Philanthropic leaders urge governments to uphold democracy and human rights by protecting civil society against repressive policies
More than 100 global foundations and donors, most of them U.S.-based, have signed on to an open letter expressing solidarity with Palestinian civil society after six leading human rights organisations were designated as so-called “terrorist organisations” by Israeli Defense Minister Benjamin Gantz. The list of signatories includes foundations and funder networks across the U.S. and Europe that support environmental justice, feminist movements, and human rights -- all areas that the six banned nonprofit organisations focus on.
“The cynical weaponisation of anti-terrorism laws poses an existential threat both for Palestinian human rights defenders and those defending human rights globally,” said Lara Friedman, president of the Foundation for Middle East Peace, a philanthropic organisation that promotes a just resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “The breadth of signers of this letter underscores funders’ shared recognition of the urgency of challenging this dangerous tactic, and of the moral obligation to defend partners on the ground who, in essence, have been singled out for attack because they have done their work defending human and civil rights too well.”
The six targeted organisations provide essential services for more than five million Palestinians living under Israeli military occupation. The list includes Addameer, Al-Haq, Bisan Center for Research and Development, Defense for Children International - Palestine, the Union of Agricultural Work Committees and the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees.
“The philanthropic community must not be silent,” said Latanya Mapp Frett, Global Fund for Women President and CEO. “Palestinian women, girls, and gender diverse and nonconforming people face multiple sources of violence—from the Israeli military occupation to a society dominated by patriarchy. The groups targeted by the Israeli government as ‘terrorists’ are activists. Women human rights defenders are fighting worldwide to end the widespread impunity for violence against women, sexual and gender-based violence, and femicide. We are honored to be part of a group of philanthropists who recognise their role in supporting movement leaders on the forefront of social justice.”
International human rights and intergovernmental bodies rely on the targeted groups for documentation of Israeli rights violations, such as the government’s plan to construct more than 3,100 new illegal settlement units on Palestinian lands, announced just days after the six organisations were banned.
"The exposure of illegal spying on peaceful Palestinian human rights defenders, coming on top of baseless terrorism claims against internationally respected human rights organisations, underscores how important it is that the international community continue supporting their legitimate work," said Andrew Anderson, executive director of Front Line Defenders, which protects human rights defenders at risk globally. "Surely this episode will serve as a stark warning against any deployment of the term 'terrorist' against human rights defenders anywhere in the world, and renew efforts to rein in the use of spyware against human rights defenders, journalists and other civil society activists."
The philanthropy open letter urges the U.S. government, European Union, and other governments around the world to protect Palestinian civil society by taking the following actions:
- Denounce all smear campaigns against Palestinian civil society organisations and press the Israeli government to immediately and fully rescind Gantz’s designation of “terrorist organization” against the six prominent Palestinian human rights organisations;
- Hold the Israeli government accountable to adhere to international law and human rights standards; and;
- Ensure that any philanthropic funds designated toward civil society organisations in Palestine reach them without interference by the Israeli government or financial institutions.
“These designations mark a crescendo, not an opening salvo, in the Israeli government’s long-standing campaign to suppress Palestinian civil society,” said Kay Guinane, founder and senior advisor at the Charity & Security Network, a resource and advocacy center that protects the ability of nonprofits to carry out peacebuilding, humanitarian, and human rights missions. “For over a decade, Israel has been working with a network of legal outfits and disinformation groups to distract, defund, and delegitimise organisations in Palestine and internationally that work to support Palestinian needs and end Israel’s human rights abuses. Now, in addition to supporting disinformation and spurious lawsuits, the Israeli government is simply outlawing those who stand up to its abuses.”
Pamela Kohlberg, who sits on the board of the Radical Imagination Family Foundation, added: “It is especially important for us, as Jews, to stand up for the human rights of the Palestinian community. Uniting as progressive funders to protest the targeting of these important civil society groups is critical. Future work for stability in the region will require relationships and cooperation with these organisations.”
The full text of the letter and latest list of signatories may be found here.
Civic space in Palestine is rated as "Repressed" by the CIVICUS Monitor.
Civic space in Israel is rated as "Obstructed" by the CIVICUS Monitor.