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Issue #1727      April 20, 2016

“Dangerous environment” against BDS activists

Amnesty International is urging the Israeli government to end its threats and attacks against Palestinian and Israeli human rights defenders, including leaders of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.

BDS protest in Montreal, Canada. (Photo: www.Tadamon.ca)

Meanwhile, European civil society groups are launching a new campaign to defend freedom of speech from efforts to curtail it by Israel and European leaders allied with it.

“An escalation of acts of intimidation by the government and attacks and threats by settlers and other non-state actors have created an increasingly dangerous environment” for human rights defenders in Israel and the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, said Amnesty.

The group expressed particular concern for the “safety and liberty of Palestinian human rights defender Omar Barghouti, and other BDS activists, following calls alluding to threats, including of physical harm and deprivation of basic rights, made by Israeli ministers.”

The threats were made at the “Stop the Boycott” conference held in Jerusalem on March 28 and attended by Israeli leaders as well as by EU and US diplomats.

“An especially alarming statement came from Israeli Minister of Transport, Intelligence and Atomic Energy Yisrael Katz who called on Israel to engage in ‘targeted civil eliminations’ of BDS leaders with the help of Israeli intelligence,” Amnesty stated.

It noted that the term Katz employed “alludes to ‘targeted assassinations’ which is used to describe Israel’s policy of targeting members of Palestinian armed groups.”

Amnesty also condemned statements by Israel’s public security minister Gilad Erdan that activists including Barghouti should “pay the price” for their work, although Erdan denied he was calling for physical harm. Similarly, interior minister Aryeh Deri threatened to revoke Barghouti’s residency permit.

“Slightly safer”

Amnesty described these statements as the most serious examples of “threats and intimidation” to date, and called on Israeli ministers to uphold human rights and avoid “inflammatory public remarks” against Barghouti and other human rights defenders.

Israel should also “withdraw [the] threat to arbitrarily restrict his freedom of movement and cancel his permanent residency in Israel,” Amnesty added.

Barghouti has welcomed Amnesty’s public intervention.

“I already feel slightly safer, having received this clear position by Amnesty International,” Barghouti told The Electronic Intifada.

“It not only criticises the Israeli government’s intimidation and violent threats against me and my BDS colleagues, it defends our right to engage in the non-violent BDS movement to defend the rights of the Palestinian people under international law,” Barghouti added.

Barghouti, a co-founder of the BDS movement, also renewed his call for Israel to be isolated.

“The UN and all states must strongly reject Israel’s well-oiled attempts to delegitimise the BDS movement and support our right to BDS,” he said. “The most effective way for them to hold Israel’s regime of oppression accountable for its grave crimes against the Palestinian people is through imposing sweeping sanctions on it similar to those adopted against apartheid South Africa.”

In contrast to Amnesty’s stance, Ambassador Lars Faaborg-Andersen, the top EU envoy in Tel Aviv who participated in the Stop the Boycott conference, has refused to condemn the Israeli threats.

Amnesty noted that the threats against BDS activists come in the context of a broad assault on Palestinian and Israeli human rights defenders by government and non-state actors aimed at suppressing freedom of expression and assembly.

Incidents mentioned by Amnesty include the death threats against Imad Abu Shamsiyeh, the Palestinian who filmed the point-blank execution of a Hebron youth by an Israeli soldier on March 24; the series of death threats against the staff of the Palestinian human rights group Al-Haq; the arrests of Hebron anti-settlement activists Issa Amro and Farid al-Atrash; the imprisonment of Palestinian parliamentarian Khalida Jarrar and “vicious” invective and threats directed at Breaking the Silence, an Israeli group that collects and publishes anonymised confessions of abuses by Israeli soldiers.

Amnesty also pointed out that in recent years, “the Israeli authorities have passed a number of laws that restrict the space for opposition to Israeli government policies and actions.”

Currently making their way through parliament are additional laws “that appear to be aimed at curtailing freedom of expression and freedom of association,” Amnesty stated.

These include the so-called transparency bill, a measure seen as an attack on groups critical of Israel’s human rights record. Another is the “Loyalty in Culture” bill which would give the government the power to retroactively withdraw funding from cultural activities that “contravene the principles of the state.”

The right to BDS

Earlier this month a coalition of European civil society groups launched a new campaign to support freedom of speech and political action for Palestinian rights.

The European Coordination of Committees and Associations for Palestine (ECCP) is calling on human rights organisations, civil liberties groups, social movements, trade unions and political parties to sign a petition to the European Union “opposing government-led attacks on free speech and civil liberties that are being implemented in order to undermine civil society’s human rights initiatives in support of the Palestinian people’s struggle for freedom, justice and equality.”

“As Israel is increasingly unable to defend its regime of apartheid and settler colonialism over the Palestinian people and its regular massacres of Palestinians in Gaza, it is seeking supportive governments in Europe and the US to undermine free speech as a way of shielding it from criticism and measures aimed at holding it to account for its gross violations of international law,” ECCP states, citing recent repressive acts by authorities in the UK and France, as well as the threats by Israeli ministers.

“Regardless of their position on BDS, human rights organisations and citizens of the world who care about civil rights and human rights have to take a clear stand to defend the right to advocate for BDS as a matter of conscience and free speech and a non-violent means of civil society to advocate the fundamental rights of the Palestinians,” ECCP adds.

The Electronic Intifada

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