On June 4, 2019, the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) released its annual report on activity “to defend human rights and promote democracy worldwide” in 2018. Included in the report are sections on “The State of Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories” and “Post-Holocaust Issues,” (the latter dealing with Holocaust education and commemoration, as well as antisemitism).
In contrast to the 2017 report, the 2018 text is more balanced, including discussion of human rights abuses perpetrated by the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Hamas. The previous report solely condemned Israel and failed to hold the PA and Hamas accountable.
However, the report still displays a number of weaknesses. For example, in alleging that Israel committed various abuses in 2018, the FCO does not provide a comprehensive list of sources. Instead, the authors appear to rely on information provided by politically partisan actors, such as advocacy non-governmental organizations (NGOs); and, in some cases, ignore the context—such as Palestinian terrorism—necessary for the analysis.
This document examines the claims in the report and provides both context and analysis that were omitted by its authors.
Claims against Israel
Gaza “Great March of Return” violence
- While correctly noting that the Gaza border riots did include violence, authors ignore the role that Hamas and other armed groups played in planning, organizing, and directing the protests. In fact, the document fails to note that a high number of deaths during the riots were terror operatives, a fact which has been acknowledged by the terror groups themselves. Instead, authors emphasize the deaths of “children and medical and humanitarian workers.”
- The FCO report relies on United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) for claims regarding Palestinian casualties, and fails to note that OCHA often relies on the Hamas-controlled Ministry of Health and political advocacy NGOs that lack credibility, such as the PFLP-linked Defense for Children International-Palestine (DCI-P).1
- Echoing previous campaigns by UNICEF and numerous NGOs, including DCI-P, the report references the UK government’s “concerns” regarding Israeli “detention practices,” especially as they pertain to minors. These practices, as mentioned in previous reports, supposedly include solitary confinement, prosecution by military courts, and claims of widespread arrests. NGO Monitor research clearly demonstrates that these claims are not accurate, frequently decontextualize data, misrepresent key facts, and are therefore not credible.
- For example, in regards to the claim that Israel places Palestinian minors in solitary confinement, there is no mention of international and domestic law that forbids minors from being held with the adult population. Therefore, if a sole minor is arrested, the individual must be held separately from incarcerated adults, which is different than placing a minor in solitary confinement.
- Similarly, when critics castigate Israel for prosecuting Palestinian minors in military courts, they ignore the fact that international law requires Israel to use these courts. Moreover, these reports make no mention of the fact that the procedural and evidentiary rules in the Israeli civilian and military court systems are nearly identical.
- The FCO report criticizes Israeli restrictions on movement and access to Gaza, without providing the context of terrorism in the Hamas-run enclave. For example, many items that are required for humanitarian and civilian projects can also be harnessed for developing terrorist infrastructure, such as producing rockets and digging attack tunnels into Israel (“dual-use materials”). Additionally, the FCO also fails to mention that Egypt has also enacted a blockade, due to Hamas terrorism in Egypt.
- As stipulated in the legal framework of the Oslo Agreement, Israel is responsible for planning and construction in Area C of the West Bank. While the IDF does engage in deterrence-related demolitions of the homes of terrorists – context that report authors ignore – the majority of demolitions occur as a result of homeowners’ failure to obtain required building permits. It should also be noted that the Israeli government actively and routinely demolishes illegal building by Israeli citizens in Jerusalem and elsewhere – a fact left out of the document.
The UK is taking active measures against the growing threat of antisemitism, especially in light of the increases in antisemitic incidents around the world, including violence. As the report emphasizes, the UK is a founding and active member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), adopting the definition of antisemitism in December 2016.
The report details how the UK advocates for the adoption of IHRA by other countries, particularly in Europe (Lord Pickles, as UK Envoy for Post-Holocaust Issues, visited Italy, Austria, and Belarus in 2018). Beyond IHRA, the British government organized events to combat antisemitism and worked on property restitution for Holocaust victims in Poland.
However, the report fails to specify the practical aspects of how the UK will both implement and enforce the IHRA definition internally. This is especially pertinent given that NGOs that engage in antisemitism, as defined by IHRA, are currently receiving both direct and indirect UK government support. Examples of such organizations and programs currently receiving UK funds include Ecumenical Accompaniment in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI), Jerusalem Legal Aid and Human Rights Center (JLAC), and Ma’an Development Center.
Report authors note that in 2018, the UK funded projects related to easing restrictions and “the conditions caused by them in Gaza” as well as legal aid and capacity building to Palestinians facing demolition and Israeli detention. In this context, from 2017-2018, the UK provided over $6 million in UK taxpayer funds to Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), which in turn disbursed it to JLAC and EAPPI, among other NGOs.
- NRC partners with and transfers funds to radical NGOs as part of its attempts to both exploit and sabotage the Israeli legal system by flooding Israeli courts with cases involving both Area C and Jerusalem. Through its Palestinian and Israeli partner NGOs and private lawyers, this program alone submits between 600-800 new cases to Israeli courts annually. In 2018, ICLA aimed to pursue “5,399 opened and continuing cases for legal assistance in the West Bank (West Bank 1162 new and 4237 continuing)” as well as 10 cases to be submitted to the UN and/or other international mechanisms. This intensive involvement in the Israeli legal system, if carried out directly by its governmental donors, would be considered an unacceptable violation of international norms, including the principle of state sovereignty.
- In contravention to stated UK government policies and positions, JLAC and EAPPI activists actively support BDS (boycott, divestments, and sanctions) campaign against Israel. EAPPI activists have also engaged in antisemitism.2
The 2018 Human Rights and Democracy report marks a vast improvement from previous years. The publication takes a more balanced approach to issues in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza. However, there are still a number of shortcomings and areas for improvement.
A major failure is not providing vital context about terrorism during the so-called “Great March of Return” along the Gaza-Israel border. The report does not accurately portray events as they happened, and thus reinforces a false narrative that Israel deliberately targeted civilians.
Part of the problem stems from reliance on accounts by media, NGOs, and international actors such as the UN for information. This outsourcing both obfuscates the origin of the information and prevents authors from independently verifying the claims made. Oftentimes, the claims made reflect the biases and/or methodological weaknesses of the NGOs reporting them. In future publications, it would be helpful if the FCO and other UK government agencies—following the lead of the US State Department—would acknowledge that NGOs submitting evidence can harbor political motivations and that the FCO cannot conduct independent investigations in all cases.
Finally, the lack of transparency regarding all local implementing partners in UK-funded programs presents an obstacle to both accountability and adherence to UK policies regarding antisemitism and BDS. By not specifying these implementing partners, the UK is preventing independent review of those organizations carrying out British government policy, thereby harming the credibility of such projects and any results.
- See NGO Monitor reports “No Way to Represent a Child: Defense for Children International Palestine’s Distortions of the Israeli Justice System,” “UNICEF and its NGO Working Group: Failing Children,” and “The Origins of ‘No Way to Treat a Child’: Analyzing UNICEF’s Report on Palestinian Minors.”
- See NGO Monitor report “EAPPI: The World Council of Churches’ Training Camp for Anti-Israel Advocacy”