Posts Tagged ‘Israel’

Israeli Court backs Oded Goldreich who wants to donate Israel Prize money to human rights NGOs

April 15, 2022
Israel Prize winner in mathematics and computer science Professor Oded Goldreich will be donating his prize money to five left-wing human rights organisations [@WeizmannScience/Twitter]

Times of Isrel (TOI ) on 14 April 2022 reports on Professor Oded Goldreich, a recent recipient of the Israel Prize in mathematics, wants to donate his NIS 75,000 ($23,350) in prize money to five human rights organizations, including Breaking the Silence and B’Tselem.

Goldreich, a professor of computer science at Israel’s Weizmann Institute, received the Israel Prize at the offices of the Education Ministry Monday, despite opposition from some government ministers and following a nearly year-long political saga over his alleged support for anti-Israel boycotts.

The five groups that will receive the prize money are Breaking the Silence, Standing Together, Kav LaOved, B’Tselem, and Adalah.

Breaking the Silence collects and publicizes mostly anonymous testimony of alleged IDF mistreatment of Palestinians. The organization has riled Israelis, and drawn ire from officials, who have challenged the authenticity of its anonymous claims and decried its work in international forums.

Standing Together supports and donates supplies to soldiers; Kav LaOved is a legal aid group for disadvantaged workers; B’Tselem documents alleged human rights violations in the West Bank; and Adalah is a legal center for Palestinians.

Last month, the High Court of Justice ruled that Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton must hand over the prize to Goldreich, following a petition against her refusal to give him the award filed by the members of the prize committee. The committee had initially awarded the honor to Goldreich last year.

The court ruling was a majority decision, with Justices Yael Willner and Yitzhak Amit siding with the appeal and Justice Noam Sohlberg opposing it.

Shasha-Biton had claimed that an academic boycott of Israel, which she said Goldreich supports, impacts freedom of speech. Amit ruled that “the harm to academic freedom of speech by withholding the prize from professor Goldreich is much worse.”

Denying the honor to a recognized academic over comments he made is “an invitation to monitor, track, and persecute academics in Israel,” Amit said. Shasha-Biton said at the time that she regretted the justices’ decision, but would respect it. She noted that since the court had previously said the education minister should decide the matter, it should have respected her decision.

“A person who calls for a boycott of an Israeli academic institution is not worthy of a state prize, no matter what his achievements or political views are,” she said.

Likud MK and former intelligence minister Eli Cohen tweeted that “Goldreich is the symptom. The root of the problem is the High Court of Justice.”

https://www.timesofisrael.com/controversial-israel-prize-winner-to-donate-grant-money-to-human-rights-ngos/

https://www.ynetnews.com/article/skrb3h4eq

https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20220414-israel-prize-winner-to-donate-award-money-to-groups-fighting-to-end-the-occupation/

No end to NSO’s Pegasus trouble

April 5, 2022

TechCrunch of 5 April 2022 reports that Investigators say they have found evidence that a Jordanian journalist and human rights defender’s iPhone was hacked with the Pegasus spyware just weeks after Apple sued the spyware’s maker NSO Group to stop it from targeting Apple’s customers.

Award-winning journalist Suhair Jaradat’s phone was hacked with the notorious spyware as recently as December 5, 2021, according to an analysis of her phone by Front Line Defenders and Citizen Lab that was shared with TechCrunch ahead of its publication. Jaradat was sent a WhatsApp message from someone impersonating a popular anti-government critic with links to the Pegasus spyware, compromising her phone. According to the forensic analysis, Jaradat’s iPhone was hacked several times in the preceding months and as far back as February 2021.

Apple had filed a lawsuit against Israeli spyware maker NSO Group in November 2021, seeking a court-issued injunction aimed at banning NSO from using Apple’s products and services to develop and deploy hacks against its customers. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/07/21/nsos-pegasus-spyware-now-really-in-the-firing-line/…But so far the case has gotten off to a slow start after the first judge assigned to the case recused herself, with no decision on the case likely to be made any time before June.

Jaradat is one of several Jordanians, including human rights defenders, lawyers and fellow journalists whose phones were compromised likely by agencies of the Jordanian government, according to Front Line Defenders and Citizen Lab’s findings out Tuesday.

Among the others targeted include Malik Abu Orabi, a human rights lawyer whose work has included defending the teachers’ union, which in 2019 led the longest public sector strike in the country’s history. Abu Orabi’s phone was targeted as early as August 2019 until June 2021. Also, the phone of Ahmed Al-Neimat, a human rights defender and anti-corruption activist, was targeted by the ForcedEntry exploit in February 2021. The researchers said the hacking of Al-Neimat’s phone is believed to be the earliest suspected use of ForcedEntry.

Another Jordanian journalist and human rights defender’s phone was targeted, according to the researchers, but who asked for her identity not to be disclosed.

Meanwhile, on 5 April 2022, AFP reported that Palestinian lawyer Salah Hamouri, who is in Israeli detention, filed a complaint in France Tuesday against surveillance firm NSO Group for having “illegally infiltrated” his mobile phone with the spyware Pegasus.

Hamouri, who also holds French citizenship, is serving a four-month term of administrative detention ordered by an Israeli military court in March on the claim he is a “threat to security”.

