In Israel, campaigns to discredit Israeli, Golan and Palestinian human rights defenders

Geneva-Paris, April 27, 2021 — From slander and campaigns to deter donors, to restrictive legislation and judicial obstruction, the Israeli Government’s smear and harassment tactics against Israeli, Golan and Palestinian human rights NGOs and defenders have been flourishing for 20 years. A new report published by the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (an FIDH-OMCT partnership) documents and analyses the intensification of these practices over the past six years, in the context of the upheaval caused by the Trump administration in the United States and the expected opening of an investigation by the International Criminal Court.

Smear campaigns against organisations defending Palestinians’ and Syrians’ rights have been steadily intensifying, particularly since 2015. They are accompanied by increased pressure on international donors as well as intimidation, judicial harassment, travel bans, deportation, arbitrary detention, physical assaults, cyber-attacks, and death threats.

"The extent of the pressure being exerted by Israeli authorities on independent NGOs seriously threatens their ability to conduct their legitimate human rights activities. This abhorrent practice must be recognised for what it is — a shameless smear campaign attempting to sabotage the work of resilient human rights defenders."

Alice Mogwe, FIDH President

The Observatory’s report, Target Locked: The Unrelenting Israeli Smear Campaigns to Discredit Human Rights Groups in Israel, Palestine and the Syrian Golan, highlights the strategy put in place by the Israeli Government, and applied in particular by the Ministry of Strategic Affairs and Public Diplomacy (MSA), with the support of organisations loyal to the government. This strategy aims to delegitimise critical civil society voices through “naming and shaming” and associating them with terrorists or anti-Semitics; putting pressure on anyone that provides a platform for their discourse; and lobbying to cut off their sources of funding. Its publication follows a field mission to Israel and Palestine and is informed by testimonies from representatives of Palestinian, Israeli, and Syrian human rights organisations.

"This report documents how the Israeli government continues to abuse the legitimate fight against terrorism to drastically reduce the space for civil society and silence critical voices. The authorities must put an end to all forms of attacks and intimidation against human rights defenders and their organisations, in accordance with their international commitments."

Gerald Staberock, OMCT Secretary General

The attacks orchestrated by the Israeli authorities occur in a context of a general curtailment of civil liberties and heavy contestation of international bodies. They have also benefited greatly from the momentum generated by certain decisions of the previous US administration, such as the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and the relocation of its embassy from Tel Aviv to East Jerusalem, as well as the termination of US funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) – decisions that encouraged Israeli claims to sovereignty over the Golan Heights and the Palestinian territories.

In response to these campaigns, Israeli, Palestinian and Syrian organisations have sought to deconstruct and debunk the slanderous discourses that contribute to the closure of civil society space and find new ways of being resilient. This report aims to support this momentum by making recommendations to the governments of Israel and the occupied Arab territories, third countries, donors, institutions, and the international community as a whole, to ensure that the rights of human rights defenders in Israel and the OPT are guaranteed in all circumstances, in accordance with the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders and other international human rights instruments.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT). The objective of this programme is to intervene to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders. FIDH and OMCT are both members of ProtectDefenders.eu, the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented by international civil society.

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