On March 10, 2008, the U.S. State Department published the “2007 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices.” As in previous years, the section on “Israel and the Occupied Territories” is largely based on claims from non-governmental organizations, whose credibility is limited. Many of the NGOs, including Adalah, Mossawa, Human Rights Watch, and Gisha, use their resources to campaign on controversial political issues, and their reports are often either unsubstantiated (and false in some documented examples) or strip away the necessary context. For example, in quoting from NGO reports alleging interference with ambulances, the documented use of these vehicles for terror is erased. At the same time, the reliance on these political NGOs in the 2007 Report unjustifiably enhances their legitimacy and influence.
State Department officials declined to comment on this report.
The U.S. State Department “2007 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices” relies heavily on claims made by several human rights NGOs that are active in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The authors of the 2007 Report consider these groups to be independent and non-partisan, acting “without government restriction,” while “investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases.” In contrast, a number of NGOs cited in the 2007 Report are known for political goals that diverge from the protection and monitoring of human rights. These NGOs support political positions that undermine Israel’s Jewish and democratic identity, including campaigning for “Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions” (BDS ); referring to Israel as an “apartheid state”; and distorting international law and using double standards in order to vilify Israel. Given their history of partisan advocacy, the information that these NGOs provide should be scrutinized and evaluated for bias, and not automatically repeated by the U.S. State Department.
The 2007 Report relies on material from (among others) the following NGOs:
- Human Rights Watch
- Physicians for Human Rights – Israel
- Public Committee Against Torture
The 2007 Report presents the NGOs as unbiased actors, committed solely to monitoring and reporting on human rights abuses. As NGO Monitor has demonstrated in the past, however, a number of these NGOs cannot be regarded as impartial commentators. In its analysis, NGO Monitor has identified the claims and the methodology as potential sources of bias.
Regarding the substantive claims, some are unsubstantiated, and in other cases, the context has been erased, which effectively renders the allegations inaccurate. The credibility of many of the claims repeated from NGO publications in this report is highly problematic, as demonstrated below.
In the methodology, the limited transparency in the State Department’s selection of NGOs for inclusion in the report is a problem, as is the absence of a rationale behind including certain NGOs and their claims. It is therefore impossible to determine whether the 2007 Report reflects the current state of human rights in Israel and the Palestinian Authority accurately, or presents a partisan or political agenda.
The section of the 2007 Report that addresses human rights in Israel includes a number of citations from NGOs that have a history of using normative claims to demonize Israel. Several of the reported claims provided by these NGOs have not been verified or corroborated.
NGO Monitor does not contend that these NGOs are incapable of providing credible information on human rights. However, given their history of anti-Israel campaigning, the State Department should make the effort to verify their claims by consulting independent sources.
The 2007 Report repeatedly cites Mossawa –a highly politicized Israeli-Arab NGO (funded by the New Israel Fund and European Union). Mossawa’s mission statement claims “to improve the social, economic and political status of the Arab citizens of Israel,” but the group’s activities aggravate conflict and seek to undermine Israel’s legitimacy as a Jewish state, as shown in its campaign: “Future Vision of the Palestinian Arabs in Israel” (December 2006). Even sympathetic commentators from the Haaretz newspaper have recognized that this activity is a declaration of “war” on the “Jewish national state,” and its impact essentially deepens the rift and heightens the hostility between Jews and Arabs in Israel. Mossawa’s claim of alleged discrimination is cited in the discussion on Government Corruption and Transparency: “Israeli-Arab NGOs received only approximately 1 percent of the nearly $625 million (2.5 billion NIS) spent annually by various government ministries on NGOs.” The Report, however, does not provide any evidence to support Mossawa’s claim.
The report also repeatedly refers to claims and complaints filed by Adalah, another Israeli-Arab NGO (funded by the New Israel Fund and European Union). While Adalah has been active in advancing its mission, including winning a more equitable distribution of funds in the budget of the Ministry of Religious Affairs, its international advocacy work in international frameworks actively demonizes Israel. A submission to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) denied the legitimacy of Israel’s existence as a Jewish state and asserted that this Jewish cultural identity is a fundamental obstacle to the protection of minority rights. Furthermore, Adalah’s 2001 submission to the Amman NGO networking meeting for the UNWCAR claims that in Israel, “Racism exists at almost every level of society…. A main reason for its prevalence is that these institutions, including the government, legislature, judiciary, army and religious bodies, consistently emphasize the State’s national-religious character.”1 Like Mossawa, Adalah has also drafted a constitution that undermines the Jewish nature of the State.
Gisha, an Israeli NGO that petitions Israel’s Supreme Court regularly claiming to promote Palestinian freedom of movement, is also cited in the 2007 State Department report. NGO Monitor’s research shows that Gisha repeatedly distorts international law to deny Israel’s right to security. For example, in a January 2007 document “Disengaged Occupiers,” Gisha claims that the disengagement from Gaza does not absolve Israel of its obligations to facilitate regular civilian life in the Gaza Strip,” though such so-called obligations have no basis in international law, and closely reflects arguments propagated by the PLO before disengagement.2 Gisha also regularly ignores Palestinian violence against Israelis when it criticizes Israel’s security measures, and has criticized Israel for undertaking polices of “apartheid.” Gisha’s July 2007 submission to the Israeli Supreme Court was also found to include forged evidence.
