Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN)


Country/TerritoryUnited States
FoundedFebruary 2018
In their own words“DAWN seeks to highlight and celebrate democratic reforms in the Arab world, while also shining a light on human rights violations and arbitrary and abusive practices.”


  • In 2022, total income was $2.1 million; total expenses were $1.6 million.
  • According to its website, “DAWN is an independent, non-governmental organization that seeks contributions from private individuals and foundations worldwide. Many of DAWN’s donors remain anonymous in light of security risks associated with the work of DAWN, and the recent murder of our founder, Jamal Khashoggi.”
  • According to DAWN’s 2022 Annual Report, “Institutional Partners” include Open Society Foundations, Ford Foundation, and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund.
  • In 2022-2023, DAWN received $50,000 from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund
  • In 2022-2025, DAWN received $1 million from the Ford Foundation to “inform US foreign policy debates on human rights and democratization in the MENA region including by increasing participation of the Arab-American diaspora and allies.”
  • In 2020, DAWN received $25,000 from the Open Society Foundation.


BDS Activities

  • In November 2023, DAWN was a signatory on a statement urging states to issue a “Two-Way Arms Embargo on Israel,” demanding that “The US, the UK, Germany, Canada, Italy, the Netherlands and other States that authorise the continued transfer of arms, and other forms of military support to Israel to immediately bring an end to such transfers…and immediately halt the provision of any materiel, equipment or other commodity that may foreseeably be used in the commission of serious international law violations including international crimes.” 
  • In March 2022, DAWN was a signatory on a joint statement delivered to the UN Human Rights Council calling to “adopt effective measures, including sanctions, to end Israeli apartheid.”
  • In January 2022, DAWN published a statement in opposition to the “Abraham Accords,” stating that “While masquerading as ‘peace’ and ‘diplomacy’, the Abraham Accords and this legislation are in fact an endorsement of arms sales and political favors between the U.S. and authoritarian regimes – including weapons sales to the United Arab Emirates and the recognition of Morocco’s illegal annexation of Western Sahara – in exchange for the sidelining of Palestinian rights.”
  • In October 2022, DAWN Executive Director Sarah Leah Whitson participated in an event titled “Protecting The Right to Boycott: Preventing Impunity.” According to the event details, “From bus boycotts against racial segregation, to divestment from fossil fuel companies and arms embargoes against apartheid, boycott, divestment, and sanctions campaigns have been applied throughout history to put economic, cultural, or political pressure on regimes, institutions, and companies to change abusive, discriminatory, or illegal policies.”
  • In August 2021, DAWN signed a letter to the States Parties to the Arms Trade Treaty, calling to “put an end to Israel’s notorious use of arms and military equipment…by immediately imposing a comprehensive two-way arms embargo on Israel.” According to the letter, “This systematic brutality, perpetrated throughout the past seven decades of Israel’s colonialism, apartheid, pro-longed illegal belligerent occupation, persecution, and closure, is only possible because of the complicity of some governments and corporations around the world.”
  • In July 2021, DAWN was a signatory on a letter to President Biden to “Halt Weapons Sales to Israel.”
  • In May 2021, DAWN published an article titled “U.S. State Department: Secret Approval of License for Weapons Sales to Israel Circumvents Historic Senate Vote on Arms Sale to Israel,” stating that “the State Department felt compelled to keep its approval of this new arms sale to Israel secret from the American public is all you need to know about its apparent anxiety at proceeding with this troubling deal while Israeli war crimes and apartheid rule continue unabated.”

