When Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz announced on Friday that he is listing six Palestinian NGOs as terrorist groups, all hell broke loose on the left. The outcry, which emanated not only from Washington and Brussels, but from the halls of the Knesset in Jerusalem and Muqata in Ramallah, could have been anticipated.
There’s no sacred cow as holy as a self-described “humanitarian organization,” especially when it’s associated with and financed by equally untouchable foundations. Thus, though the impetus behind Gantz’s move was perfectly reasonable, he was promptly attacked, including from within the government of which he is a prominent member.
The groups in question—Al-Haq, Addameer, Defense for Children International-Palestine, the Bisan Center for Research and Development, the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees and the Union of Agricultural Work Committees—have, according to Gantz, been “active under the cover of civil-society organizations, but in practice belong to and constitute an arm of the [PFLP] … the main activity of which is the liberation of Palestine and destruction of Israel.”
Most of Gantz’s critics don’t dispute that the Iran-backed Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine is a terrorist organization. In fact, it is officially designated as such by the United States, the European Union, Canada, Australia and Israel. Naturally, the thugs in the Palestinian Authority have a different view, as they consider the indiscriminate murder of Jews and enemies of other stripes to be a legitimate form of political, ideological and religious protest.
The controversy, then, has focused not on the PFLP, but rather on a number of different issues, each more disingenuous (and revealing) than the next.
Let’s start with U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price’s stern reaction to the news, telling reporters that Israel hadn’t given America “advance warning,” and stating that the administration “will be requesting more information regarding the basis for these designations.”
He then said, “We believe respect for human rights, fundamental freedoms and a strong civil society are critically important to responsible and responsive governance.”
Right. As if that had anything to do with the matter at hand, which is preventing those specific NGOs from operating freely in Israel thanks to hefty donations from abroad.
No wonder the radicals are happily piling on the anti-Israel rhetoric.
“There must be immediate consequences from the U.S. and the international community for this brazen act,” tweeted “Squad” member Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), while J Street chimed in to call it a “repressive measure … designed to outlaw and persecute important Palestinian human-rights groups.”
Meanwhile, back in Israel, Gantz continues to be blasted by the left wing of the coalition and members of the Arab opposition, whose accusations are a combination of all of the above. Health Minister and Meretz leader Nitzan Horowitz, for example, was angered both on behalf of the NGOs—demanding proof that they’re actually involved indirectly in terrorist activities—and due the way in which the whole issue “complicates things for Israel internationally … [with] implications here for human rights and democracy.”
You get the gist. So did Gantz, whose office insists that the evidence against the six NGOs is “ironclad.”
It also claims that a Foreign Ministry official traveled to Washington last week to notify the State Department’s Bureau of Counterterrorism of Gantz’s impending announcement and present it with proof of the NGOs’ links to the PFLP, including “video footage, photos and payment receipts.”
According to this official, a lack of communication within the State Department is likely responsible for Price’s assertion that Foggy Bottom hadn’t been informed of the bombshell.
It’s hard to believe that Israel’s defense minister would lie about such an event, the veracity of which would be easy to check. Nor would it make sense for him to have targeted specific groups without evidence. Moreover, the watchdog group NGO Monitor said that Gantz’s announcement confirms what its research has shown for years.
Whether the defense minister is right or wrong about the NGOs he singled out, however, the brouhaha brings to light two larger points that the Israeli government keeps trying to deny or sweep under the carpet. One is that false assertion that the “diversity” of political parties that make up the coalition is an advantage, not a hindrance.
The second is the ridiculous claim that the government—now led by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett but squeezed hard by parties to his left—has the Biden administration in the bag. Oh, and that this “change government” will “bridge” the partisan Democrat-Republican divide on Israel that former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu supposedly created and cultivated.
Well, the PFLP-NGO scandal is only the latest among many internecine spats that have been rocking the shaky coalition. This doesn’t mean that it’s going to fall, mind you, as every one of its members still has more to lose than gain by quitting and toppling it.
But the explosion illustrates, yet again, that the only way for it to function is through the capitulation—not “compromise,” as its champions like to euphemize—of one side to the other. And the right hasn’t been winning the tug of war.
The genie that Gantz let out of the bottle belies the similar pipe dream of improved relations with the Democrats across the ocean. As anyone paying attention is aware, the battle in the United States, like that in Israel, is ideological.
Ironically, the left knows this full well. It’s about time for Bennett and his buddies to acknowledge that the split within both countries and between the two cannot be mended with masking tape.
Gantz, who’s being pummeled by the Palestinians and their apologists at home and around the world, is being forced to learn that lesson. As someone who himself campaigned on a ticket of “restoring” relations with the Democrats, he ought to be eating his hat—and a hunk of humble pie—while sticking to his guns against those groups whose work and cashflow should be stopped.
Ruthie Blum is an Israel-based journalist and author of “To Hell in a Handbasket: Carter, Obama, and the ‘Arab Spring.’ ”
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