NGO Monitor Submission to Foreign Affairs Committee Inquiry into UK’s policy towards the Middle East Peace Process

Full Article

NGO Monitor is a Jerusalem-based research institute, which provides information and analysis, promotes accountability, and supports discussion on the reports and activities of political non-governmental organisations (NGOs) claiming to advance human rights and humanitarian agendas.

We document and publicize distortions of human rights and international law in the context of the Arab-Israeli conflict, as well as double standards and biased campaigns, and provide information and context on these issues and activities, in order to encourage informed public debate. Our institute produces and distributes reports for the benefit of government policy makers, journalists, philanthropic organizations and the general public.

I. Executive Summary

  • The following submission focuses on the impact of NGOs that lobby and attempt to exert influence based on ideological agendas that are detrimental or even explicitly opposed to longstanding, fundamental elements of British foreign policy.
  • Most significantly, a number of interested parties oppose the UK’s commitment to a two-state framework and its nurturing of economic, political and cultural ties with Israel.
  • In contrast to prevailing public perceptions, prominent NGOs active in this area undermine core commitments of British foreign policy. In addition, these organisations propagate factual distortions and inaccuracies, often have links to terrorist organisations and/or employ rhetoric that is infused with antisemitism, as demonstrated below.
  • This submission offers analysis on politicized and troubling activities of the following organisations: Amnesty International and its UK branch (AIUK), Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP), The Council for Arab-British Understanding (Caabu) and Palestinian Return Centre (PRC). We further show that these NGOs’ activities often stand in sharp contrast to their proclaimed agendas of promoting human rights, in particular in the course of lobbying British decision makers and affecting policies regarding the Middle East. In some cases these organisations and/or their partners are funded by the British government.
  • NGO Monitor recommends that all NGO statements and claims submitted to decision-makers be independently verified, including before repeating NGO claims in official UK documents.makers, journalists, philanthropic organizations and the general public.

II. Introduction

1. The Commons Foreign Affairs Committee has invited submissions for an inquiry into United Kingdom policy on the “Middle East Peace Process”. The Terms of Reference include “The merits of the UK’s policy in support of a two-state solution”, “The UK’s relationship with Israel”, and “How UK policy is influenced by other states and interested parties”.

2. The following submission focuses on the impact of NGOs that lobby and attempt to exert influence based on ideological agendas that are detrimental or even explicitly opposed to longstanding, fundamental elements of British foreign policy. Most significantly, a number of interested parties oppose the UK’s commitment to a two-state framework and its nurturing of economic, political and cultural ties with Israel.

3. NGOs (also known as civil society organisations, charities, human rights groups, non-profit organisations, etc.) are very active in the UK in efforts to influence policy and public perceptions with regards to the Arab-Israeli conflict. Such activities are often couched in terms of promoting peace, justice and human rights, but just as often advance polarising agendas, discourage agreement based on compromise and fuel conflict. These problems are exacerbated by the image of NGOs as serving the public good, which shields such organisations from accountability, transparency, and independent analysis.

4. In contrast to prevailing public perceptions, prominent NGOs active in this area undermine core commitments of British foreign policy. In addition, these organisations propagate factual distortions and inaccuracies, often have links to terrorist organisations and/or employ rhetoric that is infused with antisemitism, as demonstrated below.

5. The influence of political NGOs in the conflict is reflected in the media and Parliament, and among diplomats and academics. This can be seen during policy debates in which the proclamations of politicised NGOs are repeated without careful scrutiny and independent verification by politicians.

6. The submission is divided into three sections. The first lays out NGO Monitor’s recommendations regarding NGO involvement in policy formation and implementation. The second documents UK commitment to a two-state approach and staunch opposition to boycotts of Israel. The third reviews the political advocacy of highly influential NGOs in the UK and their attempts to undermine British foreign policy.

III. Recommendations

7. While it is the right of any group to further an agenda, NGOs should be held accountable and subjected to independent review. NGO Monitor recommends that all NGO statements and claims submitted to decision-makers be independently verified.

