The exploitation of international legal rhetoric has become a major weapon in the political war to delegitimize Israeli responses to attacks on its civilian population. This strategy, adopted at the NGO Forum of the UN’s 2001 Durban Conference, distorts legal and human rights terminology, as well as international humanitarian law.  By couching political attacks in legal terms, NGOs seek to create a veneer of credibility and expertise, thereby increasing international pressure against Israel and delegitimizing counter-terror measures. This approach also supports the BDS (boycotts, divestment, and sanctions) movement, exploitation of the courts, and similar tactics.

The most recent manifestation of this process accompanied the Gaza War. From the beginning of the combat on December 27, 2008, through the adoption of the Goldstone Report in November 2009, more than 50 NGOs claiming to promote human rights and humanitarian agendas issued over 500 statements on the fighting – mostly condemning Israel.  Similar activity was seen during Israel’s conflict with Hezbollah in 2006, the construction of the security barrier in 2004, and Operation Defensive Shield in 2002.  While these NGO publications ostensibly claimed to provide neutral and objective coverage, Professor Kenneth Anderson has shown that they are “essentially lawyers’ briefs that shape the facts and law” toward favored conclusions “without really presenting the full range of factual and legal objections.”

NGO Monitor’s “International Law, Human Rights & NGOs” series will address various aspects relating to international law raised in these NGO campaigns.

Issue 1: Self-defense

  • Al Haq and PCHR falsely claim that Israel cannot invoke self-defense in response to attacks from non-state actors in occupied territory. In making this legally incoherent argument, these NGOs misinterpret key passages in international law.
  • A second approach, taken by Human Rights Watch and B’Tselem, alleges, without evidence, that Israel’s exercise of self-defense is merely a pretext for punishing the Palestinians. There is no legal doctrine that establishes that an otherwise legal military action in self-defense becomes illegal simply because one of its alleged motives is to “punish” the aggressor. 
  • Other groups, including Oxfam and FIDH, pay lip service to Israeli self-defense, but reject every Israeli action as a “violation of international law.”
  • These NGOs make no realistic suggestions of what would be considered lawful and effective measures, effectively nullifying the right to self-defense.
  • PCHR, which is funded by the EU, Denmark, Norway, Ireland, Holland, and other governments, labels direct attacks on Israeli civilians as acts of “resistance,” another legal fiction.

Full analysis of The Right to Self-defense

Issue 2: NGO “Apartheid State” Campaign: Deliberately Immoral or Intellectually Lazy?

  • Labeling Israel an apartheid state is part of a larger strategy of political warfare that includes NGO boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) campaigns and “lawfare” cases against Israelis.  It is the latest manifestation of the 1975 UN “Zionism is racism” resolution and the 2001 Durban Conference NGO Forum declaration.
  • The only internationally recognized case of apartheid was in South Africa. Customary law is based therefore on those practices that were unique in apartheid South Africa. Since Israel does not share these practices, it cannot be defined as an apartheid state under international law. 
  • Many NGO claims and legal arguments equating Israel with apartheid South Africa originate with the PLO’s Negotiations Affairs Department and were developed for propaganda purposes.  
  • Many NGOs falsely portray the Arab-Israeli conflict as a dispute motivated by alleged Jewish race-hatred of Arabs, rather than one based on competing national and territorial claims. 
  • A significant portion of the organizations involved in apartheid based demonization receive substantial funds from the European Union, European governments, New Israel Fund (NIF), Ford Foundation, and George Soros’ Open Society Institute.
  • NIF’s funding of such organizations is entirely inconsistent with a March 2010 statement by CEO Daniel Sokatch, that “apartheid” is “a historically inaccurate and inflammatory term that serves only to demonize Israel and alienate a majority of Jews around the world.”
  • NGOs charging “apartheid” omit the context of terrorism in order to falsely frame counter-terror measures. International law specifically allows for rights restrictions as necessary to balance security needs and humanitarian considerations.
  • Under international law, countries have the right to set citizenship and entry criteria.  Such conditions are enacted by every state in the world and are not the equivalent of apartheid.  
  • A 2009 publication by Adalah (NIF- and European-funded) and Al Haq (European-funded), entitled “Occupation, Colonialism, Apartheid?: A re-assessment of Israel´s practices in the occupied Palestinian territories under international law” declares Israel guilty of “colonialism” and “apartheid,” and of placing Palestinians in “reserves and ghettoes.” The report is premised on an expansive distortion of international law. 
  • Some “Israeli apartheid” activists benefit from the open and democratic nature of Israeli society. Omar Barghouti of PCABI is a PhD student at Tel Aviv University. Adalah, which participated in an Israeli Apartheid Week event “on Apartheid as it is experienced by Palestinian citizens of Israel,” has direct and repeated access to Israeli courts and policy-makers through dozens of court petitions and regular appearances at Knesset hearings. 
  • NGOs routinely ignore practices in the Arab and Muslim world that more closely resemble the practices of apartheid South Africa, such as legally mandated gender and religious discrimination in Saudi Arabia.  

