Human rights, Palestinian terror and congressional lobbying
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A central theme in the criticism of Rep. Keith Ellison’s candidacy for the chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) revolves around his associations with various

figures and NGOs. Do his past affiliations with the Nation of Islam, reflect his personal beliefs and how do they reflect on the Democratic Party as a whole?  These questions stem from the issue of due diligence when interacting with civil society actors and go beyond the activities of a single congressman.

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These concerns  are brought into stark relief by the “No Way to Treat a Child Campaign,” -focusing on Israeli detention practices- coordinated by the organizations Defense for Children International-Palestine (DCI-P) and the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC). Under this framework, these NGOs have held Congressional briefings, such as the June 2, 2015 “International Juvenile Justice Reform: Children in Israeli Military Detention” event where Ellison spoke.  Similarly, they encouraged Members of Congress to sign letters critical of Israeli security policy in the West Bank, such as the June 20, 2016 letter accusing Israel of widespread abuse of Palestinian prisoners, initiated by Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.).

Of prime concern  are the ties between DCI-P officials and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), designated as a terrorist organization by the US, Canada, EU, and Israel for carrying out suicide bombings, assassinations, airline hijackings and other attacks on Israeli civilians.

As NGO Monitor’s November 2016 report highlights, DCI-P’s current and former board members and employees have strong ties to the PFLP. Current board member Mahmoud Jiddeh, was arrested in 1968 for planting explosives that were detonated in a PFLP terrorist attack that wounded several Israeli civilians in Jerusalem. Fellow board member Hassan Abed Aljawad has spoken on behalf of the PFLP at public events. Aljawad is also board member of another organization, the Health Work Committees (HWC), whose Jerusalem center was closed by Israel in 2015, due to what Israeli authorities called “use[] in terrorist activities.”

Several former board members have similar connections to the Palestinian terror group. From 2007-2014, Shawan Jabarin served on DCI-P’s board. In 2007, the Israeli Supreme Court referred to him as “Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde,” determining that with respect to the PFLP, he operates “some of the time as the CEO of a human rights organization, and at other times as an activist in a terror organization.” In 2009, the court issued a similar decision.

Another former DCI-P board member, Nasser Ibrahim, was previously the editor of the PFLP’s weekly magazineEl-Hadaf. Ibrahim also co-authored a 2002 book with Majed Nasser, The Palestinian Intifada, Cry Freedom, that praises the concerted campaign of suicide bombings and other acts of terrorism that took place during the early 2000s. For his part, Nasser is the former executive director of HWC and is also a deputy director at the Union of Health Work Committees (UHWC), identified as a PFLP-affiliate by USAID in 1993. 

Ties to terror are not the only problem with AFSC’s collaboration with DCI-P. AFSC is committed to anti-peace BDS (boycotts, divestment, and sanctions) tactics that have been consistently rejected and excoriated by Congress and state legislators.  Likewise, the joint lobbying project counts amongst its “national campaign partners” some of the preeminent BDS groups in the U.S., including Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), American Muslims for Palestine (AMP) and the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights.  As such, it is reasonable to conclude that this advocacy campaign is designed to serve as a vehicle for back-door BDS promotion.

Ellison, McCollum and the other signers of the June 2016 letter are certainly not the only politicians to demonstrate poor due diligence when engaging with groups purporting to advance human rights.  On Nov. 17, the Weekly Standard reported on five congressmen who met with the aforementioned Shawan Jabarin while touring the West Bank in 2016, on a trip organized by the Palestinian NGO known as MIFTAH. In 2013, MIFTAH published an antisemitic blood libel and has romanticized terror attacks against Israeli civilians, referring to female suicide bombers as “women dedicated to sacrificing their lives for the cause.”

These examples demonstrate the cardinal importance of proper vetting when engaging with NGOs claiming to promote human rights agendas. It is not enough to rely on their own portrayal of their activities, nor is it sufficient to review only one sub-section of their stated agenda. Potential partners, employees, and board members must be broadly scrutinized, taking into account the totality of their aims, actions, statements, and affiliations.

The decision of elected officials to participate in DCI-P sponsored events and initiatives is likely the result of negligence, not malice -- Members of Congress do not want to be associated with such dubious organizations. The only way for Members of Congress to prevent a repeat of these affairs is through a vigilant commitment to due diligence and through a more critical view of the NGO world.

Yona Schiffmiller is the Director of the North America Desk at NGO Monitor, a Jerusalem-based research institute.


The views expressed by authors are their own and not the views of The Hill.