8. Given the numerous instances in which NGO statements have been shown to be inaccurate or misleading, caution must be exercised in repeating NGO claims in official UK documents.

9. The UK’s commitment as a leading aid donor to the “independence, neutrality and impartiality of humanitarian aid” is undermined by the allocation of aid to highly politicised local partners as well as the advocacy efforts of prominent British aid organisations. NGO Monitor recommends that British funding frameworks re-evaluate guidelines and direct their funding to projects and organisations that promote the UK’s stated policy objectives.

IV. British Foreign Policy: Commitment to a Two-state Framework and Opposition to Boycotts of Israel

10. On several occasions, top UK officials have stated their commitment to prospering economic and political relations with Israel and fierce opposition to campaigns that undermine these commitments. For example, in a May 2016 speech referring to the “biggest-ever business deal” between the UK and Israel, Prime Minister Theresa May declared that “We should celebrate that, we should build on that – and we should condemn any attempt to undermine that through boycotts.” Similarly, in February 2017, Communities Secretary Sajid Javid stated, “We need to challenge and prevent divisive town hall boycotts which undermine good community relations.”

11. Notably, the UK is Israel’s biggest European trading partner. As stated by UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, Israelis are “huge contributors to the UK economy”. There is, therefore, a strong mutual interest for both the UK and Israel to oppose boycotts.

12. In his recent visit to Israel in March 2017, Foreign Secretary Johnson further affirmed that members of the British government are “firm, strong supporters, rock-like supporters of Israel.” Johnson added that “the policy of our government is for a two-state solution, which is what we want to achieve and hope to help to bring about in a modest and humble way.”

13. In diametrical opposition to this firm stance, many NGOs affecting British policy on the Middle East pursue agendas that undermine these objectives. As detailed below, these groups promote an arms embargo against Israel, participate in discriminatory BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) campaigns, advocate for a Palestinian “right of return” that fuels the conflict and deny the Jewish people the right to sovereign equality and self-determination. Additionally, NGO rhetoric often fits the definition of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance for antisemitism, recently adopted by the British government.

14. Such NGO campaigns significantly strain existing UK-Israel relations and undermine the UK’s ability to influence events and promote reconciliation

V. NGO Political Advocacy and Lobbying: Amnesty International-UK, Medical Aid for Palestinians, Council for Arab-British Understanding (Caabu), and the Palestinian Return Centre

a. Amnesty International and Amnesty International UK (AIUK)

15. Amnesty International-UK (AIUK) identifies itself as “one of the world’s most influential NGOs”, asserting that “Amnesty’s UK section and its supporters can exert significant influence on the UK and devolved governments.”

16. Noting AIUK’s involvement in lobbying, the staff position “Government and Political Relations Manager,” is described as “establishing, developing and maintaining Amnesty International UK’s (AIUK’s) relationships with Westminster and Whitehall.” The “main tasks” of the job include “to shape and influence political debate”, “to lobby effectively on AIUK’s key objectives”, and “to respond rapidly to and create opportunities for political action.”

17. Attesting to its influence over UK policy on the Middle East, AIUK’s 2016-2017 report on “Israel and Occupied Palestinian Territories” is featured and linked under “Further Reading” in a 2017 briefing of the House of Commons Library (p. 27). The summary in AIUK’s report completely ignores terror, human rights violations and war crimes committed by the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, as well as the context of indiscriminate attacks against Israeli civilians.

18. As part of its attempt to exert political influence, in 2015 AIUK called on the UK to cancel all arms exports to Israel, claiming that “by supplying arms – even indirectly –the UK could have helped to facilitate war crimes.”

19. Despite its major influence and scope of political activities, AIUK is not subjected to scrutiny, and evidence of persistent anti-Israel bias, tolerance of antisemitism and personnel linked to terror, is not addressed by decision-makers.

20. There are numerous examples of Amnesty partners and personnel with reported links to terror. On August 17, 2015, a series of articles published in The Times (London) revealed that Yasmin Hussein, Amnesty International’s former Director of Faith and Human Rights (formerly Director of International Advocacy), has links to the Muslim Brotherhood and possibly to Hamas.

