(JTA) — Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz announced that Israel’s government will consider six leading Palestinian rights organizations operating in the West Bank as terrorist groups, prompting its first public spat with the Biden administration.
The groups include some of the leading Palestinian civil society groups advocating for farmworkers, women, children, and Palestinians imprisoned in Israeli jails.
Gantz called out their alleged ties to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a group designated by the U.S. and others as a terrorist group. The PFLP was responsible for a string of plane hijackings in the 1970s and 1980s. Some of the groups named by Gantz have been dogged by accusations from Israeli groups of ties to the PFLP for years.
By designating the groups as terrorist organizations, Israel can close the organizations’ offices, seize their assets and effectively stop donations to the groups. The groups named are Addameer, Al-Haq, Bisan Center, Defense for Children International Palestine, the Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network, and the Union of Agricultural Work Committees.
Speaking to reporters Friday, Ned Price, a spokesman for the U.S. State Department, said the Biden administration will ask Israel to clarify its reasons for the decision. He also said the Israeli government “did not give us advance warning” about the announcement.
An anonymous official in Israel’s Defense Ministry disputed that claim to The Times of Israel on Saturday.
“Officials in the American administration were updated in advance of the intention to make this declaration and they received intelligence information about the matter,” the official said.
In the same State Department briefing, Price also criticized Israel’s announcement that it would begin building thousands of new homes for Israeli settlers in the West Bank.
Several human rights organizations around the world condemned Gantz’s announcement on Friday.
“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,” the organizations Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International said in a joint statement.
New Israel Fund, a progressive Jewish organization operating in Israel and the United States, called the announcement “repressive.”
“At a time when both Palestinians and Israelis need civil society to work overtime, we stand with all those who work to hold their governments to account,” the group said.
At the same time, organizations that had advocated for the designation for years celebrated.
“The Israeli announcement confirms what our research has shown years – this time 6 Palestinian NGOs were designated as terrorist organizations as part of the PFLP network. All are funded by European gov’ts and deeply involved in political warfare against Israel,” NGO Monitor, an Israeli organization that publishes reports on non-governmental organizations that work on Israel-Palestine related matters, said in a tweet.