Sep 13, 2022 - World

Israeli officials in D.C. try to justify terrorist designation for 6 Palestinian NGOs

The door of Palestinian NGO Defence for Children International after it was raided by Israeli forces in the West Bank city of Ramallah in August. Photo: Abbas Momani/AFP via Getty Images
The door of Palestinian NGO Defence for Children International after it was raided by Israeli forces in the West Bank city of Ramallah in August. Photo: Abbas Momani/AFP via Getty Images

An Israeli delegation held talks in Washington last week to try to convince the State Department and U.S. intelligence agencies to back Israel's designation of six Palestinian civil society groups as terrorist organizations, three Israeli officials told Axios.

Why it matters: The designation and other moves by Israel against the Palestinian NGOs over the last year led to harsh criticism from progressives in Washington, including members of Congress and liberal Jewish organizations.

  • Israeli officials admitted to Axios the designation has harmed Israel’s image in the U.S., especially inside the Democratic party.

Catch up quick: Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz designated six Palestinian civil society and human rights organizations as "terrorist organizations" last October in a move widely condemned internationally.

  • The Israeli military raided the offices of the organizations last month, claiming they are affiliated with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which is designated by Israel and the U.S. as a terrorist organization. The groups deny they are involved in terrorism.
  • The United Nations human rights office criticized the raids as "totally arbitrary" and said in a statement at the time that "despite offers to do so, Israeli authorities have not presented to the United Nations any credible evidence to justify these declarations."
  • In an open letter published earlier this month, the six NGOs called on President Biden to condemn the Israeli government's actions and reject its "unsubstantiated allegations" against the organizations.

The State Department has been reviewing intelligence Israel gave it last year on the designated organizations.

  • State Department spokesperson Ned Price said last month that the U.S. hasn’t changed its approach or position regarding these organizations.

Behind the scenes: Israeli officials told me the delegation that went to Washington last week included officials from the Shin Bet domestic intelligence agency, the Foreign Ministry and the Ministry of Defense financial intelligence unit that was spearheading the designation of the NGOs.

  • The delegation presented U.S. officials with updated intelligence on the Palestinian NGOs and what Israeli officials say is evidence of the organizations' alleged involvement in terrorism, Israeli officials said.
  • The delegation met officials from the State Department, CIA and the office of the Director of National Intelligence.
  • An Israeli official said the delegation stressed in its meeting with State Department officials that Israel is not acting against these NGOs because of their political activity, but because of what the official said was their involvement in terrorism.
  • The delegation told U.S. officials "that there are 250 other NGOs working in the West Bank and we have no problem with them even though most of them are very critical towards Israel," the Israeli official said.

What they're saying: A State Department spokesperson said "Israeli officials continue to explain to the U.S. their rationale and reasons for designating a number of Palestinian NGOs."

  • The State Department is currently evaluating the additional information, the spokesperson added.
  • Shin Bet and the Israeli Foreign and Defense Ministries declined to comment.

Editor's note: This story has been corrected to reflect the NGOs' open letter to President Biden was published earlier this month, not in August.

Go deeper