21. In 2015, a blogger revealed that, in 2007, Amnesty campaigner Saleh Hijazi’s Facebook profile picture was a photo of Leila Khaled, a Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) terrorist and airline hijacker, while in 2012, his profile picture was a photo of Khader Adnan, a leader of the Islamic Jihad terror organisation. The PFLP is designated as a terrorist entity by the UK, EU, US, Canada and Israel.

22. In December 2013, Amnesty International admitted to working with the Alkarama foundation, a Geneva-based organisation claiming to promote human rights, whose Qatari co-founder, Abd al-Rahman bin ‘Umayr al-Nu’aymi (Nu’aymi), was accused of financing Al Qaeda and its affiliates in Syria, Iraq, Somalia and Yemen.

23. On other occasions, Amnesty activities are tainted by virulent antisemitism. In September 2015, Amnesty co-sponsored a speaking tour in the United States for Bassem Tamimi. In 2012, Tamimi was convicted of encouraging Palestinian youths to engage in acts of violence. His appearance in a third grade classroom as part of the speaking tour sparked outrage, and the school’s superintendent denounced his remarks as “inflammatory.” Tamimi has, in addition to inciting violence, expressed support for antisemism including the blood-libel that Israelis detain Palestinian children to harvest their organs and that the Zionists control the media.

24. Notably, at its 2015 annual conference, AIUK voted down a motion calling for the organisation to “campaign against anti-Semitism in the U.K. and lobby the government to tackle the rise in attacks.” This was the only motion to be rejected at the conference.

25. In this context, we note that AIUK employs Kristyan Benedict as “crisis response manager” for the organisation. In November 2012 Benedict was accused of antisemitism for singling out to three Jewish MPs for supporting Israel’s campaign against Hamas in a tweet that read: “Louise Ellman, Robert Halfon and Luciana Berger walk into a bar… each orders a round of B52s… #Gaza.” In a letter to Amnesty International, MP John Mann, chairman of the “All-Party Parliamentary Group Against Antisemitism,” said the tweet had crossed the line between legitimate criticism and antisemitism.

b. Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP)

26. British NGO Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) describes itself as an organisation “striving to deliver health and medical care to those worst affected by conflict, occupation and displacement.” Registered as a charity, the group acknowledges its biased political agenda, stating that it is “committed to bearing witness to the impact of occupation, displacement and conflict on Palestinian health and wellbeing, and campaign(s) for the realisation of Palestinian rights to health and dignity.”

27. In contrast to this mission statement, MAP’s political activities directly target and engage with British decision-makers with messaging that undermines UK government policy. MAP’s influence over UK foreign policy is amplified by the fact that its president, the Baroness Morris of Bolton, is a Conservative member of the House of Lords. Baroness Morris has also served as Chair of the Conservative Middle East Council, and is currently the Prime Minister’s trade envoy to Jordan, Kuwait and the Palestinian Territories. It is significant that the UK’s trade envoy to the Palestinians and to Kuwait, a country that does not have diplomatic relations with Israel and appears to impose a strict boycott on Israel, is also president of an organisation that has promoted numerous unfounded and distorted claims against Israel in the attempt to influence UK-Israel trade and political relations.

28. MAP organises “fact-finding” parliamentary delegations to the West Bank together with the Council for Arab-British Understanding (Caabu) lobby group (see below). A visit in February 2017 included meetings and briefings with the local Palestinian NGOs Addameer, Adalah, Public Committee Against Torture (PCATI) and Physicians for Human Rights-Israel (PHR-I). The NGOs reinforce polarising agendas that appear under the façade of providing information in a “fact-finding” mission for British legislators:

29. Addameer is an official “affiliate” the PFLP, as well as a leader of campaigns in support of Palestinian prisoners convicted of security offenses, referring to them as “political prisoners” and altogether omitting the context of violence and terror. Addameer’s chairperson and co-founder Abdul-latif Ghaith was banned by Israel from travelling internationally due to his alleged membership in the PFLP. Addameer’s vice chairperson, Khalida Jarrar, is a senior official of the PFLP who was indicted in April 2015 for various offenses, including active membership in a terrorist organisation (PFLP) and inciting to violence through a call to kidnap Israeli soldiers.

