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Coalition’s Meretz rails against terror listing for Palestinian rights groups

‘There are implications here for human rights and democracy,’ says Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz, who heads the left-wing party; Yamina’s Shaked hails Gantz for move

Defense Minister Benny Gantz (right) and Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz visit a COVID-19 testing facility at Ben Gurion Airport, on July 12, 2021. (Flash90)
Defense Minister Benny Gantz (right) and Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz visit a COVID-19 testing facility at Ben Gurion Airport, on July 12, 2021. (Flash90)

Members of the coalition’s Meretz party on Saturday railed against the Defense Ministry’s designation of six Palestinian rights groups as terror organizations.

Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz, who leads the left-wing party, demanded clear evidence that the organizations were involved in terrorism.

“It is a very problematic matter,” he told Channel 13 news. “This complicates things for Israel internationally and I think we agreed in the coalition agreement to disagree on the matter of the territories, but that the situation there can’t be made worse.”

The current government is made up of parties from the right, center and left, as well as the Islamist Ra’am faction. Despite deep ideological divisions, the parties agreed to form a government in June, ousting longtime prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“There are implications here for human rights and democracy,” Horowitz said about the Defense Ministry’s decision.

He added that he had asked to meet with Defense Minister Benny Gantz on the matter.

Gantz announced Friday that half a dozen Palestinian civil society groups — including highly prominent ones with significant backing and oversight from the European Union and other international bodies — were being designated as terror organizations, asserting that they worked on behalf of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) terror group.

This list included: Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees; ADDAMEER — Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association; Bisan Center for Research and Development; al-Haq Organization; Defense for Children International — Palestine; and the Union Of Agricultural Work Committees.

Palestinian employees at the offices of Addameer in the West Bank city of Ramallah, after IDF forces raided 3 Palestinian NGOs, on December 11, 2012. (Issam Rimawi/Flash90)

Meretz’s Environmental Protection Minister Tamar Zandberg called the decision “grave,” saying in an interview with Kan news that the party would demand “clarifications.”

However, Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked of Prime Minister Minister Naftali Bennett’s right-wing Yamina party praised Gantz for the decision, saying it was based on “firm intelligence information.”

“For many years these organizations have disguised themselves as ‘human rights groups,'” Shaked tweeted. “Many countries contributed to these organizations and it is good that this is being put to an end.”

MK Ahmad Tibi, a member of the opposition’s majority Arab Joint List party, denounced the decision as a “harsh blow” to Palestinian civil society.

In a tweet, Tibi swiped at Meretz, Ra’am and the left-wing Labor party for enabling the decision as members of the coalition.

“It’s an upside down world in which the government deepening the occupation calls itself ‘change’ government, the defense minister dares to declare human rights groups with an international reputation as terror organizations,” the Joint List said in a statement.

The decision was also denounced by a number of Israeli rights groups.

“The current government is not a ‘change’ government but rather a continuation of the same violent apartheid regime that has been carried out for many years between the [Mediterranean] Sea and the Jordan [River],” B’Tselem said.

Palestinians participate in a rally marking the 52nd anniversary of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, in Gaza City, on December 7, 2019. (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)

The domestic criticism came as Israel pushed back against United States claims that Jerusalem did not give Washington prior notice of the decision. An Israeli defense official insisted the Biden administration was notified in advance and provided intelligence on the matter.

Representatives of the groups and international organizations have denied the charges and accused Israel of trying to silence criticism of alleged human rights abuses, with one of the organizations, al-Haq, calling the move “a sinister, unprecedented, and blanket attack on Palestinian human rights defenders and civil society organizations.”

The Defense Ministry provided no concrete evidence of these allegations or of a direct connection between these organizations and the PFLP in its announcement on Friday, nor did the defense official on Saturday night.

The official said the alleged connections between the PFLP and the six civil rights groups were raised during an investigation by the Shin Bet security service that was conducted from March to May of this year.

The United Nations and EU have also raised doubts about Israel’s reasoning for the blacklistings.

Both Israeli military and civilian law ban supporting or joining a terror group, and violators can face years in prison. Israeli authorities can also seize assets belonging to terror organizations and forbid funding their activities. Donors may also be subject to significant jail time.

Israeli authorities have charged before that the PFLP has pilfered millions of euros from civil society organizations affiliated with its members to fund terrorist activities.

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