He is one of several Palestinian activists whose phones were hacked using the Pegasus malware made by the Israeli company NSO, according to a report in November by human rights groups. See: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/11/10/palestinian-ngos-dubbed-terrorist-were-hacked-with-pegasus-spyware/

On Tuesday, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), the Human Rights League (LDH) and Hamouri filed a complaint with the Paris prosecutor.  It accused NSO of “having illegally infiltrated the telephone of rights defender Salah Hamouri,” they said in a statement sent to the AFP bureau in Jerusalem. 

Obviously, this is an operation that is part of a largely political framework given the harassment Hamouri has been subjected to for years and the attacks on human rights defenders in Israel,” attorney Patrick Baudouin, honorary president of the FIDH, told AFP.

https://www.securityweek.com/palestinian-lawyer-sues-pegasus-spyware-maker-france

https://citizenlab.ca/2022/04/peace-through-pegasus-jordanian-human-rights-defenders-and-journalists-hacked-with-pegasus-spyware/

Amnesty joins debate on Apartheid versus Palestinians but reactions debase struggle against real antisemitism

February 4, 2022

In Newsweek of 3 February 2022 Omar Baddar, Director of the Arab American Institute, published an opinion piece entitled “Amnesty Settles It: It’s Time for U.S. Accountability on Israel”.

Amnesty International, issued on 1 February 2022 an extensive report titled “Israel’s Apartheid against Palestinians: Cruel System of Domination and Crime against Humanity.” As the report documents, “Israel has imposed a system of oppression and domination over Palestinians wherever it exercises control over the enjoyment of their right.” The report further found that Israel’s policies are part of a “systematic as well as widespread attack directed against the Palestinian population, and that the inhuman or inhumane acts committed within the context of this attack have been committed with the intention to maintain this system and amount to the crime against humanity of apartheid.

In recent years, some leading Israeli human rights organizations have started using the word apartheid to describe their government’s systems of oppression. Last year, Human Rights Watch, one of the best-known American human rights organization, similarly accused Israel of apartheid. Amnesty International following suit this week has solidified the human rights community’s emerging consensus on Israeli apartheid. See: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/01/18/israel-and-apartheid-israeli-human-rights-group-stirs-debate/ and https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/07/09/israel-and-the-international-crime-of-apartheid-a-response-by-human-rights-watch-worth-studying-in-full/

Omar Baddar, states: The most important consequence of this consensus is that it lays to rest the false but popular notion of an “Israeli-Palestinian conflict” between two equal sides. The new consensus instead frames the issue more accurately as a struggle between an oppressor and an oppressed people. In the same way that Apartheid in South Africa and Jim Crow segregation in the American South denied people the ability to live in freedom with their full rights simply because of who they are, Israel also denies freedom to Palestinians and many basic rights to Palestinians just because they are Palestinians.

Like the Human Rights Watch report before it, what’s remarkable about the new Amnesty report is how extensive and detailed it is. Amnesty did its due diligence and made sure that its central claims are backed by a mountain of evidence, meticulously documenting unlawful killings, forced displacement and systemic discrimination on a massive scale. Unsurprisingly, the devastating and irreproachable nature of this report triggered a meltdown among Israel’s apologists. See for this also: https://yubanet.com/world/human-rights-organizations-from-israel-condemn-vicious-attacks-on-amnesty-international/

Unable to argue with the substance of the Amnesty report, pro-Israel groups have resorted either to blindly asserting—as AIPAC did—that Amnesty was lying, or baselessly claiming—as the ADL did—that the report would spark antisemitic attacks. The latter is nothing short of a cynical weaponization of antisemitism—which, in fact, is a serious and rising scourge in America and across the world—unscrupulously exploited in order to silence criticism of Israeli government policy.

We cannot have the open debate we need in a free society if speaking honestly about Israeli policy results in smears of bigotry. By misusing the charge of antisemitism in this fashion, Israel’s apologists aren’t just harming the human rights defenders being smeared by it; they’re also harming the real effort to eliminate antisemitism—a goal that we all have a moral obligation to come together and accomplish.

What this Amnesty report should have done is serve as a wake-up call to an American political establishment that prioritizes pandering over sensible policy, and that has turned a blind eye to a grave injustice for far too long. After all, it is U.S. military funding, to the unrivaled tune of $3.8 billion per year, which enables the Israeli military to maintain its suffocating grip on the occupied Palestinian population, and it is U.S. diplomatic protection, through more than 40 vetoes at the UN Security Council and beyond, that shields Israel from accountability for its crimes.

And yet, despite repeatedly claiming to prioritize human rights in its foreign policy, the Biden administration’s reaction to this report was utterly disappointing. The administration rejected it out of hand.

