Despite its name, “Democracy for the Arab World Now” (DAWN), a US-based political NGO, is a primary leader of lawfare (legal warfare) campaigns based on demonizing propaganda targeting Israel. Under its Israel-Palestine program, launched in January 2022, DAWN has consistently exploited legal frameworks in seeking the issuance of arrest warrants against Israelis by lobbying the International Criminal Court (ICC), the United States government, and the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

In the aftermath of the barbaric Hamas massacre of October 7, in contrast to seeking justice for the Israeli and other victims of the atrocities, DAWN has amplified its harassment of Israeli officials and promoted vicious anti-Israel propaganda in the effort to harm Israel’s ability to defend its citizens. 

As detailed below, a number of DAWN officials, including board members, have ties to the Muslim Brotherhood and have voiced support for the Hamas terrorist group.  According to the NGO,“Many of DAWN’s donors remain anonymous”; however, NGO Monitor was able to identify the sources for approximately 44% of DAWN’s 2022 income, including from Open Society Foundations, Ford Foundation, Rockefeller Brothers Fund, and the Arca Foundation. 


In October 9, 2023, two days after the brutal Hamas attack, DAWN issued a press statement calling  on the ICC prosecutor to “Issue a public statement reminding all parties to the conflict that his investigation of international crimes in the OPT is ongoing, and will include all crimes currently taking place” as well as to “Immediately dispatch an investigation team to Gaza.” On October 15, DAWN sent a public letter to the ICC Prosecutor noting that “the ICC has jurisdiction to prosecute not only nationals who are party to the conflict in Gaza, but government officials who are aiding and abetting the commission of crimes by providing weapons and other materials used in the commision of crimes,” and calling for the Prosecutor to “Provide information about the work your office is currently undertaking to investigate and document crimes taking place in Gaza and Israel since October 7, 2023.” 

In December 2023, DAWN submitted a list of 40 senior Israeli commanders to the ICC prosecutor, demanding an investigation for “planning, ordering, and executing Israel’s indiscriminate bombardment, wanton destruction, and mass killing of civilians in Gaza.” As part of its campaign, DAWN posted  “‘Prime Suspect’ cards” with the name, rank, photo, and alleged role of each individual Israeli. There is no indication that DAWN submitted any Palestinian names to the ICC.

DAWN’s lobbying, propaganda and demonization campaign at the ICC began before the October 7 massacre. In October 2022, DAWN filed a submission with the ICC targeting 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, DAWN sent its so-called 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.”

In November 2022, DAWN and 197 other regional and international civil society organizations sent an open letter to ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan urging him to “Investigate and Deter Israel’s Apartheid Regime.” According to the letter, “Though mindful of the Court’s limited resources and budgetary complications, as well as your office workload and challenges, we are compelled to stress that Palestinian victims deserve justice and require equal attention as in other situations.”

Lobbying the U.S. Government

In October 2022, DAWN submitted a Leahy Law referral of the Israeli Army’s Netzah Yehuda Battalion to the U.S. State Department for its alleged “systematic and widespread abuses,” including the killing of a Palestinian American citizen. 

In April 2023, DAWN sent a “communication” to the US State Department calling to “sanction Israeli reserve military judge Dr. Maor Even-Khen for authorizing the wrongful, arbitrary, and political detention of an elderly US citizen, Jamal Afif Suleiman al-Niser.” According to DAWN, “As a trained lawyer and scholar, Even-Khen should know better than to serve as judicial cover in the puppet court of a brutal military occupation that denies its victims the most basic due process and justice itself.” According to DAWN, Niser was arrested for “participation in Palestinian elections to financial misconduct to membership in an illegal organization.” DAWN also called for the US State Department to issue a visa ban, deny entry, and “impose sanctions” on Brigadier General Naama Rosen-Grimberg, Military Secretary to Israeli President Isaac Herzog, for “severely violating the human rights of Jamal Niser” by signing his administration detention order.

In September 2023, DAWN Director of Advocacy for Israel/Palestine Adam Shapiro was a plaintiff in a lawsuit led by the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) and filed in the Eastern District of Michigan, requesting  an injunction against the admission of Israel to the US Visa Waiver Program. According to Shapiro, “The U.S. should halt implementation of the visa waiver for Israel at least until a judge reviews what we believe to be the government’s arbitrary and capricious actions that enshrine Israeli apartheid in a U.S. program…” In November 2023, the case was dismissed.

Lobbying the ICJ

In January 2024, to coincide with the ICJ case initiated by South Africa alleging genocide, DAWN convened a roundtable of experts that urged state parties to the Genocide Convention to “submit their own Declarations of Intervention to support South Africa’s recent submission to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) alleging Israeli intent and commission of acts of genocide in contravention of the Genocide Convention.” 

Additionally, DAWN Executive Director Sarah Leah Whitson was a signatory on a letter of “Global Support for Brazil’s Backing of South Africa’s ICJ Petition.”


