NGOs, the UN, and the Politics of Human Rights in the Arab-Israeli Conflict

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These ideological NGOs, which use the language of universal human rights, have steadily expanded their influence in the UN and other international institutions via soft power—“the ability to get what you want through attraction rather than coercion or payments.” Using strategies based on “naming and shaming,” political NGOs seek to “modify behavior not with logic, but by isolating or embarrassing the target,” using “the only real weapon” wielded by NGOs. In this process, NGO officials have argued that “even questionable, unverified allegations ought to be sanctioned as a basis for shaming in urgent  situations.”

This influential network of political NGOs has targeted Israel in particular, joining forces with the countries that dominate the UN human rights frameworks — specifically the members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC). The NGOs have played a leading role in singling out Israel through allegations of human rights violations, “war crimes,” and violations of international humanitarian law (IHL). Their allegations are copied directly into reports by journalists and in UN publications, such as the Goldstone report on the Gaza conflict. This NGO campaign is also central to the promotion of political warfare targeting Israel, including BDS (boycotts, divestment, and sanctions) and lawfare cases.

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