Following Death Threats, Human Rights Defenders Demand Israeli Authorities Stand Up for Civil Society

“This is the result of the ongoing incitement campaign against aid and human rights organizations in Israel—with the encouragement and backing of politicians and public figures.”

By Julia Conley, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 7-31-2019

On Wednesday, death threats were found spray-painted outside the offices of Amnesty International in Tel Aviv and ASSAF, an organization which advocates for refugees and asylum seekers in Israel. (Photo: @AmnestyIsrael/Twitter)

Human rights defenders in Israel on Wednesday linked recent threats at three civil society organizations to the rhetoric and policies of the country’s government, which has worked to intimidate and suppress groups critical of its treatment of Palestinians and other marginalized people.

Staff members at Amnesty Israel in Tel Aviv and the Aid Organization for Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Israel (ASSAF) on Wednesday found death threats written in spray paint on walls outside the organizations’ offices. A box containing death threats and a dead mouse was found around the same time at the Elifelet Children’s Activity Center, which cares for refugee children.

“We have filed a complaint with the police and we see this as the result of the ongoing campaign of incitement against aid and human rights organizations, led by the government,” tweeted Amnesty Israel.

Amnesty International denounced the threats as “deplorable and malicious acts” which must be investigated and unequivocally condemned by the government.

“The Israeli authorities should take a strong stand by publicly condemning these acts and making clear that attacks against NGOs will not be tolerated,” said Philip Luther, the group’s research and advocacy director for the Middle East and North Africa. “The Israeli authorities must also take steps to ensure that human rights defenders and civil society organizations more generally are effectively protected and can carry out their work free from threats, intimidation, or harassment.”

Instead of defending the rights of human rights groups to operate and further internationally-recognized freedoms for refugees and all people, Amnesty said, the Israeli government has in recent years “taken steps to unduly restrict the rights to freedom of expression and association inside Israel.”

Officials ordered Human Rights Watch (HRW) director Omar Shakir deported from the country earlier this year. Like Amnesty, HRW has been critical of Israel’s human rights record in Palestine. The government has also passed legislation subjecting human rights groups to “onerous reporting requirements about donations from foreign governments,” exempting organizations that are supportive of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and settlements there, like the 6,000 that were approved for construction on Wednesday.

Amnesty has long condemned Israel’s illegal blockade of the Gaza Strip, its restriction of Palestinians’ movement with checkpoints and roadblocks, and the Israeli Defense Forces’ (IDF) killing of demonstrators at border protests.

Earlier this month ASSAF decried the Israeli municipality of Petah Tivka for barring refugee children from enrolling in school.

The groups posited their vocal dissent against the government likely prompted the threats.

“This is not the first time we are being threatened,” ASSAF wrote in a post on Twitter. “This is the result of the ongoing incitement campaign against aid and human rights organizations in Israel—with the encouragement and backing of politicians and public figures.”

“You have to make sure this is the last time,” the group added, addressing authorities.

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