Amnesty International is condemning Israeli threats to punish the human rights group over its call on countries to ban the import of goods made in Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian land.
“The reports that the Israeli government plans to punish Amnesty International over its settlements campaign are deeply alarming,” the group said. “While we have not been officially informed of any such action by the authorities, if true, this would be a serious setback to freedom of expression and an ominous sign for the ability of human rights nongovernmental organizations in Israel to operate freely and without arbitrary interference.”
Last June, Amnesty urged countries around the world to ban the import of all goods produced in Israeli settlements, saying this was necessary to “put an end to the multimillion dollar profits that have fueled mass human rights violations against Palestinians.”
All Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Syria’s Golan Heights are illegal under international law.
On Tuesday, Israeli media reported that Israel’s finance ministry plans to strip Amnesty’s Israeli section of its tax-exempt charitable status – a move that could impose a financial cost on the group by discouraging individuals from making donations.
According to the Tel Aviv newspaper Haaretz, this would be the “first time the government will apply the so-called anti-boycott law, which penalizes organizations and individuals calling for a boycott of Israel or the settlements.”
That law was passed in 2011 and blessed by Israel’s high court in 2015.
“Taking punitive action against Amnesty International over its settlements campaign would constitute a brazen attack by the Israeli authorities on the organization’s legitimate human rights work,” Amnesty’s Middle East director Magdalena Mughrabi said. “It would also be the latest effort by the authorities to silence human rights organizations and activists who criticize the Israeli government and call for accountability.”
Israel has been intensifying pressure on local and international human rights groups.
Since 2010, Israel has systematically blocked the entry of Human Rights Watch’s investigators to Gaza.
Israeli groups that document violations against Palestinians, including B’Tselem and Breaking the Silence, have faced a campaign of incitement in which government ministers have referred to them as “traitors” and “enemies.”
Earlier this month, Israeli prosecutors charged a man with planning to set fire to the offices of Breaking the Silence and making threats against organizations and individuals he deemed “atheist.”
Last year, Israel passed a law tightening monitoring of human rights groups receiving funding from foreign governments.
Death threats and harassment
Last year, Amnesty International expressed its fears for the “safety and liberty of Palestinian human rights defender Omar Barghouti, and other boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) activists, following calls alluding to threats, including of physical harm and deprivation of basic rights, made by Israeli ministers.”
In June, Germany took the unusual step of criticizing Israel’s restrictions on civil society groups, likening its measures to repression in Hungary, China and Russia.
This came two months after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu boycotted a meeting with German foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel over the latter’s meetings with members of B’Tselem and Breaking the Silence.
In reaction to the news it may now be punished for its stance, Amnesty reiterated its call for a ban on settlement goods – an action that would be taken by governments.
“Amnesty International generally does not support or oppose consumer boycotts,” it added. “The organization does however defend people’s rights to participate in and advocate for boycotts if they choose to and has campaigned on behalf of those who have been punished for doing so.”