The Amnesty report bemoans the fact that, “for over seven decades, the international community has stood by as Israel has been given free rein to dispossess, segregate, control, oppress and dominate Palestinians.” It criticizes countries like ours that have “actively supported Israel’s violations by supplying it with arms, equipment and other tools to perpetrate crimes under international law and by providing diplomatic cover, including at the UN Security Council, to shield it from accountability.” The report also reiterated its call for “states to immediately suspend the direct and indirect supply, sale or transfer of all weapons, munitions and other military and security equipment.”

https://www.newsweek.com/amnesty-settles-it-its-time-us-accountability-israel-opinion-1675876

https://www.juancole.com/2022/02/prolonged-occupation-palestinians.html

https://www.thecitizen.in/index.php/en/NewsDetail/index/6/21449/Why-Is-Israel-Fearful-of-Amnestys-Apartheid-Report

Palestinian NGOs dubbed terrorist were hacked with Pegasus spyware

November 10, 2021

Investigation by Front Line Defenders finds NGO employees’ phones were infiltrated months before Israel designated them as ‘terrorist organisations’

Phones of Palestinians working for human rights organisations recently designated by Israel as “terrorist organisations” [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/10/23/assault-by-israel-on-palestinian-human-rights-ngos/] were hacked using the Israeli-made spyware at the heart of a global surveillance scandal. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/07/21/nsos-pegasus-spyware-now-really-in-the-firing-line/]

Dublin-based Front Line Defenders (FDL) examined 75 phones belonging to Palestinian human rights workers and detected that six were infected with Pegasus spyware between July 2020 and April 202. Four out of the six phones belong to staff members at NGOs that were blacklisted last month for alleged ties to a group labelled by some states as a “terrorist organisation”, a move that has sparked international condemnation.

Those alleged to have been hacked include US citizen Ubai al-Aboudi, who heads the Bisan Center for Research and Development, and French national Salah Hammouri, a researcher at Addameer. 

At a press conference in Ramallah on Monday, representatives of the six organisations called for the international community to take action. “We call on the United Nations to launch an investigation to disclose the party that stood behind using this programme on the phones of human rights activists, a move that put their lives at risk,” Tahseen Elayyan, a legal researcher with Al-Haq, told Reuters.

FDL’s findings, which were reviewed and confirmed by Citizen Lab and Amnesty International Security Lab, will raise further concerns about Pegasus, the controversial spyware alleged to have been used to hack heads of state, journalists and activists in a series of explosive stories published this summer.

NSO Group, the Israeli-based tech firm behind Pegasus, only licences the product to sovereign states or the law enforcement or intelligence agencies of those states.

Haaretz reported on Monday that the export licence issued by the Israeli defence ministry to NSO Group only permits Israeli security services to monitor Israeli phone numbers.

An FDL spokesperson told Middle East Eye on Monday that the organisation does not know which state was behind the hacking it uncovered, but believes that the timeline of events over the past month may be critical in answering that question.

On 16 October, three days before the organisations were designated, Al-Haq approached FDL, suspecting that a staff member’s phone had been hacked. The same day, an FDL investigator found initial traces of Pegasus on the phone.

The following day, on 17 October, FDL said it held a meeting with all six organisations to inform them of the initial findings and see if others would want their phones investigated. NSO Group: US blacklists Israeli firms for harming ‘national security interests’.

On 18 October, Israel’s interior ministry notified Hammouri of its decision to revoke his permanent residency in Jerusalem and deport him on the basis of his alleged “breach of allegiance to the State of Israel”.

Then on 19 October, Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz designated all six organisations which had gathered with FDL as “terrorist organisations.”

At this point, the organisations were reportedly only considered “terrorist” groups in Israel. But on 3 November – just ahead of the release of FDL’s findings –  Israel’s commander-in-chief of the Central Command issued an order to outlaw the organisations in the West Bank.

“It seems to us that [Israeli officials] were slow to react to what was transpiring and they were unprepared,” FDL spokesperson Adam Shapiro told MEE. “It suggests we caught them doing something they didn’t want us to.”

However, Shapiro emphasised that FDL could not say definitively what state was behind the hacking, a comment echoed by Addameer’s director, Sahar Francis.

“We don’t have evidence. We can’t accuse a certain party since we don’t have yet enough information about who carried out that action,” she told Reuters, calling on the UN to launch an investigation.

Israeli officials have not made a public statement yet about FDL’s findings. NSO Group told Reuters the company “does not operate the products itself … and we are not privy to the details of individuals monitored”.

The US government last week blacklisted the NSO Group and a second Israeli spyware firm, Candiru, saying their activities are contrary to US foreign policy and national security interests.

https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/israel-spyware-pegasus-used-hack-palestinian-rights-activists-phones

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/nov/08/hacking-activists-latest-long-line-cyber-attacks-palestinians-nso-group-pegasus-spyware

https://www.occrp.org/en/daily/15450-experts-pegasus-spyware-found-in-phones-of-palestinian-activists

https://www.timesofisrael.com/report-palestinian-activists-phones-hacked-with-controversial-nso-group-tech/

Assault by Israel on Palestinian human rights NGOs

October 23, 2021

As if the fight against terrorists is not already complex enough, Israel has muddied the water more by accusing six prominent Palestinian human rights groups of being terrorist organisations, saying they have undercover links to a militant movement. Not surprisingly. most of the groups document alleged human rights violations by Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

The six are Al-Haq, a human rights group founded in 1979, [and the winner of 5 human rights awards, see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/0F74BF45-72C4-9FDD-F96D-2B87BF6C7728] Addameer, Defence for Children International – Palestine, the Bisan Center for Research and Development, the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees and the Union of Agricultural Work Committees.

The Israeli defence ministry said they were linked to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a secular political movement with an armed wing that in the past carried out attacks against Israel. The groups “were active under the cover of civil society organisations, but in practice belong and constitute an arm of the [PFLP] leadership, the main activity of which is the liberation of Palestine and destruction of Israel”, the defence ministry said. It claimed they were “controlled by senior leaders” of the PFLP and employed its members, including some who had “participated in terror activity”. The groups serve as a “central source” of financing for the PFLP and had received “large sums of money from European countries and international organisations”, the defence ministry said.