30. Adalah, PCATI and PHR-I have a common history of levelling unfounded and unverifiable accusations against Israel. All three organisations issued a June 2013 joint statement in light of “UN International Day in Support of Victims of Torture,” alleging that “impunity and a lack of accountability continue to characterise the relationship of Israel’s security services with civilians” and maintaining ongoing “torture-related policies and practices against Palestinian prisoners and detainees.” The statement refers vaguely to “complaints (received) on a regular basis from detainees” and to “additional evidence gathered by the NGOs”, without citing any verifiable sources for its claims.

31. PCATI published a statement, “Childhood is not a Privilege but a Right!”, inaccurately alleging that Israeli authorities place Palestinian “prisoners in iron cages (including children)” (emphasis added) (originally published December 31, 2013; revised January 8, 2014).

32. PCATI and PHR-I issued a publication in October 2011 titled “Doctoring the Evidence, Abandoning the Victim”, accusing Israeli doctors and institutions of involvement in the “torture and ill-treatment” of Palestinians. Detailed analysis of the sweeping claims demonstrates deeply flawed research – the evidence consists of unverifiable claims by the detainees themselves rather than assessments conducted by medically trained observers; some of the suspects were later convicted on terror charges.

33. In 2009, PHR-I’s highly biased political agenda led the Israel Medical Association to halt cooperative activities, and elicited the condemnations of Dr. Yoram Blachar, president of the World Medical Association, who called PHR-I “a radical political group disguised as a medical organisation.”

34. MAP itself has issued several publications with severely compromised credibility. In 2015, MAP released a publication together with other NGOs that alleges the “destruction of and damage to medical infrastructure and loss of life and injury to civilians and medical personnel” during the 2014 Gaza war. This publication features an account of a Palestinian ambulance destroyed in an alleged drone strike on August 1, 2014. According to the account, the strike killed three medical personnel, four civilian bystanders, and an unidentified fatality. However, the publication omits that the three members of the ambulance crew – Atef Saleh Ibrahim Al Zamli, Yousef Ejme’an Nasrallah Al Sheikh Al Eid and Youssef Jaber Hassan Darabieh – were members of the Islamic Jihad terrorist organisation.

35. In 2015, the Advertising Standards Authority ruled that two MAP advertisements “must not appear in their current form” due to a number of misleading claims about access to health of Palestinians, requiring MAP “to ensure that they held evidence to support claims as they would be understood by readers.”

36. On February 2, 2009, Dr. Swee Ang, founder and honorary patron of MAP, published the introduction “The Wounds of Gaza” from her book From Beirut to Jerusalem on The Lancet’s “Global Health Network” website. The article remained posted for twenty-eight days until it was removed due to “factual inaccuracies”.

37. In addition, Dr. Swee Ang has lent her voice to blatant antisemitism. In 2014, she promoted a video made by American white supremacist David Duke, who was expelled from Italy for “allegedly trying to establish a pan-European neo-Nazi group.” The video is described on Duke’s YouTube page as “reveal[ing] how the Zionist Matrix of Power controls Media, Politics and Banking and how each Part of this Tribalist matrix supports and protects each other!” In February 2017, when asked about the antisemitic video at the University College of London Union, Swee Ang responded that she does not “think it’s entirely anti-Jewish.”

38. In addition to employing faulty methodology in the attempt to vilify Israel, MAP has hired staff with ties to terror and has reaped profits from the justification of terrorism.

