The Charity & Security Network, a coalition of more than 500 civil society representatives dedicated to protecting the rights of nonprofit organizations that help communities and address pressing human rights issues, strongly urges the State Department to drop its misguided plan to label human rights and humanitarian groups as “antisemitic.” This plan, as reported, is based on claims from unreliable sources and stems from the groups’ exercise of their fundamental right to free speech. The proposed labelling equates criticism of government policies – specifically Israel and U.S. policy – to hatred or bias against whole groups of people, a wholly specious link.

In this case three respected groups that have supported Palestinian human rights and criticized Israeli government action that undermine those rights are threatened with retaliatory action by the State Department’s Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism. According to news reports, the State Department listing would bar the groups from receiving U.S. funding and State would urge other governments not to support them.

The mechanism for this retaliation is to officially label the groups as “antisemitic.” Not only is this a legally dubious move, it is a cynical ploy that attempts to raise a smokescreen to deflect attention away from serious issues about the Israel-Palestine conflict and related human rights issues by hiding behind name-calling.  In the Alice in Wonderland world of Secretary Pompeo and Prime Minister Netanyahu, criticism of Israeli policy or its leaders equals antisemitism which equals terrorism. This twisted attempt to turn human rights advocacy into a human rights violation must be rejected.

In its statement on this issue, Amnesty International noted that human rights mechanisms, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, were created in the aftermath of the Holocaust. If Secretary Pompeo is seriously interested in protecting Jewish people against antisemitism, he would listen to Rabbi Jill Jacobs, who said, “Actions such as these damage US democracy by threatening the transparency necessary to protect human rights. Human rights and civil society groups play a prophetic role, even if their words may not be ones governments want to hear.”

Furthermore, the news reports about the planned listing note that the State Department is relying on the politically motivated group NGO Monitor as its key source of information.  A 2019 study from the Policy Working Group, comprised of Israeli former diplomats, academics and others, had this to say about NGO Monitor – “…NGO Monitor is a government-affiliated organization that selectively targets human rights organizations, relies almost entirely on funding from donors in the US, shirks the transparency it demands of others and disseminates misleading and tendentious information, which it presents as factual in-depth research.” This is not a source the U.S. State Department should rely on.

C&SN supports the right of any civil society organizations to speak out about human rights for all people, including Palestinians. As Nobel Laureate and Chinese human rights advocate Liu Xiaobo said, “Freedom of expression is the foundation of human rights, the source of humanity and the mother of truth.”