HaMoked is an Israeli NGO asserting a mandate to assist Palestinians of the Occupied Territories, “whose rights are violated due to Israeli policies.” HaMoked has been severely criticized for presenting a very distorted narrative of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict . In March 2006, Israeli state prosecutor Nira Mashraki noted that HaMoked’s claim to be a human rights organization has “no basis in reality and is designed to mislead.” (See also further details on HaMoked below)
In citing Human Rights Watch, the State Department is also lending legitimacy to the double standards displayed by this NGO. As NGO Monitor research has demonstrated, HRW’s methodologies are highly questionable (see also the Conflict Analysis Resource Center‘s documentation of HRW’s dubious research practices in Colombia). For example, HRW relied on “eyewitness accounts” during the 2006 Lebanon War which were often unverified, and in one case, later retracted a claim it made based on eyewitness testimony to "prove" that Hezbollah had not used civilians as human shields.
General and Un attributed Claims:
The credibility of the State Department report is further compromised by the repetition of anonymous NGO claims. In a number of places, the authors introduce citations by using terms such as, “NGOs claimed…”; “other NGOs alleged…”; “various NGOs consider . . .” and “both Israeli and Palestinian NGOs reported that…” This practice makes independent verification of these claims very difficult, and relies on the NGO “halo effect” for credibility.
The following are examples of NGO claims included in the 2007 Report that lack both attribution and supporting evidence making verification impossible.
- “Israeli human rights organizations reported that during the last few years, Israeli interrogators used psychological abuse more frequently than they themselves had previously, including threats of house demolition, questioning elderly parents, and kept prisoners in harsh conditions, including solitary confinement for long periods.”
- “NGOs claimed that Israeli authorities harassed their representatives who landed at Ben Gurion airport. Foreign citizens of Palestinian ethnicity had difficulty obtaining or renewing visas permitting them to enter the West Bank and Israel both from Ben Gurion airport and land entry points.”
- “[B]oth Israeli and Palestinian NGOs report that the Israeli authorities used excessive force, abused civilians and detainees, tortured Palestinian detainees, failed to take proper disciplinary actions, improperly applied security internment procedures, maintained austere and overcrowded detention facilities, imposed severe restrictions on freedom of movement, and limited cooperation with NGOs.”
The following claims cited in the 2007 Report omit important context or dismiss extenuating circumstances.
- Adalah maintains that “on August 2, the Police Investigation Unit (PID) announced that because the claimants refused to cooperate it had decided not to investigate allegations that police officers had used excessive force against a demonstration in the Bedouin community of al-Mashash in November 2005 that protested demolition orders for illegally constructed buildings.” Their report neglects to mention, however, that twelve policemen were wounded when hit by rocks thrown by the angry crowd.
- Citing Physicians for Human Rights -Israel (PHR-I), the report claims that in August 2007, “70 percent of PRCS ambulances carrying Palestinians to East Jerusalem for medical treatment were refused entry.” Neither PHR-I nor the State Department make reference to the complex security environment in which these decisions are made, nor does it acknowledge previous Palestinian attempts to smuggle weapons using ambulances (including some carrying the PRCS acronym). Uncritical repetition of PHR-I’s claim is also problematic given its strongly political agenda, and admission of having published false reports.
- Hamoked and B’tselem’s joint May 2007 report is cited, repeating the charge that the Israeli Security Agency’s employed “sleep deprivation, protracted handcuffing, insults and humiliation, threats, and naked body searches.” However, the State Department report fails to mention that the Israeli Ministry of Justice issued a nine page response to this NGO report, detailing the methodological errors, including the absence of verifiable sources, and noted that the report is “fraught with mistakes, groundless claims and inaccuracies.”
- In the section, “Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence,” the 2007 Report relies on Mossawa’s criticism of the Ministry of Interior for not granting automatic citizenship to the Palestinian spouses of Israeli-Arab citizens. The 2007 Report does not mention the complexity of this issues, including the fact that the Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law was suspended due to cases in which members of terrorist organizations “abuse[d] their legal status in Israel, which allow[ed] them free movement between the West Bank and/or Gaza and Israel.”
The 2007 U.S. State Department Report’s repetition of the claims of political NGOs (with no explicit criteria for inclusion), bolsters the legitimacy of these NGOs, and obscures the political agendas that are sometimes buried in the discourse of human rights. Although their allegations against Israel are presented as “claims” and not “facts,” the NGOs enjoy a “halo effect” that generates uncritical acceptance of their assertions. The result is impaired credibility, accuracy, and impartiality. NGO Monitor again urges the State Department to address these issues, and end reliance on politicized NGOs and their false or unverifiable allegations, which contribute to the conflict.