Adalah’s US-based “Justice Project:” A Foray into BDS
Adalah is an Israeli non-governmental organization (NGO) that describes itself as “the first Palestinian Arab-run legal center in Israel, and the sole Palestinian organization that works before Israeli courts to protect the human rights of Palestinians in Israel and in the OPT.” NGO Monitor research has detailed the organization’s consistent involvement in legal warfare campaigns (“lawfare”) against Israel in international courts and other legal forums. Adalah regularly presents Israel as a racist and undemocratic state and partners with anti-Israel BDS (boycotts, divestment and sanctions) groups.
In 2014, Adalah created the “Adalah Justice Project” (AJP), based in Boston, with the goal of transforming “American perception, policy and practice in Palestine/Israel into a human rights approach that guarantees historical justice and equality for all.” AJP “began as the US Program of Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, and the two organizations cooperate closely to advance a shared vision of full human rights for all people living in historic Palestine, the end of the occupation, and historical justice for all Palestinians.”
Nadia Ben Youssef’s Dual Role
Despite the nominal distinction and similar activities of the two groups, AJP Director Nadia Ben Youssef is still an employee of Adalah and regularly speaks on behalf of both organizations. (She signed a letter dated August 14, 2018 Director, Adalah Justice Project; Cooperating Counsel, Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel.) Similarly, at a November 2017 Adalah event, Ben Youssef stated, “The last seven years landed me often face to face with the anxiety of the State of Israel… and it’s a privilege to enter Israel to work with Adalah” (emphasis added).
Ben Youssef is also a contributor to Columbia University’s anti-Israel project, the “Nakba Files,” one of Adalah’s early US-based activities: Since 2013, Adalah and the Center for Palestine Studies at Columbia University have jointly run an online platform that refers to Israel’s establishment as a “catastrophe,” criticizes Israel’s policy towards the country’s Negev Bedouin population, and “explores and thinks through the Nakba as an event, a structure, and a process through a critical lens on the law.”1 Similarly, it describes Israel as colonialist and promotes a “Palestinian right of return.”
At a November 2017 event “BALFOUR’S LEGACY: Confronting the Consequences,” held at Cambridge University, Ben Youssef explained that “Adalah, 3 years ago said, ‘Go to the US, map the movement, see where we should intervene. What does it look like to build a mass movement for Palestinian rights, and to shift American discourse, and ultimately policy’” (emphasis added). She further stated that AJP would focus on “demanding that those in power recognize the humanity of those of whom they strip that power…and that was our target as a movement” (emphasis added).
AJP regularly partners with BDS organizations, and its activists have similarly called for and supported boycott campaigns against Israel. This participation in BDS efforts contradicts the policies of some of Adalah’s largest donors. The New Israel Fund (NIF), for instance, states that it “will not fund global BDS activities against Israel nor support organizations that have global BDS programs.” The EU has also been consistent in its official opposition to BDS.
AJP is fiscally sponsored by the Tides Center, which also transfers funds to organizations such as Watchlist – a group that urges the UN Secretary-General to include the IDF in a UN list of “grave violators” of child’s rights – and BDS organizations like Palestine Legal and Dream Defenders. In June 2018, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund authorized a $160,000 grant to AJP via the Tides Center.
As stated above, although the New Israel Fund and numerous European countries officially oppose BDS campaigns against Israel, they continue to fund Adalah. Between 2012-2018, Adalah received NIS 15.7 million from European countries such as Switzerland, Germany, UK, the EU, and others. Additionally, the NIF provided Adalah with over $2 million in 2008-2016.
Adalah and AJP’s US-based BDS Activities
AJP and Adalah are both active in similar BDS campaigns in the US and around the world, further highlighting the overlap between the two organizations. For example,
- At the November 2017 Cambridge University gathering, Ben-Youssef articulated Adalah’s approach to the BDS campaign:
- “We have a wave of discriminatory legislation that passing in Israel starting in 2011, one of those was the anti-boycott law…Adalah worked on this case, challenged the BDS law of Israel. And that became an obsession for the state. The state was obsessed with BDS.”
- Ben Youssef then explained why Adalah cannot call for boycotts openly: “…Adalah as a Palestinian organization based in Israel – because of this law has a prohibition on it with regard to the call for BDS. The law says that if you call for boycott- it had creating a new civil wrong, you can be sued in court if you call for a boycott of Israel. So Adalah has pivoted its argument about BDS, for the right to boycott… Adalah support the right to boycott…we believe in the pillars of the BDS movement.”
