Jabarin, general director of Al-Haq, was described by an Israeli Supreme Court judge as a “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” who spent part of his time “conducting a human rights organization” but “has no qualms regarding murder.”
The named NGOs are well-known Palestinian “civil society” organizations and have received significant E.U. and U.N. funding over the years.
“Those funds served the Popular Front for payments to security prisoners’ families and martyrs, wages for activists, enlistment of activists, promotion of terror activity and strengthening, promotion of the Popular Front activity in Jerusalem, and distribution of the organization’s messages and ideology,” said the Defense Ministry.
Despite the carefully laid-out case, including countless reports by NGO Monitor and Israel’s Strategic Affairs Ministry, the State Department declared itself unaware of the evidence for Israel’s claims against these six NGOs. State Department Spokesman Ned Price claimed the move had not been sufficiently coordinated with his office and needed further clarification.
“We believe respect for human rights, fundamental freedoms and a strong civil society are critically important to responsible and responsive governance,” said Price. In other words, we don’t want to believe this. Unfortunately, Price’s statement gave cover for a spate of other condemnations of Gantz’s announcement from around the world.
In fact, Gantz’s office said they had long ago notified relevant actors in the United States, and even dispatched high-level Israeli officials to show the evidence. Despite all this and a preponderance of proof, the State Department has remained insistent that it does not have all the information.
This is absurd, especially considering all of the published information by NGO Monitor and the Washington Institute for Near East Policy on the connection between these six NGOs and the PFLP. They have identified leading officials at these NGOs as PFLP members. According to NGO Monitor, notably, representatives from Al-Haq, UAWC, Addameer, UPWC, and Bisan participated in a May 2019 PFLP memorial rally for a dead terror executive in Ramallah.
This “terror mafia” gathering was attended by dozens of PFLP members, including, according to NGO Monitor, “nine representatives from at least seven NGOs that receive European government funding,” as well as Arbid, Jarrar and NGO officials detained in connection to the August 2019 murder attack.
The question is: Is this a case of a misunderstanding between the United States and Israel? Is it part of the phony “halo effect” that seems to protect “human rights” NGOs, who—regardless of evidence of involvement in terror—are given the benefit of the doubt? Or is it something more sinister from a State Department mission-bound to “make friends” with the politically bankrupt P.A.? Notably, the White House has largely remained silent on the issue.
Whatever the justification for its denial, leadership at the State Department needs to face Israel’s overwhelming evidence. Antony Blinken and his team should retreat from the shaky limb they’ve climbed out on. As long as they remain in denial, anti-Israel forces will simply use this episode as another stick with which to beat the Jewish state—and true U.S. interests in Middle East peace will remain blocked.
James Sinkinson is president of Facts and Logic About the Middle East (FLAME), which publishes educational messages to correct lies and misperceptions about Israel and its relationship to the United States.