Politico reports that U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo plans to issue a finding that three of the world’s leading human rights groups, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and Oxfam are “anti-Semitic.” The directive will be based on a report prepared by the U.S. “anti-Semitism czar,” Elan Carr, whose findings are based largely on the “research” of Israel’s version of Project Veritas (PV), NGO Monitor (NGOM). It’s no accident that Carr was the keynote speaker at the latter’s 2019 conference which sought to criminalize legitimate criticism of Israel such as BDS and other forms of political speech.
Unlike PV, NGO Monitor does not seek to infiltrate left-wing NGOs. In fact, the Israeli group does no field research at all. It doesn’t visit the NGOs it attacks. It doesn’t interview anyone. It does virtually no research in the traditional sense. It does publish wild-eyed lies about its subjects containing lurid buzzwords like “blood libel,” “anti-Semitic,” etc.
In fact, it has been sued for libel by some of the Palestinian groups it has falsely attacked. In at least one case, it was forced to retract its statements and issue an apology, which in fact it labeled a “correction,” instead of what it really was. In another case, after NGOM made false claims against a Palestinian NGO causing a Canadian government agency to rescind a million-dollar grant, the group sued the Canadian government and won a financial settlement. In yet another case, the Israeli group published a false report about the NGO, Al Mezan, claiming it was linked to the PFLP. After an investigation of the charges, the Dutch, which fund the Palestinian group, found them to be baseless.
The group’s founder, Gerald Steinberg, is a retired professor of politics at the far-right Orthodox, Bar Ilan University. I wrote this about his academic career in 2013:
Steinberg has led a lackluster academic career as associate professor in Bar Ilan’s political science department. By now, he should’ve been promoted to full professor, but that hasn’t happened. He co-wrote a single book (with two co-authors), Best Practices for Human Rights and Humanitarian NGOs, published by a little known imprint, Martinus Nijhoff Publications. His articles too are in second- (or third) tier periodicals like Israel Law Review, Middle East Quarterly, and Israel Affairs. He has had a few published abroad, but those too have never been in prestigious journals.
The majority of his papers were either published by academic departments at Bar Ilan or by right-wing publications of the sort listed above. He had the chutzpah to publish a paper with the awkward title, The Framing of Political NGOs in Wikipedia through Criticism Elimination, criticizing Wikipedia for eliminating NGO Monitor’s contributions to the site. In fact, the editors had banned Steinberg’s digital media staff member for repeatedly vandalizing the articles of leading Israeli human rights NGOs. In most other circumstances, such an article would be considered academic fraud. But apparently not at Bar Ilan.
After nearly four years of the Trump presidency, we’ve become used to the sloppy claims and outright lies which inform virtually every statement from both the president himself and cabinet officers like Pompeo. But the latter’s upcoming finding takes things to a new low. In fact, the NGOs under attack not only aren’t anti-Semitic, they’re not even anti-Israel, though they have been critical of Israeli Occupation and other violations of international law. They have also been critical of human rights violations in Arab and Muslim states. Does that mean that they’re Islamophobic? Of course not.
IHRA’s faux “definition” of Anti-Semitism
The major crutch used to justify the anti-Semitism label is exploitation of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance “working definition” of the term, which construes criticism of Israel as anti-Semitic. This exemplifies the weaponization of the term to defend Israeli interests, which have little or nothing to do with Judaism per se. And let’s remember that the original, and only legitimate definition of anti-Semitism is hatred of Jews. Not criticism of Israel. Not even hatred of Israel (unless accompanied by hatred of Jews).
As I’ve written here numerous times, IHRA conflates Israel and Judaism, which is the same error made by white supremacists like David Duke and Donald Trump. It’s also a lazy habit adopted by Israeli politicians who grandiosely believe that they in fact speak for the entire Jewish people. You’ll recall when Shimon Peres and many others declared that Iran’s ultimate goal was not just to destroy Israel, but the entire Jewish people. This is nonsense. But it does play well to a certain Jewish audience prone to accept tacitly every word from the mouths of Israel’s leaders.