The groups, well known for their human rights work, have indeed quite openly received funding from EU member states, the United Nations and other donors.

Shawan Jabarin, the director of Al-Haq, said the move was an attempt to stifle criticism. “They may be able to close us down. They can seize our funding. They can arrest us. But they cannot stop our firm and unshakeable belief that this occupation must be held accountable for its crimes,he told the Times of Israel.

The Israeli human rights group B’Tselem called the government’s declaration “an act characteristic of totalitarian regimes, with the clear purpose of shutting down these organisations”. It added: “B’Tselem stands in solidarity with our Palestinian colleagues, is proud of our joint work over the years and is steadfast to continue so.”

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, who work closely with many of these groups, said in a joint statement:

This appalling and unjust decision is an attack by the Israeli government on the international human rights movement. For decades, Israeli authorities have systematically sought to muzzle human rights monitoring and punish those who criticize its repressive rule over Palestinians. While staff members of our organizations have faced deportation and travel bans, Palestinian human rights defenders have always borne the brunt of the repression. This decision is an alarming escalation that threatens to shut down the work of Palestine’s most prominent civil society organizations. The decades-long failure of the international community to challenge grave Israeli human rights abuses and impose meaningful consequences for them has emboldened Israeli authorities to act in this brazen manner.

How the international community responds will be a true test of its resolve to protect human rights defenders. We are proud to work with our Palestinian partners and have been doing so for decades. They represent the best of global civil society. We stand with them in challenging this outrageous decision.

The US Department of State spokesperson Ned Price said his office had not been given advance warning of the designation. “We will be engaging our Israeli partners for more information regarding the basis for the designation,” Price said on a telephone briefing with reporters in Washington.

The move by the Israeli government represents a challenge for the many European countries that provide financing to the six organizations, European governments, .. now risk being accused of funding terrorism if they continue financing the six groups. One senior European official working in the region admitted the move was likely aimed at putting pressure on donors’ decision-making but said there needed to be an analysis of any evidence put forward by Israel, said CNN Europe.

See also the 4 November post by Just Security: https://www.justsecurity.org/78884/the-downstream-effects-of-israels-terrorist-designation-on-human-rights-defenders-in-the-us/

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/11/27/al-haq-named-2019-recipient-of-human-rights-and-business-award/

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/oct/22/israel-labels-palestinian-human-rights-groups-terrorist-organisations

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/10/22/israel-palestinian-human-rights-groups-terrorism

https://www.msn.com/en-gb/news/world/stars-sign-letter-criticising-israel-s-move-to-label-palestinian-charities-as-terror-organisations/ar-AAQNM7

See also: https://www.commondreams.org/news/2022/01/06/dont-abandon-us-palestinian-rights-group-rebukes-dutch-government-halting-funding

https://news.un.org/en/story/2021/10/1103982

NSO’s Pegasus spyware now really in the firing line

July 21, 2021

Frank Andrews in the Middle East Eye of 20 July 2021 tracks the history of the unhealthy story to which also thsi blog has regularly paid attention: see https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/nso-group/

Claims made this week that the Israeli company’s Pegasus spyware technology has been used to surveil 50,000 phones – belonging to heads of state, journalists, human rights defenders, political opponents and more – may be the highest-profile accusations against the firm, but they are not the first.

Pegasus, which infects phones with spyware through various means, has proven to be a boon to digital authoritarians wanting to track anyone perceived as critical of their rule. It has also been the subject of numerous lawsuits and legal complaints.

It begun in August 2016, when the United Arab Emirates was found to be tracking the iPhone of Emirati human rights activist Ahmed Mansoor using Pegasus spyware, according to a report by Citizen Lab and Lookout Security. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/08/29/apple-tackles-iphone-one-tap-spyware-flaws-after-mea-laureate-discovers-hacking-attempt/]

Geneva experts on cybersecurity and digital governance tell Geneva Solutions what citizens must do to stem the erosion of our right to privacy.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, in a statement, said that the revelations “are extremely alarming, and seem to confirm some of the worst fears about the potential misuse of surveillance technology to illegally undermine people’s human rights.” See statement by @UNHumanRights Chief @mbachelet: https://ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/

https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/israel-pegasus-spyware-nso-group-history-accusations-denials

https://www.rawstory.com/as-un-human-rights-chief-urges-stricter-rules-snowden-calls-for-end-to-spyware-trade/https://www.rawstory.com/as-un-human-rights-chief-urges-stricter-rules-snowden-calls-for-end-to-spyware-trade/

https://indianexpress.com/article/explained/the-making-of-pegasus-from-startup-to-spy-tech-leader-israel-invasive-spyware-7414370/

Israel and the international crime of Apartheid: a response by Human Rights Watch worth studying in full

July 9, 2021

EJIL Talk!, the Blog of the European Journal of International Law, last week had a symposium (see: https://www.ejiltalk.org/), which has addressed a number of legal issues arising from HRW’s report released in late April 2021 “A Threshold Crossed: Israeli Authorities and the Crimes of Apartheid and Persecution.” This report has received significant media attention.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/01/18/israel-and-apartheid-israeli-human-rights-group-stirs-debate/ and https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/05/10/israeli-government-sponsored-app-goes-after-hrw-for-apartheid-categorisation/

On 9 july 2021 Clive Baldwin, Senior Legal Adviser of HRW, uses the opportunity to contribute to a substantive discussion focusing primarily on the implications of the report for the broader international legal discourse.