Political Advocacy

  • In October 2023, in the aftermath of the brutal Hamas attack on October 7, DAWN Executive Director Sarah Leah Whitson tweeted, “This is going to sound odd to people but massacring thousands of men, women & children creates major PR problems for Israel because each death will confirm it’s an Israeli ISIS.”
  • In April 2023, DAWN was a signatory on a letter to the United Nations Secretary-General urging the UN to reject the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism. According to the letter, the IHRA definition “opens the door to labeling as antisemitic… findings of major Israeli, Palestinian and global human rights organizations that Israeli authorities are committing the crime against humanity of apartheid against Palestinians.”
    • The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism, adopted by nearly 30 countries and counting, represents the international consensus definition of antisemitism, as well as how to distinguish between legitimate criticism of Israel and antisemitism. An example of the latter includes denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.
  • In May 2022, DAWN Executive Director Sarah Leah Whitson participated in an event titled “Responding to Apartheid in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories” discussing the UK’s supposed “legal obligations when it comes to occupation, settlements, trade deals, supply of arms, administrative detention, the siege on Gaza and potential corporate and state complicity in war crimes?”
  • In March 2022, DAWN drew false equivalencies between Russia/Ukraine and Israel, stating that “There is no better moment for Secretary Blinken to show the world that the U.S. will hold Israel to the same standards of international law forbidding annexation and the unlawful acquisition of territory through the use of force that it is using to demand an end to Russia’s invasion and occupation of Ukraine.”
  • In February 2022, DAWN Director of Research for Israel-Palestine Michael Omer-Man published an article titled “‘The Truth Stands With Mohammad’: Israel’s Outrageous Trial of Mohammad al-Halabi.” According to Omer-Man, “As outrageous as the Halabi trial may be—for how it has stretched the Israeli legal system to the limits of credulity, and because it involves a reputable international humanitarian organization—it would be a mistake to see it as an anomaly.”
    • On June 15, 2022, the Be’er Sheva District Court convicted El-Halabi for diverting aid money and resources from World Vision to Hamas.
  • In October 2021, DAWN was a signatory on a joint statement condemning the decision by the Israeli Ministry to designate six Palestinian NGOs as terrorist organizations. According to the statement, “This unprecedented designation is merely the latest escalation in Israel’s widespread and systematic institutionalized campaign that has aimed to silence and discredit any Palestinian individual or organization that dares seek accountability for Israel’s grave human rights violations, war crimes, and crimes against humanity…the international community, especially the European Union and its member states who are key supporters of and donors to Palestinian civil society, should ensure that banks and financial institutions in their jurisdiction are notified Israel’s designation of Palestinian organizations is unfounded and inapplicable.”
  • In October 2021, DAWN and the Legal Resources Centre in South Africa published a legal submission to the Executive Council of the African Union calling to “withdraw the observer status granted on July 22 to Israel, an apartheid state whose gross violations of human rights and ongoing war crimes and crimes against humanity.” According to Sarah Leah Whitson, “To grant Israel observer status at the AU on the heels of Israel’s recent atrocities in Gaza, while it displaces Palestinians, destroys their homes, and subjects them to a brutal system of apartheid is unconscionable…The African Union should be in the vanguard of the struggle against the brutal domination of one group over another but instead has lent legitimacy to Israel’s apartheid government.”
  • In July 2021, while working as Research Director at DAWN, Sari Bashi urged the Biden Administration to “implement the recommendations made by human rights groups to condition military and security assistance to the Israeli government on concrete and verifiable steps to end the crimes of apartheid and persecution, of which settlements are a central element” (emphasis added).
  • In February 2021, DAWN called for drug companies to “Address Israeli Discrimination in Vaccine Distribution.” DAWN falsely claimed that Israel has obligations to ensure that quality vaccines be provided to Palestinians, while altogether ignoring that Palestinians residing in Jerusalem are part of the Israeli health care system; that under the Oslo Accords the PA is responsible for health care of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza; and that the PA has adopted its own vaccine policy for its population.

ICC Activities

  • In December 2023, DAWN submitted a list of 40 Israeli commanders to the International Criminal Court (ICC) chief prosecutor alleging “war crimes and crimes against humanity.”
  • In October 2022, DAWN filed a submission with the International Criminal Court calling to investigate senior Israeli army lawyer Eyal Toledano for the alleged “commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including the crime of apartheid.” According to DAWN, “bringing to justice…an engineer of Israel’s apartheid, is the ICC’s raison d’etre and we believe the Prosecutor will see this evidence and reach the same conclusion.”
    • In addition to its submission to the ICC, “DAWN also relayed its investigation to the [US] State Department, the UN Commission of Inquiry on the Occupied Palestinian Territory, and the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories.”