- On May 15, 2018, AJP; Adalah; the PFLP-affiliated groups Defense for Children International – Palestine (DCI-P), Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR), and Al-Haq; as well as the BDS groups Al Mezan, Amnesty International, and Center for Constitutional Rights signed a joint letter to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, calling for sanctions against Israel. The letter demanded that the State Department “Investigate Israel’s Use of Lethal Force in Gaza” and “halt any further assistance to all Israeli military units involved in these shootings” of Palestinians participating in the violent protests along the Israel-Gaza border.
- In August 2016, Adalah co-authored the official platform for “The Movement for Black Lives,” an umbrella group associated with “Black Lives Matter.” The document advocates for BDS, arguing that US military support for Israel “makes US citizens complicit in the abuses committed by the Israeli government.” The platform also labels Israel as an “apartheid state” and accuses Israel of “genocide.” Ben-Youssef was originally listed as an “author and contributor” of the Movement’s platform. The Movement for Black Lives subsequently removed Youssef’s name, instead listing Adalah as an “organization currently working on policy.”
- On October 21, 2017, Ben-Youssef spoke at an anti-Israel event at Minnesota University titled “Parallel liberation Struggles: Lessons in Resistance.” The event’s purpose was to “commemorate the 100-year Palestinian resistance to Israel’s settler-colonial project and to explore the similarities in violence used against Palestinians, African Americans, and Native Americans and their methods of resistance.” Speakers included individuals from BDS groups such as Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), AFSC, and No Way to Treat a Child (NWTTAC). NWTTAC is an anti-Israel campaign led by Defense for Children International – Palestine which aims to lobby governments to “use all available means to pressure the Israeli government to end the detention and abuse of Palestinian children.”
- On May 5, 2018, AJP, Just Vision, and the St. Louis Palestine Solidarity Committee co-hosted a gathering that praised women active during the 1987-1993 Palestinian uprising.
AJP’s Congressional Lobbying Activities
On June 8, 2017, on behalf of AJP, Ben-Youssef spoke at a congressional briefing about “how persistent grave human rights violations, systemic impunity, discrimination, and a hyper-militarized environment affect the lives of the Palestinian children growing up under a military occupation with no end in sight.” The event was organized by the PFLP affiliated NGO DCI-P and the BDS group American Friends Service Committee (AFSC). HRW’s Omar Shakir, a prominent BDS activist, also spoke.
At the event, Ben-Youssef claimed that “since the Israeli legal system—as the state—was founded on Jewish supremacy, the lives of Palestinians are not valued.” She falsely claimed that “There’s no right to equality in Israel—it’s not enshrined in law because [Israel] cannot protect equality and protect [Jewish] privilege.” Ben-Youssef added, “Nakba. Remember that name, say that name. It means catastrophe in Arabic, and it refers to the founding of the State of Israel in 1948.”
The briefing was attended by House staffers, including one from Congresswoman Betty McCollum’s office. In November 2017, McCollum introduced legislation “to prevent United States tax dollars from supporting the Israeli military’s ongoing detention and mistreatment of Palestinian children.”
On July 29, 2015, Ben-Youssef, as a representative of Adalah, participated in a US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation (now US Campaign for Palestinian Rights) Congressional briefing. During the event, the groups argued that Israel misused US-supplied weapons in Gaza. In her remarks, Ben-Youssef demanded an investigation of Israel’s use of American-made weapons in Gaza, asserting that Members of Congress should hold Israel accountable for violations of US and international law. Ben-Youssef stated that “…the entire operation in Shujaya [in Gaza] looks like a war crime…for those of you who care about this, there is a huge obligation and responsibility.” Ben Youssef similarly blamed Israel of committing “indiscriminate war crimes” and claimed that Israeli soldiers enjoyed “systematic impunity.” The briefing was attended by representatives of BDS groups, including DCI-P’s Brad Parker, US Campaign for Palestinian Rights’ Josh Ruebner, and AFSC’s Raed Jarrar from AFSC. In November 2017, Jarrar was denied entry to Israel due to his BDS activity.
The briefing was co-sponsored by BDS groups, including the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, AFSC, American Muslims for Palestine, Friends Committee on National Legislation, JVP, Just World Books, Middle East Children’s Alliance, United Methodist Kairos Response, and US Palestinian Community Network.
- For example, since 2013, Adalah and the Center for Palestine Studies at Columbia University have jointly run the “Nakba Files” project. This online platform refers to Israel’s establishment as a “catastrophe,” criticizes Israel’s policy towards the country’s Negev Bedouin population, and “explores and thinks through the Nakba as an event, a structure, and a process through a critical lens on the law.” Similarly, it describes Israel’s policy as colonialist, and promotes the “Palestinian right of return.”