After detailed discussion of the international LEGAL aspects, he concludes:

The discussion demonstrates the importance of considering the term “apartheid” under international criminal law as a specific crime against humanity, together with the closely related crime against humanity of persecution. This requires a legal understanding of its definition and constitutive elements, as well as of ways to apply it. To even begin the process of criminal justice, prosecutors – and in particular those at the ICC – will first need to understand and investigate these crimes. Legal discussions like this symposium can, we hope, help advance this objective. These are crimes against humanity that have been neglected for too long.

https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/07/09/human-rights-watch-responds-reflections-apartheid-and-persecution-international-law

Israeli government-sponsored app goes after HRW for Apartheid categorisation

May 10, 2021

Alan Macleod in Mint-press News of 7 May 2021 studies in quite some detail the way in which the recently released Human Rights Watch (HRW) report has made waves around the world and the organised backlash that followed.

For the first time, the New York-based non-governmental organization has categorized Israel as an apartheid state guilty of “crimes against humanity.” [see also`: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/01/18/israel-and-apartheid-israeli-human-rights-group-stirs-debate/]

The 213-page study goes into detail about a range of racist laws and policies carried out by successive administrations, concluding that there is an “overarching Israeli government policy to maintain the domination by Jewish Israelis over Palestinians and grave abuses committed against Palestinians living in the occupied territory, including East Jerusalem.” The report accuses the state of Israel of widespread “institutional discrimination” and of “denying millions of Palestinians their fundamental rights…solely because they are Palestinian and not Jewish.” It further notes that, across Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, it has “sought to maximize the land available for Jewish communities and to concentrate most Palestinians in dense population centers.”

Prominent voices have warned for years that apartheid lurks just around the corner if the trajectory of Israel’s rule over Palestinians does not change,” said the organization’s executive director, Kenneth Roth. “This detailed study shows that Israeli authorities have already turned that corner and today are committing the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution.

Perhaps most importantly, Human Rights Watch is now openly calling for global action to end the repression. The report asks the International Criminal Court to investigate and prosecute those involved in Palestinian persecution. While not explicitly endorsing the Boycott, Divestment and Sactions (BDS) movement, Human Rights Watch directly advocates that “[s]tates should impose individual sanctions, including travel bans and asset freezes, against officials and individuals responsible for the continued commission of these serious crimes,” and for businesses to “cease business activities that directly contribute to the crimes of apartheid and persecution.”

A big splash

The report was widely covered across the world and has been heralded by Palestine solidarity activists, with experts seeing it as a potential turning point in the struggle for Palestinian sovereignty. “It was inevitable that Human Rights Watch would have to declare Israel an Apartheid state and, from what I hear, Amnesty International is going to be next to say it,Asa Winstanley of the Electronic Intifada told MintPress. “It puts Israel’s backers in a difficult spot because Human Rights Watch is really part of the establishment so they cannot just dismiss it and it makes it impossible to ignore… It is harder for them to say Human Rights Watch is anti-Semitic, but they’re trying it anyway,” he added.

Trying indeed. Michigan Congresswoman Lisa McClain tweeted that “Human Rights Watch has shown again how they have an anti-Israel agenda,” suggesting they instead focus their attention on China or Iran’s repressive governments. “Hostility and hypocrisy are HRW’s hallmarks when it comes to Israel,” wrote the American Jewish Committee. The Jerusalem Post’s editorial board was equally condemnatory, denouncing what they saw as the “cynical appropriation of the suffering of the victims of the actual apartheid regime.” Other Israeli journalists described the report as “a disgrace to the memory of the millions who suffered under that policy [apartheid] in South Africa.” The news even made enough waves to force a response from the White House. Press Secretary Jen Psaki replied that “[a]s to the question of whether Israel’s actions constitute apartheid, that is not the view of this administration.”

Organized spontaneity

Yet much of the online anger at the report was actually manufactured by an Israeli government-sponsored app, Act.IL, which organized supporters of the Jewish state to act in sync to create an artificial groundswell of opposition to it. The app, which reportedly has a budget of over $1 million per year, instructed users to leave combative comments on Facebook, Twitter, and popular news outlets, and to like and promote others who did the same.

Human Rights Watch’s Facebook post announcing the report’s release has received over 1,400 comments, hundreds of them written in a similar, scathingly negative tone. One that the app directly told users to signal boost, for instance, described Palestinians as a people “indoctrinated with hate for Israel and Jews for over 100 years,” and claimed they were paid salaries to murder Israelis. It also presented the 1967 war and occupation as a humanitarian effort to bring electricity and other infrastructure to Arabs.

Another “mission” Act.IL gave its users was to promote a Facebook comment attacking the report as “nothing more than hate speech” and calling its lead author a “rabid anti-Zionist and Israel hater.”Omar Shakir HRW

One of the many images provided to Act.IL users for their astroturfing campaign against HRW

Act.IL is one of the chief tools in Israel’s online public relations enterprise. The app debuted in 2017 and is part of what Israeli Minister of Strategic Affairs Gilad Erdan called an “Iron Dome of Truth.” “Our cell phones are the number one weapon against us,” he explained, noting that public opinion in the U.S. was beginning to turn against them. While most of the app’s nearly 20,000 users are volunteers, a core of them are paid operatives, with many students receiving scholarships as a reward for their work.

