WASHINGTON – Rep. Betty McCollum is introducing a House resolution condemning Israel for labelling six Palestinian civil society organizations as terror groups.
According to a draft of the resolution obtained by Haaretz, the Minnesota Democrat is proposing that the House "recognize the value and importance of the courageous work being done by the six Palestinian civil society organizations defending the human rights of a vulnerable and at-risk Palestinian population living under Israeli military occupation."
The resolution further condemns Israel's actions as "a repressive act designed to criminalize and persecute important Palestinian human rights organizations." The resolution argues the organizations in question "work directly with Palestinian women and girls, children, small holder farmers, prisoners, and civil society activists, providing direct services and monitoring and exposing human rights abuses, including ongoing expansion of settlements in violation of international law."
Co-sponsors on the resolution include Reps. Rashida Tlaib, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Raúl Grijalva, Andre Carson, Ilhan Omar, Marie Newman, Ayanna Pressley, Jesús "Chuy" García and Cori Bush.
Last week, Defense Minister Benny Gantz signed an order declaring six civil society organizations in the West Bank as terror groups. A statement by the Defense Ministry said that the organizations operate in a network run by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine terror group.
Some are human rights organizations; Addameer, for instance, offers legal support to prisoners and collects data on arrests and administrative detentions, and actively works to end torture and violations of prisoners' rights. The NGOs also include a women's rights organization and an agricultural labor association.
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"Israeli, Palestinian, and international human rights and humanitarian organizations have faced an increasingly difficult operating environment and shrinking civic space in Israel and the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, that negatively impacts their ability to deliver assistance and advocate on behalf of Palestinian human rights," the resolution reads.
It adds that "delegitimization and disinformation campaigns have been advanced by a network of rising nationalist Israeli civil society organizations and associated organizations outside of Israel, with the support of Israeli government ministries, and aim to silence and eliminate lawful human rights work that exposes widespread human rights violations inherent in Israel’s military occupation of Palestinians."
It also calls on U.S. President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken to publicly condemn Israel's "authoritarian and antidemocratic act of repression" while calling on Israel to "immediately end efforts aimed at persecuting, delegitimizing and criminalizing Palestinian human rights defenders and civil society organizations" and publicly state U.S. commitment to the organizations in question, as well as other "internationally recognized human rights of Palestinians living under Israeli military occupation."
The resolution adds that "antiterrorism legislation must not be used to unjustifiably undermine civil liberties or to curtail the legitimate work of human rights organizations and must be applied in a manner that is consistent with international law and does not violate obligations under international law," stressing that the U.S. holds a "unique obligation to speak out against and condemn actions by the Israeli government that intentionally undermine democratic values and internationally recognized human rights" due to its annual providing of $3.8 billion in military aid.
The Biden administration has notably and publicly raised concerns about Israel's move , as well as the lack of transparency and communication prior to it. Israel, meanwhile, has insisted that it indeed provided its American counterparts with advance notice and evidence legitimizing its actions.
The Minnesota Democrat serves as chair of the defense appropriations subcommittee, which gives her jurisdiction over the entire U.S. intelligence community. The subcommittee staff has been unable to find any communications between the U.S. intelligence community and their Israeli counterparts on the NGOs in question, an official familiar with the matter said, noting that they were instead referred to the State Department.
McCollum, who has served since 2001, has long been one of the most vocal supporters of Palestinian rights in Congress. She was among the first lawmakers to come out against Israel's decision last week, largely based on her own lengthy history working with Defense for Children International – Palestine, one of the NGOs in question that monitors the killings of children and the wellbeing of arrested children in Israel.
“When a government uses the label of terrorist as a weapon to silence the work of human rights organizations and advocates who courageously represent vulnerable people living in under military occupation, it is a sign of incredible weakness more aligned with an authoritarian regime than a healthy democracy,” McCollum said.
“Israel’s decision to brand these prominent Palestinian civil society groups as terrorist organizations exposes the truth that Israel’s occupation is violent, immoral, and unjust, and that peaceful efforts to defend the rights of Palestinian children, women, farmers, or prisoners must be declared illegal," she continued, noting that "the U.S. invests billions of our taxpayers dollars to support Israel’s security, not Israel’s system of occupation and repression of Palestinians."
"It is incumbent upon Democrats in the U.S. House and the Biden administration to condemn this Israeli decision and draw a clear line that anti-democratic repression of Palestinian civil society is not tolerated," she added.