39. From 2013 to 2014, Dr. Majed Nassar served as Director of Programs in the West Bank for MAP. Nassar has alleged ties to the PFLP. According to a 2007 document, Israel has prevented Dr. Majed Nassar from traveling “since 2001” based on security concerns, as cited in a decision upheld by the High Court of Justice. Dr. Majed Nassar is also Deputy Director of the Union of Health Work Committees (UHWC), which is itself is a PFLP affiliated health committee active in Gaza, as identified by USAID and in Palestinian documents. Nassar also served as an official with Defense for Children International- Palestine (DCI-P) and is a member of the board of directors at the Alternative Information Center (AIC), two groups with alleged ties to the PFLP.

40. Finally, MAP has called on the UK and other European governments to employ sanctions and bans against Israel. In November 2012, MAP was one of 22 political advocacy NGOs behind the report “Trading Away Peace: How Europe helps sustain illegal Israeli settlements”, which called on the EU and European governments to “ban imports of settlement products”, “prevent financial transactions to settlements and related activities”, and “issue guidelines for European tour operators to prevent support for settlement businesses.”

c. The Council for Arab-British Understanding (Caabu)

41. The Council for Arab-British Understanding (Caabu) is a lobby group created “to address the lack of a clear voice in British politics that valued relations with the Arab world.” The organisation considers itself “one of the most active NGOs working on the Middle East in British parliament” and a “major force in British politics”, asserting that “owing to . . . Caabu’s hard work countering the Israel lobby, things have drastically changed.”

42. The sources of Caabu’s funding are not transparent, and given the extent of the organisation’s political activities and their impacts on policy makers, the absence of information on funders is highly significant and problematic.

43. Caabu regularly organises “fact-finding” parliamentary delegations to the West Bank, often in collaboration with MAP. As described by Caabu, “A major aspect of Caabu’s parliamentary work involves taking delegations of politicians out to the Middle East, in order for them to develop a better understanding of the region and its key issues.” In 2015 – February 2017 alone, Caabu led seven delegations of British Parliamentarians to Israel, the West Bank and Gaza: January 16-18 and August 31-September 4, 2015 – 8 Parliamentarians; February 15-19, April 4-8, September 19-23 and October 6-10, 2016 – 16 Parliamentarians; February 13-17, 2017 – 3 Parliamentarians.

44. According to Caabu Director Chris Doyle, “The overwhelming majority of delegates return energised by what they have seen and with a sense of duty to address the injustices they have witnessed.” During these trips, British MPs meet with a narrow segment of local NGOs that disseminate highly questionable information that goes unchallenged (see above). In a 2013 blog posted on Caabu’s website, a Caabu member who had returned from a trip claimed to have witnessed “what is undoubtedly Apartheid.”

45. In addition to organising parliamentary delegations, Caabu regularly attempts to exert influence over British foreign policy. In November 2012, Caabu was one of 22 political advocacy NGOs behind the report “Trading Away Peace: How Europe helps sustain illegal Israeli settlements”, which called on the EU and European governments to “ban imports of settlement products”, “prevent financial transactions to settlements and related activities” and “issue guidelines for European tour operators to prevent support for settlement businesses.”

46. In February 2016, Doyle wrote a letter to The Independent calling on the British Government to “End this illicit trade and stop selling arms to Israel and regimes with appalling human rights records”, stating that it is a “disgrace that the Government smears and criminalises those who decide through choice not to buy certain products but do nothing about those actually committing serious crimes, even war crimes. The Government has done nothing to stop trade in settlement goods which is trade in proceeds of crime, from land that belongs to another people, in a project designed to destroy any chances for peace.”

47. Caabu’s lobbying activities are carried out in the context of regularly promoting deeply contentious claims and collaborating with widely discredited anti-Israel advocates.

48. On March 17, 2016, Dr. Hanan Ashrawi, Caabu patron, addressed senior UK policy makers with a lecture titled “Internationalization of the Conflict”, ostensibly providing “a comprehensive assessment of Israel’s continued breach of international law and international humanitarian law, political options for the future, the European Union’s (EU) anti-settlement guidelines, the French initiative to organize an international peace conference, and Palestinian efforts at the ICC.”