The app has been designed to feel like a game, with points assigned for completing “missions” such as sharing pro-Israel videos, reporting anti-Israel content, signing petitions, or attending online seminars. Users can track their progress on leaderboards, earn badges and prizes, and chat with other members of the community. While it might feel like Animal Crossing or World of Warcraft for some, its creators see this very much as a new front in the war against Palestine. Israeli Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked categorizes BDS as “another branch of terrorism in the modern age,” and has been an important voice in taking the fight to a new front.

An Act.IL mission encouraging astroturfing of online discussions. Source |
@AntiBDSApp

There is also an online toolkit full of folders of responses to typical questions and issues that arise. Users can, for instance, go to the BDS folder to find stock replies to their arguments. Or they can go to a specific folder to find articles, images and videos they can use to demonize Hamas.

The missions are organized by outlet, so users can, for instance, target only Facebook, Telegram, or other platforms they are most familiar with. At the time of writing, there are 10 missions each to complete on Facebook and YouTube, 30 on Instagram, 25 on Twitter.

One current challenge is to upvote an answer to a question on Quora that asks about the validity and purpose of checkpoints in the West Bank. The answer claims they are purely about protection from terror attacks, and claims that Red Crescent ambulances are used to ferry bombs around the area. Other missions include pressuring an online store to remove a bag with a message stating “Make Israel Palestine Again.”Act.IL

An Act.IL “mission” encouraging users to demand the removal of products with pro-Palestinian messaging

It is quite astounding how openly they do it. But, of course, when you see a comment online, you wouldn’t necessarily think that it was coming from the Israeli government, but this is essentially what is happening,” Winstanley said. “Israel is not the only state to do this, but they do it fairly successfully.

For all this, however, it is clear that Act.IL has a serious problem with user retention and lacks the volunteer numbers for it to be truly game changing.

Controlling the message

In a time of heightened awareness about foreign government interference online, it is particularly surprising that these operations can be openly carried out across virtually every major platform. Big tech companies like Twitter, YouTube and Facebook are constantly deleting tens of thousands of Russian, Chinese, Iranian and Cuban accounts belonging to what they claim are organized, state-sponsored disinformation campaigns.

In an effort to gauge the legality of its operations, MintPress reached out to Facebook, YouTube, Quora, and other big platforms used by Act.IL. We received no response from any of them. While this is particularly noteworthy — as these companies have teams of public relations representatives and are extremely forthright and timely with responses on other issues — it is perhaps not surprising. Facebook especially has long been working closely with the Israeli government in deciding which voices to censor. As far back as 2016, Ayelet Shaked boasted that Facebook removed 95% of the posts her office asked them to. Yet when Shaked herself called for a genocidal war against Palestine and its women, who give birth to “little snakes,” not only did the post remain online, it received thousands of likes and was widely circulated.

“The concern is that Facebook is adopting Israeli policy and terminology when it comes to defining what incitement is,” said Nadim Nashif, co-founder of 7amleh, the Arab Centre for the Advancement of Social Media. 7amleh was therefore dismayed when last year, Facebook appointed former Israeli Minister of Justice Emi Palmor to its Oversight Board, the council having the final say in the moderation of content on the platform used by 2.6 billion people worldwide. In her role as justice minister, Palmor was directly implicated in the persecution and subjugation of Palestinians.

Earlier this year, an Israeli Defense Forces soldier attempted to sue a Palestinian-American activist living in California over an allegedly slanderous Facebook post condemning her for participating in ethnic cleansing. Remarkably, the plaintiff attempted to convince a California judge to apply Israeli law to the incident, despite the fact that both she and the defendant are American citizens. https://cdn.iframe.ly/r7H7ueP?iframe=card-small&v=1&app=1

Inside the world of academia, professors critical of Israel have found themselves pushed out of the profession. In 2007, prominent critic of Israel Norman Finkelstein was denied tenure at DePaul University for political reasons. Seven years later, the University of Illinois “unhired” Steven Sailata for his comments denouncing Operation Protective Edge, the 2014 Israeli attack on Gaza. Emails showed that wealthy donors put significant pressure on the university to pull the plug on him. More recently, Cornel West was blocked from a tenured job at Harvard this year, despite having previously held tenure at Harvard, Princeton, and Yale. “Being the faculty advisor for the Palestinian student group was the one that probably went outside of the line for many Harvard staff,” West told Krystal Ball and Kyle Kulinski. “It’s a joke. It’s ridiculous. It’s ludicrous. It’s preposterous that it wouldn’t have something to do with politics.”

