United States of America
Urgent Interventions

Joint press release: US government mounts attacks on Palestinian rights movement, dangerously conflating antisemitism and boycott

Paris-Geneva, 26 November 2020 – The United States (US) Secretary ofState announced on 19 November, that the US State Department would designate as“anti-Semitic” organisations that engage in peaceful means to end human rightsviolations against Palestinians, including boycotts, and would deem suchorganisations ineligible for government funding. The Observatory for theProtection of Human Rights Defenders (FIDH-OMCT), the Center for ConstitutionalRights (CCR), Al-Haq and Al Mezan Center for Human Rights denounce thedangerous, defamatory false-equivalence of peaceful advocacy for therealisation of Palestinian self-determination and other human rights withantisemitism, and call on the US State Department to reverse this policy andrefrain from making such allegations against human rights organisations and thePalestinian rights movement more broadly.

International human rights organisations along with smaller organisations advocating for the rights ofPalestinians, long targeted by pro-Israel groups, are now in the crosshairs ofthe U.S. State Department because of their advocacy supporting or participatingin the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, including support for the United Nations' database of companies thatdo business with Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank. Far from seekingto combat real instances of antisemitism, the targeting of groups advocatingfor Palestinian rights is part of a series of decisions by the Trumpadministration to silence human rights advocates in the US and abroad, andcould have far-reaching consequences in other countries who could follow suit.

The human rights organisations believed to be targeted by slanderousantisemitism accusations use peaceful means to denounce violations and abusesby governments – not only those of Israel – backed by facts, testimonies andwithin the parameters of internationally accepted mechanisms. This action bythe US State Department constitutes a clearattack on the universality of human rights, by restricting the freedom ofexpression of renowned human rights organisations and human rights defendersworking to hold Israel accountable for its continuous violations of core tenetsof international law.

This latest step follows earlier actions such as Trump’s misguided Executive Order on anti-Semitism, based on the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA)working definition of anti-Semitism –which seeks to suppress activism and public speech promoting Palestinianfreedoms and rights as well as critical assessments of Israel’s policies – andthe State Department’s adoption in 2016 of the IHRA’s working definition, whichhas been criticised by Palestinian rights organisations as politicised and inaccurate.These actions constitute not only an attack on Palestinians’ rights but alsothe rights of people and organisations in the US and worldwide that stand insolidarity with Palestinians.

"The worrying announcement that the United States willdesignate the BDS movement and human rights organisations as antisemitic is avery serious, direct attack on freedom of expression, association and the rightto defend human rights", declared Alice Mogwe, FIDH President. “Weexpress our deepest solidarity with our colleagues and other human rightsdefenders targeted by these unfounded accusations and reaffirm our support forthe realisation of the rights of the Palestinian people, who remain protectedby international laws and conventions”.

The Israeli settlements in theOccupied Palestinian Territory (OPT), including in East Jerusalem, are illegal under international law and have severely undercut the human rights of Palestinians. Forthis reason, human rights organisations both in Palestine and around the world have been advocating for years against trade ofproducts produced in settlements coming from the OPT, following a call from Palestinian civil society to support a campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions in aneffort to end Israel’s occupation, colonisation and apartheid againstPalestinians. The UN has remained seized of the question and in February 2020,the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)issued a report which identifies 112 business entities involved in certain activitiesrelating to settlements in the OPT.

The BDS movement is a non-violent movement and boycotts are a peaceful means of expression. Yet human rights and advocacy organisations, anti-occupationactivists, and Palestinian civil society groups have long been smeared asantisemitic for their support for boycott. This latest move, reportedly againstmore prominent organisations, is thus not an anomaly but part of a concerted effortto silence criticism of Israel’s crimes.

Equating antisemitism with BDS activities is baseless, incorrect andpurposely defamatory: antisemitism refers to discrimination targeting Jewishpeople because of their ethnic and religious identity and, as all forms ofhate, must be confronted in all its forms. The BDS movement, on the other hand,protests against a nation-state’s policies and actions, not against its people.This kind of protest is in line with the rights to freedom of expression andassociation, as the European Union has already recognised. Indeed, the European Court of Human Rights recently ruled that calls for boycotts fall within the right to freedom of expressionand clearly distinguishes actions and statements concerning subjects of generalinterest – i.e., respect for international law by the State of Israel and thehuman rights situation in the OPT – that fall within the scope of politicalspeech from incitement to hatred, violence and intolerance. This conclusionreflects the position of FIDH’s International Board, which formally recognised and reaffirmed the right of individuals to peacefully participate inand call for BDS measures to protest the Israeli government’s occupation anddiscrimination policies in 2016.

The Trump administration’s decision conflates legitimate criticism withantisemitism. Regrettably it renders vital human rights work very complicated.Human rights law protects the rights and freedom of expression of all - andPalestinians and Israelis alike”, added Gerald Staberock, OMCT Secretary General.

This latest announcement follows in the wake of other breaches by theTrump administration regarding international human rights law, especially in thecontext of Palestine. From its move of the US embassy to Jerusalem and the closure of Palestinian diplomatic offices in the US to the recognition of the Golan Heights as part of Israel and the attempt to erase the Green Line by acts suchas extending scientific agreements to the illegal settlements, the Trump administration has waged along-term campaign to legitimise Israel’s occupation and de facto annexation ofPalestinian territory. Further, the Trump administration has consistently alienated itselffrom and attacked international organisations through actions such as pulling out of UNESCO, cutting off its contributions to the UN Relief and Works Agency forPalestinian Refugees (UNRWA), and announcing sanctions against the Prosecutor of theInternational Criminal Court in order to thwart its investigation into crimesby Israelis in Palestine.

If the Trump administration does not reverse course, we call on theincoming Biden administration to do so without delay.

Press contact:

· FIDH: Ms. Eva Canan(English, French), +33 6 48 05 91 57 / Email: ecanan@fidh.org (Paris)

· OMCT: Ms.Iolanda Jaquemet (English, French), +41 79 539 41 06 / Email: ij@omct.org (Geneva)

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (theObservatory) was created in 1997 by FIDH and the World Organisation AgainstTorture (OMCT). The objective of this programme is to intervene to prevent orremedy situations of repression against human rights defenders. FIDH and OMCTare both members of ProtectDefenders.eu , the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented byinternational civil society.