49. In April 2014, Doyle wrote an op-ed in Al Arabiya English condemning Israel for how it “takes land, resources, uses torture and overwhelming and indiscriminate force, implements collective punishment against civilian populations, demolishes homes and has denied freedom to millions of Palestinians for decades. Areas of historic Palestine have been ethnically cleansed with over 500 Palestinian villages simply destroyed.” In August of the same year, Doyle published another article titled “Israel and the language of genocide”, accusing Israel of “an unprecedented level of hate, bigotry and even genocidal language.”

50. On March 20, 2017, Caabu hosted Richard Falk’s book launch “Palestine’s Horizon: Toward a Just Peace.” Former “UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967” is a “9/11 conspiracy theorist” who has been widely denounced, including by the former Secretary-General of the UN, for comments blaming the Boston terrorist attack on “the American global domination project” and “Tel Aviv.”

51. In June 2015, Caabu hosted a talk by Dr. Mads Gilbert. In 2009, Dr. Gilbert traveled to Gaza’s Al-Shifa Hospital. In referring to the 2008-9 Gaza war, Gilbert repeatedly and falsely accused Israel of deliberately targeting civilians and invented allegations of use of illegal weapons, while making no mention of evidence that Al-Shifa hospital had been used for military purposes and also shielded the Hamas leadership. There is also evidence that Gilbert helped stage emergency room scenes for a “propaganda effect.”

d. Palestinian Return Centre (PRC)

52. An influential political NGO in the UK, the Palestinian Return Centre (PRC) has repeatedly been given a platform by British policy-makers and legislators on which to promote its agenda. As discerned from its name, PRC’s activities focus on actualising a Palestinian “right of return,” which, if implemented, would effectually mean the elimination of Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people. PRC also describes the establishment of the state of Israel as a “Nakba,” or “catastrophe.” In 2014, PRC published an article promoting a video produced by Palestinian NGO BADIL. Describing the video, the article states, “Thinking about return, several speakers argue, must go hand in hand with a process (of) decolonization and de-Zionization.”

53. In 2013, PRC published an article quoting Nobel Prize winning writer Jose Saramago in comparing Israel to the Nazis. The article states, “[h]e is correct”,alleging “Zionist terror”, “brutality of the Israeli Army and the heartlessness of its soldiers who seem to have a thirst for blood”, and “ongoing genocide on Palestine.” [sic]

54. PRC also enjoys frequent access to decision-making fora. In an October 2016 meeting at the House of Lords, PRC launched the “Balfour Apology Campaign”, calling on the UK to apologise for the 1917 Balfour Declaration that expressed support for a Jewish national home, thus undermining a 100-year-long commitment of the British government to a Jewish state. Baroness Jenny Tonge, known for her antisemitic remarks, such as blaming Jews and Israel for antisemitism, chaired the proceedings. During the event, a speaker blamed a “heretic” rabbi for “antagoniz[ing]” Hitler and making him “want to systematically kill Jews wherever he could find them as opposed to just make Germany a Jew-free land.”

55. In January 2012, PRC organised an “evening of discussion” in the House of Commons on “the political misuse of health in Palestine.” The keynote speaker of the event was Dr. Mads Gilbert, who has an extensive background of ideological extremism (see above).

56. In 2009, Jeremy Corbyn (then a backbench MP) and several other MPs were hosted by PRC in Syria. The delegation, headed by Conservative Lord Sheikh and Liberal Democrat Baroness Tonge, met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

57. Beyond employing antisemitic and inflammatory rhetoric, PRC has alleged ties to terror and was declared an “unlawful association” in 2010 by then Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak, due to its alleged association with Hamas. According to the Israeli Security Agency, PRC “is involved in initiating and organising radical and violent activity against Israel in Europe, while de-legitimising Israel’s status as a nation among the European community.”

58. According to a report by the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, PRC is headed by a number of Hamas activists, including: Zaher al- Birawi, Majed al-Zeer, Sheikh Majdi Akeel, Ghassan Faour and Arafat Madi Shukri. The report also refers to affiliations with the Muslim Brotherhood.