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Critics: Makes it harder to counter actual anti-Semitism

Pompeo said set to declare human rights groups ‘anti-Semitic’ over Israel stance

Expected State Department report would target groups like Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Oxfam for alleged BDS support and end US aid for their activities

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during a news conference at the State Department in Washington, October 21, 2020. (Nicholas Kamm/Pool via AP)
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during a news conference at the State Department in Washington, October 21, 2020. (Nicholas Kamm/Pool via AP)

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is working to get the US State Department to declare several major international human rights groups, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Oxfam, “anti-Semitic” and end American support for them, the Politico news site reported Wednesday.

The report, citing two officials, said a declaration in the form of a report by US Special Envoy for Monitoring and Combating Anti-Semitism Elan Carr could come as soon as this week. The report was later confirmed by other US media, including The Washington Post.

The declaration would cite the human rights groups’ alleged or perceived support for the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, Politico said.

Israel has long accused human rights groups of bias, unfairly targeting Israel and holding the Jewish state to a higher standard than other countries over its treatment of the Palestinians.

Last year, then-strategic affairs minister Gilad Erdan (now Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations) threatened to ban Amnesty International from Israel over a report that called on websites like Airbnb, Booking.com, Expedia and TripAdvisor to boycott listings in Israeli West Bank settlements.

Amnesty accused the sites of profiting from “war crimes” by offering accommodation in settlements.

Illustrative: In this photo taken Sunday, Jan. 17, 2016, Moshe Gordon sits outside his guest house advertised on Airbnb international home-sharing site in Nofei Prat settlement at the West Bank. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)

“Amnesty International, that hypocritical organization that speaks in the name of human rights, is acting to promote a boycott of Israelis as part of a campaign of anti-Semitic delegitimization,” Erdan said at the time.

Also last year, Israel expelled the local director of Human Rights Watch for allegedly supporting the BDS movement against Israel.

Israel has adopted a tough stance in recent years toward the BDS movement, which it says is aimed at delegitimizing Israel’s existence and wiping it off the map. The BDS movement says it is a nonviolent campaign for Palestinian rights and does not endorse a specific solution to the conflict.

Politico said the draft State Department declaration draws much of its information from NGO Monitor, a pro-Israel site that tracks the activities of human rights and other organizations and often accuses them of being anti-Israel.

There was no immediate comment from the State Department or the Israeli embassy in Washington.

Politico said that the move was likely an attempt by Pompeo to curry favor with the staunchly pro-Israel evangelical Christians ahead of an expected 2024 run for president.

Pompeo has in recent days devoted much of his time toward getting Arab nations to normalize relations with Israel.

Pompeo said Wednesday he hoped Sudan would soon recognize Israel, as Washington moved to remove the Arab country as a state sponsor of terrorism.

Pompeo said that the United States wanted every nation “to recognize Israel, the rightful Jewish homeland, to acknowledge their fundamental right to exist as a country.”

However, targeting human rights groups drew criticism from US officials and vehement denials of anti-Semitism from the human rights organizations.

Politico said there was opposition from career State Department employees, including department lawyers who warned that such a move would be on shaky grounds due to free speech concerns, could lead to lawsuits and might even lack a proper administrative legal basis.

T’ruah, a US Jewish human rights organization called the plan “ridiculous.”

“A robust human rights sector is an essential element of a democracy,” said director Rabbi Jill Jacobs in a statement.

Rabbi Jill Jacobs (Courtesy of T’ruah)

“Israel is a state bound by international human rights law, like all other members of the United Nations, and like other countries can be criticized when it fails to live up to these commitments,” she said. “By falsely smearing human rights organizations as antisemitic, the Trump administration only makes it harder to counter actual acts of antisemitism when they happen.”

Democratic Congressman from New Jersey Tom Malinowski, who previously worked as Washington director of Human Rights Watch, told the Washington Post the move was “preposterous.”

“They also document the treatment of the Palestinians by the Palestinian Authority. They are critical of every government in the world, including the United States. Yet the State Department under every previous secretary of state has relied on these organizations as credible sources of information and treated them as partners,” he said.

The rights groups also slammed the move.

Bob Goodfellow, Amnesty International USA’s interim executive director, called allegations of anti-Semitism “baseless.”

American citizen Omar Shakir, the director of the New York-based Human Rights Watch for Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, waves ahead of entering the departures area at Ben Gurion Airport on November 25, 2019, after being expelled from Israel. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)

“AIUSA is deeply committed to fighting anti-Semitism and all forms of hate worldwide, and will continue to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth, and dignity are denied,” he said in a statement to Politico. “We vigorously contest any allegation of anti-Semitism, and look forward to addressing the State Department’s attacks in full.”

“Any insinuation that Oxfam supports anti-Semitism is false, baseless, and offensive,” Noah Gottschalk of Oxfam America said. “Oxfam and our Israeli and Palestinian partners have worked on the ground for decades to promote human rights and provide lifesaving support for Israeli and Palestinian communities. We stand by our long history of work protecting the lives, human rights, and futures of all Israelis and Palestinians.”

Human Rights Watch official Eric Goldstein noted that the Trump administration often relies on the work of groups like his own to validate its own policy positions.

“We fight discrimination in all forms, including anti-Semitism,” Goldstein said in a statement. “Criticizing government policy is not the same as attacking a specific group of people. For example, our critiques of US government policy do not make us anti-American.“

It was unclear what the immediate impact of such a declaration would be on the rights groups. They do not receive direct funding in the US, but some of their overseas operations do.

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