Trump admin considers branding Amnesty International, other human rights groups as 'anti-Semitic'
WASHINGTON - The Trump administration is considering a proposal to brand prominent human rights organizations as "anti-Semitic" and discourage governments from supporting their work, five congressional assistants and a State Department official told NBC News.
With the support of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the proposed statement is intended to target Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Oxfam and possibly other rights groups who have criticized the Israeli government for its policies towards Palestinians.
The potential move has alarmed State Department career officials and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle in Congress, the sources said. The rights groups, which often share their research with US diplomats and the military, said they were blind to the proposal and could be used by foreign governments as an excuse to ban or restrict their work abroad.
The move could lead to legal challenges in court and lead government officials to avoid contact with human rights groups, former officials said.
The proposal was first reported by Politico.
The State Department did not respond to a request for comment.
The Anti-Defamation League, an organization fighting anti-Semitism and bigotry, said it would be a mistake to implement the proposal.
"We refuse to apply the anti-Semitism label to these human rights organizations in general. This is neither applicable nor helpful in the fight against anti-Semitism," said a spokesman for the ADL. "Rather, this step would politicize the fight against anti-Semitism."
The Anti-Defamation League has had sharp disagreements with human rights organizations over Israel over the years, the spokesman said, adding, "To claim that these groups are somehow unconstitutional is simply wrong. It would be short-sighted and counterproductive for the State Department to blacklist them that way. "
If implemented, the measure would be based on a recommendation from the Office of the Special Representative to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism Elan Carr, portraying human rights groups as anti-Semitic and advising foreign governments against funding the organizations. the sources said. However, the details of the proposed move remain in the internal debate.
Some lawyers in the department have raised serious concerns about the legality and implications of such a decision, including whether it violates human rights organizations' initial adjustment rights, two Democratic Congress advisors said.
The possible statement, if approved, would cite the work of human rights groups related to the boycott, divestiture and sanctions movement that promoted the boycott of Israeli products through the building of settlements on land that Palestinians claim for a future state .
Draft documents in support of the possible decision cite examples of alleged bias by the three right-wing organizations regarding reports published by the groups and their criticism of Israel's settlements and treatment of Palestinians, according to one with the documents familiar person. Many of the examples seem to have been taken almost verbatim from the website of NGO Monitor, a right-wing organization in Israel that, according to the same source, is often critical of national and international human rights groups.
One of the examples is comments from the mayor of Frankfurt who accused Amnesty International of "promoting ethnic cleansing," the source said.
The three human rights groups that could be blacklisted say they do not support the BDS movement.
"It's shocking, confusing, insulting, disturbing. I'm almost speechless," said Andrea Prasow of Human Rights Watch about the proposal. "This type of smear is deeply troubling and not what we would expect from the US government."
Human Rights Watch, along with other legal groups, has longstanding relationships with the State Department, the Pentagon, and other government agencies, and sometimes briefs ambassadors before they take up new posts. Although Human Rights Watch regularly expresses sharp criticism of the United States, the group works closely with the administrations of both parties on a number of issues and reports extensively on violations of the law that shape US policy, Prasov said.
Bob Goodfellow, interim executive director of Amnesty International USA, described the proposal as the Trump administration's latest attempt to undermine international human rights organizations.
"The government is spreading misinformation and working to undermine those who work to protect human rights," Goodfellow said in a statement. "Amnesty International USA is deeply committed to combating anti-Semitism and all forms of hatred worldwide and will continue to protect people where justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied. We vigorously deny any allegations of anti-Semitism."
Goodfellow added that the modern post-Holocaust human rights movement came about when countries came together to ensure that such atrocities would never happen again.
Oxfam said it has a long history of working to protect the rights and lives of Israelis and Palestinians and vows to continue its work.
"Any suggestion that Oxfam supports anti-Semitism is wrong, baseless and offensive," said Noah Gottschalk, Oxfam America's global political leader. “Oxfam does not support BDS, nor does it call for a boycott of Israel or any other country. Oxfam and our Israeli and Palestinian partners have been working locally for decades to promote human rights and provide life-saving support to the Israeli and Palestinian communities. "
It is not the first time the Trump administration has selected leading human rights groups for criticism.
Two years ago, Nikki Haley, the then American. The ambassador to the United Nations accused Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International of advocating Russia and China for rejecting their proposed reform of the United States Human Rights Council. After that, Haley excluded the two groups in private political briefings.
Human rights activists said the proposal was part of a broader pattern by the Trump administration to undermine or ignore human rights concerns, including the imposition of sanctions on top International Criminal Court officials, while avoiding harsh sentences against Riyadh after the assassination of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi be at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
American Jewish World Service director Robert Bank described the proposed move as "appalling," and T'ruah, a rabbinical human rights organization, said it was "ridiculous" to portray rights groups as "anti-Semitic."
"Israel is a state that, like all other members of the United Nations, is bound by international human rights law and, like other countries, can be criticized for failing to meet these obligations." Rabbi Jill Jacobs, executive director of T'ruah, said.
The Israeli embassy in Washington did not respond to a request for comment.
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