Congress should be wary of Palestinian youth group

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Is the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a terrorist group designated by the State Department and Treasury, about to co-host an event on Capitol Hill? The answer is a bit blurry.

The Palestinian Youth Movement – USA (PYM-USA) is now collecting donations to co-host a “Palestine Advocacy Day” on Capitol Hill on May 1. The group calls itself “a transnational, independent, grassroots movement of young Palestinians,” but its activities should raise some questions about whether they may have any affiliation with the Palestinian-Marxist organization, which has been on the U.S. government’s list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations since 1997.

{mosads}Here is what we know for sure: PYM-USA sponsors the “Ghassan Kanafani Scholarship,” named after a Palestinian writer who was also a leader of the PFLP.  In an April 8 email to its subscribers, PYM-USA explicitly endorsed Kanafani’s terrorist activities, writing, “Kanafani dedicated his life to the Palestinian struggle both through his work with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) as well as his writing. The two were never politically exclusive.”


PYM-USA then expressed support for violent, “resistance…whether by pen or gun.”


The group’s affinity for the PLFP is not new. Several images on PYM’s social media feeds are identical to materials used by the PFLP, except the PYM-USA versions have the PFLP logo blurred or cut out.

Postings of PYM’s international arm (just called PYM) also express support for the PFLP.

The official international PYM Facebook page features photos from a rally where participants are brandishing posters with the PFLP logo, including a photo of a young girl in a PFLP headband. The posters included images of current PFLP leaders Khalida Jarrar and Ahmad Sa’adat, as well as PFLP activists Georges Abdallah, Rasmea Odeh, a convicted terrorist responsible for the murder of two people who is also promoted by PYM-USA.

In addition, the international PYM Twitter feed promotes Leila Khaled, perhaps the most well-known member of the PFLP, notorious for her role in a series of plane hijackings in the 1960s and 70s.

Although the PFLP is still the second largest faction within the PLO, its influence has declined quite a bit since its heyday. But its commitment to violence has not changed. The PFLP remains active in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and in refugee camps around the Middle East.

In 2011, two PFLP members carried out the murder of a family (including an infant) in their home in the West Bank. The PFLP also attacked a West Jerusalem synagogue in 2014 with axes, knives, and a gun, killing five and wounding eight.

On March 12, the PFLP organized a protest in Gaza City against the Palestinian Authority (PA) for its coordination with the Israeli Government in the arrest and killing of Basel Al-Araj (a larger rally in Ramallah the same day was violently broken up by Palestinian security forces). Al-Araj was arrested by the Palestinian Authority in April of 2016 for allegedly leading a terrorist cell, possessing illegal weapons, and planning an attack. After his release in January 2017, he was killed in a shootout with the IDF. 

On March 13, a day after those protests, PYM-USA held similar rallies in support of Al-Araj in front of the PLO offices in Washington, D.C. and in New York City. A PYM activist complained on Facebook that the Manhattan protest was broken up by the FBI.

To be clear, neither PYM nor PYM-USA expressly claim to be affiliated with the PFLP. However, its use of PFLP imagery and rhetoric raises question about whether there may be an actual connection with the terrorist organization. Because PYM-USA is not an officially registered organization, its leaders and sources of funding aren’t public, which makes it hard to know more. 

Curiously, although it’s not registered as a 501c3 charitable organization, PYM-USA claims on its website that donations to it are tax deductible. Emails from PYM-USA list an address that matches that of the 501c3 tax-exempt WESPAC foundation, a New York-based group that acts as the fiscal sponsor for Students for Justice in Palestine – a group notorious for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) activism. Is WESPAC acting as a fiscal sponsor to PYM-USA too?

PYM-USA’s Capitol Hill event, which is co-hosted by American Muslims for Palestine (AMP) is scheduled for May 1. PYM-USA’s meetings on the Hill will come after an “intensive training course presented by policy experts on how to engage with elected officials effectively.”

Members of Congress should be extremely wary of meeting with PYM-USA, a group that has explicitly endorsed the violent activities of a designated terrorist organization. And if any do meet with its activists, they should ask pointed questions about who their leaders are and where PYM-USA’s money comes from.

Kate Havard (@KateHavard) is a research analyst on illicit finance and networks at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

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

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