Counter-terror and soft power: NGO claims to military and legal expertise and Israeli responses


For many years, the network of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) claiming a human rights agenda has consistently sought to delegitimise Israel’s counterterrorism strategy. This phenomenon was prominent during the 2008–2009 and 2014 Gaza wars, when these groups issued hundreds of statements condemning Israel, and in campaigns calling for UN commissions of inquiry (e.g. the Goldstone and Schabas/Davis investigations) into Israeli ‘war crimes’. NGO allegations were also the foundations of lawfare, including efforts to prosecute Israeli officials in the International Criminal Court and other venues, and for BDS campaigns against Israeli and Jewish targets. In this soft-power strategy, the perception of NGO officials as ‘security experts’ provides a major source of legitimacy, lending credence to their reports, despite the lack of credible fact-finding methodologies. Similarly, NGO legal analyses, based on problematic and aspirational interpretations, are accepted and echoed widely, without independent verification. In response, the IDF and Ministry of Defence first ignored and then sought to engage the NGOs in order to persuade them to accept Israeli perceptions and counterterror policies. When these responses failed, the emphasis shifted to countering NGO credibility in legal and diplomatic venues, which has also had limited impact to date.


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