Top media figures have also paid the price for their support of BDS. CNN fired commentator Marc Lamont Hill after he made a speech at the United Nations calling for a free Palestine. Meanwhile, journalist Abby Martin was blocked from speaking at a conference at Georgia Southern University last year after she refused to sign a contract promising to renounce BDS. Georgia is one of dozens of U.S. states to have anti-BDS legislation, essentially forcing any would-be recipient of public contracts or funds, including government employees, to sign a pledge not to boycott Israel. Martin is currently suing the state of Georgia. MintCast Interviews Abby Martin About Her Anti-BDS Lawsuit & The Israel Lobby

While Human Rights Watch’s report is new, the charge of apartheid is not. In 2017, a United Nations report “clearly and frankly concludes” that Israel is “a racist state that has established an apartheid system that persecutes the Palestinian people.” Earlier this year, Israeli human rights organization B’TSelem also used the word “apartheid,” claiming that Israel had established “a regime of Jewish supremacy from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea.”…

Advocates for Palestine hailed Human Rights Watch’s study. Phyllis Bennis of the Institute for Policy Studies wrote:

There can be little doubt that much of HRW’s decision to issue this report now was based on the recognition that not only is it no longer political suicide to call Israeli apartheid what it is, but that we are now at a tipping point whereby failing to call out apartheid risks losing credibility for a human rights organization. It’s a huge victory for our movement.”

The battle, however, is far from won, and it is clear that the Israel lobby will continue to fight to hold back the tide until it is insurmountable.

Alan MacLeod is Senior Staff Writer for MintPress News. After completing his PhD in 2017 he published two books: Bad News From Venezuela: Twenty Years of Fake News and Misreporting and Propaganda in the Information Age: Still Manufacturing Consent, as well as a number of academic articles. He has also contributed to FAIR.orgThe GuardianSalonThe GrayzoneJacobin Magazine, and Common Dreams.

https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/04/27/abusive-israeli-policies-constitute-crimes-apartheid-persecution

Israel and Apartheid: Israeli Human Rights Group stirs debate

January 18, 2021

At the risk of inviting a torrent of abusive reactions, I think that the question of whether there is a case of APARTHEID is a legitimate one as a recent human rights NGO report asserts that one unequal system governs Israel, Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

B’Tselem, a prominent Israeli human rights group has intensified its criticism of the country’s policies toward Palestinians, saying Israel pursues a nondemocratic “apartheid regime” and “Jewish supremacy” in both Israel and the Palestinian territories. The report of Tuesday 12 January 2021 reflects a recent shift by critics within Israel, widening their focus beyond the country’s half-century military occupation of Palestinian territories to policies stretching back to Israel’s founding, and endorsing highly charged parallels to South Africa’s former regime of white rule.

An editorial in the Guardian of 17 January states: It was a deliberate provocation by B’Tselem, Israel’s largest human rights group, to describe the Palestinians in the Holy Land as living under an apartheid regime. Many Israelis detest the idea that their country, one they see as a democracy that rose from a genocidal pyre, could be compared to the old racist Afrikaner regime. Yet figures such as Desmond Tutu and Jimmy Carter have done so. There is a serious argument about injustices to be had. Palestinians – unlike Israeli Jews – live under a fragmented mosaic of laws, often discriminatory, and public authorities which seem indifferent to their plight. Apartheid is a crime against humanity. It is a charge that should not be lightly made, for else it can be shrugged off. Some might agree with the use of such incendiary language, but many will recoil. The crime of apartheid has been defined as “inhumane acts committed in the context of a regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups with the intention of maintaining that regime”.

Many Israelis firmly reject the comparison. They boast of a vibrant Israeli democracy, say Palestinians have representation in their own semi-autonomous Palestinian Authority, and justify restrictions on Palestinians as necessary security measures in the absence of peace.

B’Tselem’s director Hagai El-Ad, who is Jewish, said he hoped the report would inform the analysis of the incoming Biden administration as it considers how to steer U.S. policy, after the Trump administration sided with Israel and against Palestinian positions on the most sensitive aspects of the long-running conflict between the two peoples. “I expect this will be part of a new chapter for fighting for justice in this place,” El-Ad said.

B’Tselem, which has documented Israeli human rights abuses in Palestinian territories since 1989, said it now rejects the commonly held notion that Israel maintains two separate regimes side-by-side: a democracy inside Israel, where the country’s 20% Palestinian Arab minority shares equal citizenship and rights with its Jewish majority, and a military occupation imposed on Palestinian non-citizens in territories captured in 1967 which Palestinians seek for an independent state. “One organizing principle lies at the base of a wide array of Israeli policies: advancing and perpetuating the supremacy of one group – Jews – over another – Palestinians,” B’Tselem said in a statement Tuesday.

Daniel Estrin notes in his piece on NPR some reactions:

The Israeli government did not issue an immediate public response, but defenders of Israeli policy accused B’Tselem of radicalized anti-Israel propaganda.

This is no longer the same NGO that once gained respect, even from critics, by championing human rights based on credible research. Today, it is a platform for demonizers,” Gerald Steinberg of NGO Monitor, an Israeli watchdog of pro-Palestinian groups, said in a statement.

B’Tselem seeks to “fundamentally delegitimize Israel and call for its destruction – because one does not reform an Apartheid regime, one ends it,” said Eugene Kontorovich of the Kohelet Policy Forum, a conservative Israeli think tank.

Another prominent Israeli advocate for Palestinian rights, lawyer Michael Sfard, issued a legal opinion last year that Israelis practice apartheid over Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, but he stopped short of evaluating whether the same definition applied within Israel proper.

Last year, the Israeli NGO Yesh Din found that Israeli officials were culpable of the crime of apartheid in the West Bank.