Anti-Globalism, Judeo-Supremacy and White Supremacy: Brothers in Arms
Nor does the U.S. smear against human rights NGOs exist in a vacuum. In fact, it is part and parcel of the Trump administration’s animus against all international organizations from the United Nations to the International Criminal Court, to UNWRA, to the Paris Climate Accord. Like their white supremacists supporters, Trump mistrusts anything that is not American, anything outside the control of the U.S. He and they both view such global bodies as usurpers of U.S. sovereignty. As such, this president has broken with decades of bipartisan consensus going all the way back to the founding of the UN in San Francisco in 1945.
Israel too joins in a similar antipathy to global organizations which uphold international law and invariably find Israel in violation of it. Israel faces an ICC inquiry into the mass murder of protesters during the Great March of Return, with the investigation also incorporating Israeli Occupation and settlements as violations as well. Any ICC finding that Israel had committed war crimes or such violations would be a severe setback for that country’s attempts to portray itself to the world as a victim of Arab rejectionism and hatred.
For this reason, Israel has stripped Human Rights Watch’s staff director of his work visa. It also denied visas to the workers for the UN High Commission for Human Rights, which will functionally expel its entire staff. In the past, many Israeli governments might have wanted to do this. Of course, if it is committing a crime it wants no witnesses to document it. But none have because of fear of the blowback from foreign governments. But this far-right government, which embraces Judeo-fascism, fears nothing and no one. It does whatever it wants unchecked by any world body. In this way, it behaves much like the Trump administration.
The Israeli far-right has long ago enfeebled Israeli human rights NGOs labeling them traitors and snitches because of their willingness to testify to UN bodies about Israeli war crimes against Gaza during Operation Protective Edge. Israeli laws require such NGOs to reveal foreign governments which support them, as if accepting funds from foreign countries indicates a betrayal of Israel. Note that such an approach is taken by countries known for xenophobia and authoritarian streaks, like Putin’s Russia. Also note that far-right groups like NGOM have no such obligation. In fact, while the latter demands “transparency” from left-wing groups, it refuses to practice what it preaches, claiming that the safety of its donors would be endangered if their identity was revealed.
Israeli Judeo-supremacy and white supremacy in the U.S. and Europe go hand in hand. Trump has validated Jewish supremacy by recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and accepting the legitimate of Israeli settlements (a clear breach of international law). Similarly, ethno-supremacists who rule in Poland and Hungary find a welcome ally in Israel’s far-right government, despite their avowed anti-Semitism. They have managed a remarkable feat: they’re divided Jews from Israelis and declared their love for the latter while retaining their eternal hatred of the former.
The only way they can do this is by declaring that Israel is their ally in the war against global Islam. This is a war they’re fighting within their own countries and Europe in general, as they criminalize Muslim refugees fleeing civil war in Syria and poverty and tribal violence in Africa. They transform the minority into a fearsome competitor seeking the destruction of European “western civilization” and its replacement with a global caliphate.
Fascism needs an external enemy. It has, going all the way back to Hitler himself. It identifies a vulnerable minority and targets it for hatred and violence. This process of victimization, in turn, unifies the populace against an enemy and in support of the ruling class. In Europe it is the refugee and George Soros. In America, it is Mexicans, Muslims, “shithole countries,” China, whoever Fox News has chosen to excoriate on any given day, and George Soros. In Israel, it is the Palestinians, the Iranians, the Turks in particular, and any Muslim in general… and George Soros. Notice a pattern? Under fascism, the enemies may be different depending on the country. But the process of demonization is the same.
Who do these so-called anti-Semitic NGOs defend? All of the victims mentioned above, all of whom are victims of states which reject the protections offered to minorities under international law. For fascism to win it must eliminate competitors. It must destroy external witnesses who compete for legitimacy with it. That’s why Pompeo and Israel must turn these human rights groups into enemies, even by using outrageous claims like “anti-Semitism.”
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.