In 2022, total income was $2.1 million; total expenses were $1.6 million.

According to its website, “Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN) is a 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization,” but the IRS lists DAWN as a 501(c)(3).  The NGO is not fully transparent regarding funding, and the website includes a note that “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, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, the Arca Foundation, and the Tawakkol Karman Foundation.

2020-2025 Known Funding to DAWN

  • In 2022-2025, DAWN is receiving $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 2022-2023, DAWN received $50,000 from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund.
  • In 2020-2022, DAWN received $525,000 from the Open Society Foundation.
  • In 2022-2023, DAWN received $100,000 from the Arca Foundation, which provides grants to progressive and radical organizations.

According to DAWN’s IRS 990 filing for 2022, Lifta Enterprises, a company controlled by a DAWN board member (see below), provided the NGO with a $75,000 loan. (That same year, Lifta Enterprises became listed as “inactive” with the State of Virginia.)

Staff and Board Members

Sarah Leah Whitson – DAWN Executive Director

  • Whitson previously served as Director of the Middle East and North Africa Division at Human Rights Watch (HRW) in 2004-2019. Working closely with Executive Director Ken Roth, she played a central role in HRW’s antisemitic obsession with Israel. 
  • After Hamas’ October 7 massacre, Whitson referred to “Israeli ISIS” and also tweeted, “Hamas dismantled is a bad end game. It will produce zero medium term security. The question we need answered is how we end Israeli occupation and apartheid so all people from the river to the sea can live in peace and freedom.”
  • In 2009, Whitson participated in a 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.” Also in that year, Whitson visited Libya, claiming to have discovered a “Tripoli spring” and praising Muammar Qaddafi’s son Seif Islam as a leading reformer.
  • Whitson has a long history of blatantly antisemitic rhetoric and race-baiting the US Jewish community for its support of Israel. In January 2015, Whitson commented on a post 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 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.” After extensive condemnations, she deleted the post, claiming she had been misunderstood.

Esam Omeish – founder and board member 

  • Omeish formerly served on the Virginia Commission on Immigration. He was forced to resign in 2006 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). According to a legal brief from federal prosecutors, MAS “was founded as the overt arm of the Muslim Brotherhood in America.” 
  • Omeish also serves as the Chair of the Washington Trust Foundation.
    • In 2013, Council of American – Islamic Relations, Inc changed its name to the Washington Trust Foundation. 
    • According to its IRS 990 filings, Washington Trust Foundation’s mission is to “support the charitable purposes of the CAIR Foundation.”
  • In 2004, Omeish submitted a letter to the Washington Post (that was never published) writing, “The influence of Muslim Brotherhood ideas has been instrumental in defining our understanding of Islam within the American and Western context in order to espouse the values of human dialogue, tolerance and moderation…”

Nihad Awad – board member

  • Executive Director and co-founder of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), 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.”
  • In November 2019, Nihad Awad spoke at the American Muslims for Palestine’s annual conference, declaring that his organization fights “Zionism on [a] daily basis.”
  • In 1994, Awad stated, “I am in support of the Hamas movement.”
  • In October 2023, in the aftermath of the brutal Hamas attack on October 7, Awad claimed 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.” Awad also claimed that “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.”

Adam Shapiro – Director of Advocacy for Israel-Palestine

  • Shapiro is 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 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.”
  • In October 2023, after the Hamas massacre, Shapiro tweeted, “There may be an #Israeli-made humanitarian crisis in #Gaza today, but tomorrow & for the last 75 years there’s been an #Israeli-made freedom crisis in all #Palestine. Getting supplies in now is critical; freedom for Palestinians is essential. #FreePalestine #EndIsraeliApartheid” and “#Gaza the international community is just as responsible for all the death and destruction so far and all that will befall it as it was for the atrocities at #Srebrenica #NeverAgainIsNow.”
  • 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 that organized flotillas to “directly challenge the Israel siege by initiating confrontations with the Israeli navy.”

Michael Omer-Man – Director of Research for Israel-Palestine

  • Omer-Man served as the editor-in-chief of +972 Magazine, 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 promoting a highly distorted version of this discourse.

Josh Paul – Non-Resident Fellow  

  • 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.” 

Mongi Dhaouadi – board member

  • Served as the Executive Director for CAIR Connecticut. Dhaouadi also serves as the Executive Director of the Libyan American Alliance, nominated for the position by Omeish, as well as the President and Founder of the Tunisian United Network.
  • On February 7, 2024, Dhaouadi tweeted, “Connecticut political leaders must call for a ceasefire and cut any financial and economic ties with the Apartheid state #AbandonBiden”
  • In 2017, a Dhaouadi Facebook post declared 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.”

Before joining the DAWN board, both Michele Alexander and Reed Brody worked for Human Rights Watch.