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Progressive US lawmakers slam Israel's move to label Palestinian NGOs as 'terrorist' groups

Members of Congress call on Biden administration to pressure Israel to repeal its 'grossly antidemocratic and dangerous' decision
Earlier this year, Congresswoman Betty McCollum put forward legislation that would ban US aid to Israel from funding annexation or the demolition of Palestinian homes (AFP/File photo)

A group of progressive US lawmakers has condemned Israel's recent decision to label six Palestinian civil society NGOs as terrorist organisations.

The move, announced on Friday, targeted the prominent advocacy groups Addameer, which supports Palestinian political prisoners, Al-Haq, a human rights organisation that works with the United Nations, and Defense for Children International - Palestine (DCIP), among others. 

'This is nothing more than an attempt to silence supporters of Palestinian rights'

- Betty McCollum, US House Representative

Representative Betty McCollum, a progressive who has been vocal against Israel's occupation, condemned the decision as "anti-democratic". 

"This is nothing more than an attempt to silence supporters of Palestinian rights. It is anti-democratic, and contrary to the values expected of a US ally," said McCollum. 

McCollum has for years worked with DCIP, an NGO that monitors Israel's violations against Palestinian children, including attacks, killings and arrests. In 2017 and 2019 she introduced bills seeking to prohibit US taxpayers' dollars from being used to abuse Palestinian children.

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'Counterproductive and unacceptable'

Representative Rashida Tlaib, the first Palestinian American woman elected to Congress, labelled the terror designations as "grossly antidemocratic and dangerous," calling for US aid cuts to Israel. 

Tlaib wrote in a post to Twitter: "The US must end funding for human rights abuses. Enough."

Representatives Ilhan Omar, Alan Lowenthal, Andre Carson and others also condemned the move. 

"This decision is based on false characterizations, and will harm countless people who depend on these organizations for lifesaving support," Carson tweeted. 

Representative Lowenthal also slammed Israel's move, saying that "crackdowns on dissenting voices in the West Bank are counterproductive and unacceptable". 

Many of the lawmakers have urged the Biden administration to pressure Israel to repeal its decision. 

No 'advance warning'?

On Saturday, US State Department spokesperson Ned Price told reporters that the Israeli government failed to warn the Biden administration of the move before it was announced. 

"What I can say is that we believe respect for human rights, fundamental freedoms, and a strong civil society are critically important to responsible and responsive governance," Price said during a news briefing, stopping short of condemning Israel's decision outright.  

"We’ll be engaging our Israeli partners for more information regarding the basis for these designations," he continued. "The Israeli government did not give the US advance warning that they would be designated." 

US seeks clarification after Israel declares Palestinian NGOs 'terrorist' groups
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On Saturday, however, Israeli journalist Barak Ravid reported that Israeli defence officials have alleged that the Biden administration was given prior warning about the designations. 

An Israeli security official also told Haaretz newspaper that the US was sent intelligence on how the groups "operate as an organized network under the leadership of Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP)". 

Under the designation, Israel's defence ministry also accused the PFLP, a Marxist-Leninist resistance group, of siphoning off money from the organisations and using them to recruit activists. 

Once one of the most powerful Palestinian factions, the PFLP has receded in importance in recent decades. The left-wing faction has been eclipsed by the Fatah and Hamas movements, which rule the occupied West Bank and Gaza respectively.

None of the Palestinian organisations has issued an official response by the time of this article's publication.

Several progressive Jewish groups, including J Street, Jewish Voice for Peace and T'ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, among others, have condemned Israel's decision. 

 New Israel Fund CEO Daniel Sokatch called the "repressive declaration a cause for concern for anyone who cares about the future of Israeli democracy and Palestinian rights". 

The Union of Agricultural Work Committees, the Bisan Centre for Research and Development and the Union of Palestinian Women's Committees were among the groups designated.

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