B’Tselem said Palestinian Arab citizens in Israel have more rights than non-citizens in the West Bank and Gaza but that they were second-class citizens to Jewish Israelis. It pointed to Israel’s construction of hundreds of Jewish communities while building few communities for the country’s Palestinian citizens; and laws that grant automatic Israeli citizenship to Jews around the world but exclude non-Jews, including Palestinians.

B’Tselem’s criticisms of Israel’s military occupation include travel restrictions placed on Palestinians, who require Israeli travel permits; and Palestinians’ lack of voting rights in the Israeli political system which holds sway over their lives.

B’Tselem said it decided to embrace the apartheid terminology following the adoption in 2018 of Israel’s Nation State Law, which defined Israel as a Jewish state and accorded Jews priority in areas ranging from the official use of Hebrew versus Arabic, to land development, to the government’s discussion last year of potentially annexing occupied West Bank territory without extending voting rights to Palestinians living there, a move Israel says is possible.

“Israel is not a democracy that has a temporary occupation attached to it: it is one regime between the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, and we must look at the full picture and see it for what it is: apartheid,” El-Ad said.

The human rights group’s name, B’Tselem, Hebrew for “In the Image,” is taken from Genesis 1:27 which states that humanity was created in the image of God.

See also: https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/1/18/israel-moves-to-rein-in-rights-group-over-use-of-term-apartheid

https://www.npr.org/2021/01/12/956020789/israeli-human-rights-group-says-the-country-pursues-nondemocratic-apartheid-regi?t=1610539620271

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/jan/17/the-guardian-view-on-israel-and-apartheid-prophecy-or-description

https://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/WO2105/S00023/quibbling-over-cruelties-human-rights-watch-israel-and-apartheid.htm

Palestinian human rights defender Amro Issa convicted for speaking out

January 7, 2021

On Wednesday morning 6 January 2021 an Israeli military court convicted Palestinian Human Rights Defender Issa Amro for peacefully protesting and civil disobedience. The Israeli military judge announced the verdict in a hearing attended by representatives of British, European, EU and Canadian consulates. Amnesty International issued a statement calling to drop all the “politically motivated” charges.

Today Israel announced that Palestinians are not allowed to peacefully protest the Israeli occupation without a permit from the occupier,” Amro stated. “This conviction is the military system against the Palestinian nonviolent resistance. It aims to suppress my voice and end all activism against the Israeli occupation.” Amro’s Israeli lawyer Gaby Lasky added that “The military court is just an organ of occupation. The [indictment for nonviolent protest] is an example of how the courts are used in order to deter the important voices of human rights defenders.”

Amro is a founder of the Youth Against Settlements group in Hebron, which organises non-violent activism against the illegal Israeli settlements in Hebron and the discriminatory restrictions placed on Palestinians by the Israeli authorities in the city. Amro first appeared in an Israeli military court in 2016 on 18 charges, ranging from “insulting a soldier” to “participating in a march without a permit”. Some of the charges dated back to 2010.

The indictment, first presented in 2016, included 18 charges related to Amro’s community organizing deemed “baseless,” “politically motivated” or “physically impossible” by Amnesty. The military judge convicted Amro on six counts: three counts of “participating in a rally without a permit,” two counts of “obstructing a soldier,” and one count of “assault.” These surround Amro’s participation in the peaceful “Open Shuhada Street” demonstration in 2016; Amro’s participation in the nonviolent “I Have a Dream” demonstration from 2013 in which participants wore masks of Obama and Martin Luther King; one count of obstruction relates to a nonviolent sit-in protest in 2012 calling to re-open the old Hebron municipality building; one count of “assault” by “shoving someone” related to a previously-closed case from 2010, an incident for which the indictment had included an obstruction charge (acquitted) for Amro yelling “I am being assaulted” in the Israeli police station prior to Amro being carried out to an ambulance on a stretcher.

In 2019, UN Special Rapporteurs called for Amro’s protection and expressed “concern” over the charges. In 2017[see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/04/11/un-rapporteurs-intervene-again-for-palestinian-human-rights-defender-issa-amro/]; thirty-five U.S. House Representatives and four Senators including Bernie Sanders sent letters highlighting that some charges were not internationally recognizable offenses and that Amnesty would consider Amro a “prisoner of conscience” if convicted. Issa Amro is the co-founder and former coordinator of the Hebron-based Youth Against Settlements initiative. In 2010, he was declared “Human Rights Defender of the year in Palestine” by the UN OHCHR and he is formally recognized by the European Union. He won the One World Media Award in 2009 for his involvement in B’Tselem’s camera distribution project. He was a guest of the U.S. State Department in 2011 and has spoken at the UN Human Rights Council on numerous occasions. The sentencing is scheduled for 8 February.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/12/21/palestinian-human-rights-defenders-continue-to-be-persecuted/

Saleh Higazi, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director, said: “The Israeli authorities must end their campaign of persecution against Palestinian activist Issa Amro, who is a prominent voice against Israel’s regime of discrimination and systematic human rights violations against Palestinians in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, particularly in Hebron.”

https://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/WO2101/S00025/israeli-military-court-convicts-un-recognized-palestinian-human-rights-defender-for-protesting-without-a-permit.htm

http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/30290

https://www.amnesty.org.uk/

https://mailchi.mp/3fff66fe2a8b/military-court-convicts-human-rights-defender-issa-amro?e=51113b9c0e