The Role of NGOs in the Palestinian Political War Against Israel

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Since the late 1990s influential human rights NGOs such as Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International have been at the forefront of attempts to delegitimize Israel. These international NGOs often work in concert with the Arab League and the Islamic bloc in UN frameworks, as well as with Israeli and Palestinian NGOs, promoting false allegations of “war crimes,” “massacres” and other violations of human rights.

As will be detailed below, this process was clearly manifested during campaigns to condemn Israel’s self-defense actions, beginning with Israel Defense Forces (IDF) operations in Jenin during Operation Defensive Shield (2002) and continuing through and after the Gaza operation in 2012. These NGO condemnations fuel boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) campaigns, as well as lawfare campaigns in the International Criminal Court (ICC), and other venues.

The source of the NGOs political influence, particularly regarding moral and legal issues, is what Nye terms “soft power,” which he describes as “the ability to get what you want through attraction rather than coercion or payments.”1 The perception of expertise, and commitments to a universal morality untainted by partisan politics or economic objectives, are crucial for human rights NGOs.2 This is particularly important in the context of the Arab-Israeli conflict, where NGOs rely on this perception of expertise and moral authority as an important tool in the political war on Israel.

Many of these political advocacy NGOs are funded by foreign governments, primarily by the European Union (EU) and European governments, as well as private foundations, many providing millions of dollars and euros annually. EU member states, as well as Norway and Switzerland, together grant up to 100 million euros to an estimated 80 Israeli and Palestinian political advocacy organizations. These government funds are provided under the banners of human rights and promoting democracy, but the recipient NGOs are the leaders of political warfare through BDS and lawfare campaigns. As a result, the European governments, in particular, are important enablers in these activities. In addition, significant government funds are often budgeted for the major international NGOs that are centrally involved in anti-Israel political warfare, such as HRW, Amnesty, and Oxfam.

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