Full analysis of NGO “Apartheid State” claims

Issue 3: Lost at Sea: NGO Legal Distortions in the Wake of the Flotilla Incident

After the violent clash between the Free Gaza flotilla and Israeli naval forces on May 31, 2010, numerous NGOs and “human rights groups” issued harsh and one-sided condemnations of Israel’s actions. Many of these statements were couched in the terminology of international law. However, as the following analysis demonstrates, these claims are legally incorrect or dubious. They represent the continued exploitation of international law for political ends.

Full analysis of NGO legal distortions about the Flotilla incident

Issue 4: Rule of Law and Due Process: NGO Campaigns to Discredit the Israeli Justice System

  • As part of the NGO campaign to internationally isolate Israel, NGOs have developed a strategy to discredit the Israeli justice system and to falsely paint Israel as an anti-democratic state.  This strategy is used to bolster BDS (boycott, divestment and sanction campaigns) and lawfare initiatives, as well as to promote the Goldstone Report.
  • Many of the NGOs involved in this strategy receive significant funding from the European Union, European governments, and prominent foundations such as the New Israel Fund, the Ford Foundation, and George Soros’ Open Society Institute.
  • The strategy has encompassed specifically targeting the Israeli Supreme Court.  One NGO, Al Haq, advocates “flooding the Court with petitions in the hope of obstructing its functioning and resources.”
  • Hasseen Jabareen, General Director of the NIF- and EU-funded Adalah, encouraged NGO activists “to portray Israel as an inherent undemocratic state” and “use that as part of campaigning internationally” at a 2008 conference funded by the Swedish government.
  • European-funded NGOs such as Al Haq, Palestinian Center for Human Rights, FIDH (France), Badil, and DCI-PS have pursued this strategy at the UN and the International Criminal Court to force “war crimes” investigations of Israeli officials.
  • Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have joined these efforts, with allegations that Israeli investigations, in particular, the Turkel Commission on the May 2010 “Free Gaza” flotilla, lack independence and transparency.  This is despite the UN Human Rights Council’s Goldstone Follow-up Committee reporting to the Human Rights Council that the Turkel commission had “active participation from the international observers” and “thoroughly examined the controversial legal and political issues presented for their consideration.”
  • To date, courts around the world confronted with this NGO strategy have rejected these campaigns.  In a case PCHR filed to challenge Israeli justice, the Spanish Appeals Court rebuked PCHR for “disputing the impartiality” of Israel’s justice system, which “involves ignoring [Israel’s] existence [as] a social and democratic state with rule of law.”
  • While the NGOs discussed in this report allege that Israel fails to uphold due process, these same groups rarely adhere to these norms, such as the International Bar Association’s Lund-London Guidelines for fact-finding.  Such failure highlights the immoral frameworks under which many of these organizations operate.

Full analysis of Rule of Law and Due Process


NGO Monitor Monograph Series - Relevant Titles

Precision-guided or Indiscriminate? NGO Reporting on Compliance with the Laws of Armed Conflict (June 2010)

The NGO Front in the Gaza War: The Durban Strategy Continues (February 2009)

NGO "Lawfare": Exploitation of Courts in the Arab-Israel Conflict (October 2008)

Articles of Interest