Staff and Board Members

  • Sarah Leah Whitson
    • DAWN Executive Director, Whitson previously served as Director of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East and North Africa Division from 2004-2019.
    • Whitson frequently invokes antisemitic rhetoric and baits the US Jewish community for its support of Israel. In January 2015, Whitson commented on a tweet about the US Holocaust Museum’s display of “death and torture in Syria,” stating that the Holocaust Museum should “also show pics of death and destruction in #Gaza” – equating the 2014 war with Hamas to the Holocaust and the extermination of 6 million Jews.
    • In 2009, Whitson participated in HRW’s fundraising dinner in Saudi Arabia, using HRW’s anti-Israel bias and the specter of “pro-Israel pressure groups” to solicit funds from “prominent members of Saudi society.” At the event, Whtison boasted that HRW allegations of human rights violations were instrumental in the discredited Goldstone “investigation” of the 2009 Gaza conflict.
    • In March 2023, Whitson drew false equivalencies between Russia/Ukraine and Israel, stating that there are “clear parallels” between alleged Russian and Israeli violations of international law: “We see that not just the US government but US companies are falling over themselves to sanction and boycott anything that has an association with the Russian government…Contrast that with the exact opposite when it comes to sanctioning Israel for its violations of international law to the point where American states are passing laws to punish Americans unless they promise never to boycott Israel. It’s very clear that the grounds for resisting sanctions on Israel, or even compliance with international law, is purely political.”
    • In March 2020, in response to a cynical tweet that “6 million jewish [sic] Israelis” will now understand life under “occupation” due to virus-related restrictions, Whitson used the classic antisemitic blood libel, lamenting that it was “such a tiny taste. Missing a tablespoon of blood.”
    • In January 2020, law professor Eugene Kontorovich published an op-ed revealing the hypocrisy of Whitson, as she is an active supporter of groups that support Armenian settlements in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan, while simultaneously pursuing campaigns against Jewish communities in the West Bank.
  • Raed Jarrar
    • DAWN Advocacy Director, Raed Jarrar previously served as Amnesty-USA’s Middle East and North Africa Advocacy Director (2017-2018) and as American Friends Service Committee’s Government Relations Manager (2014-2017).
    • On October 30, 2017, Jarrar was denied entry into Israel due to his role in BDS campaigns against Israel. He was scheduled to lead an Interfaith Peace-Builders (IFPB) delegation from October 28 – November 10, 2017, aimed at “Learn[ing] about threats to the environment, the exploitation of natural resources, and the struggle of Palestinian communities to maintain access to land and water.”
    • In July 2014, Jarrar promoted a petition to “Charge Benjamin Netanyahu and the apartheid state of Israel for War Crimes against Humanity,” which referred to the 2014 Gaza war as a “genocide by Israel.”
    • On September 9, 2011, Jarrar tweeted a cartoon celebrating the attacks on the Israeli embassy in Egypt, a fundamental violation of international law.
  • Michael Omer-Man
    • Before joining DAWN as the Director of Research for Israel-Palestine, Omer-Man served as the editor-in-chief of +972 Magazine.
    • +972 Magazine is a “blog-based magazine” that publishes English-language articles for an international audience. 972’s articles promote a marginal agenda from the fringes of Israeli discourse, thus presenting a distorted sense of the debate in Israel.
  • Adam Shapiro
    • Director of Advocacy for Israel-Palestine, Shapiro is also the co-founder of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM).
      • While ISM describes itself as “a Palestinian-led movement committed to resisting the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land using nonviolent, direct-action methods and principles,” its own mission statement states, “we recognize the Palestinian right to resist Israeli violence and occupation via legitimate armed struggle” (emphases added).
      • Encourages activists to take “direct action” that often places them in danger and in direct confrontations with Israeli Defense Forces during military operations. ISM has been described as “Embracing Palestinian militants, even suicide bombers, as freedom fighters,” and “entering military zones to interfere with the operations of Israeli soldiers.”
    • Shapiro also served as the Head of Communications and Visibility for Front Line Defenders, an Irish-based organization that among other activities has characterized as “human rights defenders” several individuals with ties to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), designated as a terrorist organization by the US, EU, Canada, and Israel.
    • Shapiro was also an “organizer” with the Free Gaza Movement, a radical group of internationals who organize flotillas to “directly challenge the Israel siege by initiating confrontations with the Israeli navy.”
  • Executive Director and co-founder of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) Nihad Awad is a member of DAWN’s board. CAIR is an an anti-Israel organization that supports BDS (boycotts, divestment, and sanctions) against Israel as a response to “one of the greatest forms of injustice in our time – Apartheid.”
    • According to the ADL, “Some of CAIR’s current leadership had early connections with organizations that are or were affiliated with Hamas.”
    • In November 2019, Nihad Awad stated at American Muslims for Palestine’s annual conference that his organization fights “Zionism on [a] daily basis.”
    • In 1994, Awad stated, “I am in support of the Hamas movement.”
    • According to the Investigative Project on Terrorism, Awad participated in a “three-day summit of U.S.-based HAMAS members and supporters in 1993.”
    • In October 2023, in the aftermath of the brutal Hamas attack on October 7, Awad stated he “was happy to see people breaking the siege and throwing down the shackles of their own land and walk free into their land that they were not allowed to walk in….the people of Gaza have the right to self-defense, have the right to defend themselves, and yes, Israel as an occupying power does not have that right to self-defense.”
  • Esam Omeish
    • Omeishe, DAWN founder and board member, previously served as a director at Dar al-Hijrah Islamic Center.
      • In 2000, Omeish recommended the board members of the Islamic center to hire Anwar Al-Awlaki as the mosque’s Imam. Al-Awlaki was involved in the 9/11 attacks
    • Omeish formerly served on the Virginia Commission on Immigration.
      • In 2006, Omeish was forced to resign after footage surfaced from a 2000 rally where he stated, “you have learned the way, that you have known that the jihad way is the way to liberate your land.”
    • Omeish is the former National President of Muslim American Society (MAS).
  • Mongi Dhaouadi
    • Dhaouadi, DAWN board member, served as the Executive Director for the Council on American Islamic Relations in Connecticut.
    • Dhaouadi previously worked for the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy, an organization with ties to the Muslim Brotherhood.
    • In 2017, Dhaouadi published on Facebook that “Resisting the occupation is NOT terrorism it is a legitimate right of defending one self from your land from real terrorists i.e. IDF.”

DAWN “Experts’

  • DAWN’s website provides a list of “experts” who are the “driving force behind the organization’s mission and vision.”
  • Diana Buttu
  • Josh Paul
    • In February 2024, Josh Paul joined DAWN as a “Non-Resident Fellow.” In October 2023, in the aftermath of the brutal Hamas massacre, Paul resigned from the State Department in protest of the “Biden administration’s decision to continue sending weapons and ammunition to Israel,” which he accused of “ethnic cleansing” and “apartheid.” 

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Further Reading