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British NGO targeted by the Israeli government looks set for UN accreditation

A UN committee has recommend special consultative status for a UK-based Palestinian organisation, despite Israel’s efforts to block the move. The vote comes as a blow to the Israeli government and its lobby groups, who have vowed to contest the decision.

At a meeting in New York on Monday, the UN Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations voted 12-3 in favour of the Palestinian Return Centre (PRC) becoming an accredited NGO with the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). There were 3 abstentions and 1 absent member.

Israel, one of three ‘no’ votes with the US and Uruguay, had claimed that the PRC is linked with Hamas, part of a long-standing attack on the group’s efforts that even include its designation as an “unlawful association” by the Israeli Minister of Defense in 2010.

Responding to the Committee’s vote, Israeli Ambassador to the UN, Ron Prosor, claimed that the UN had given “Hamas a welcoming celebration at its main entrance.” Prosor’s rhetoric was stronger than the more carefully-worded title of the official press release, however, which merely describes PRC as “associated” with Hamas.

PRC, for their part, issued a stinging rebuttal of what they called “dangerous and false” allegations, saying the Israeli claims have “zero credibility”, and are politically-motivated. “We believe”, the statement reads, “that the only reason that Israel is launching this huge campaign against us is due to the simple fact that we defend the right of return for Palestinian refugees.”

The Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations is a standing committee of ECOSOC, and has 19 members elected on the basis of equitable geographical representation. It vets applications submitted by NGOs on the basis of various criteria, such as mandate, governance, and finances.

The Committee only makes recommendations, calling for action by the Council. Thus an NGO approved by the Committee is only granted consultative status after a subsequent ECOSOC meeting makes the decision final – though this is typically a formality. Consultative status enables an NGO to boost their influence, especially within the various UN committees, conferences, and sessions.

Along with the PRC, the Committee approved applications by a further nine organisations from Switzerland, the Netherlands, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, Jordan, Canada, and Australia. The work represented ranges from nature protection and personal development to Taoism and global justice.

Following the approval of PRC’s application, pro-Israel group UN Watch announced that it will contest the decision “by appealing for it to be overturned by the 54-nation ECOSOC” in its July meeting. UN Watch said it would “show them the long dossier of materials linking PRC to Hamas.”

UN Watch is a Geneva-based organisation that focuses on the UN’s alleged ‘anti-Israel’ bias. The body has been closely associated with the pro-Israel American Jewish Committee, from whom – along with other “Israel-centric and conservative-leaning” donors – it has received considerably funding over the years.

On its website, UN Watch claims to be interested in a variety of issues, though it singles out “unfair treatment…toward Israel.” A previous version of its ‘Mission’ statement, however, was even more explicit about the group’s raison d’être, declaring that “the abuse of UN fora to demonize Israel and promote anti-Semitism gives respectability to prejudice against Jews and must be stopped.”

UN Watch’s executive director Hillel Neuer has described the Gaza Strip as “a giant suicide bomb”, attacked Naomi Klein for “Goebbelslike venom” in her criticism of Israel, and justified Israel’s murder of 10 civilians on the Mavi Marmara by claiming that the passengers had “guns”. (The UN Secretary General’s Panel of Inquiry found “no evidence” that any of those killed had “lethal weapons.”)

Both UN Watch and Israeli diplomats cited “research conducted by the [Meir Amit] Intelligence and Terrorism Information Centre” to back up their allegations against the PRC. The Centre produced an 80-page document in March 2011, essentially seeking to justify, or explain the reasons behind, the Israeli government’s decision to blacklist the organisation.

Revealingly – and embarrassingly – the Centre acknowledges the report includes “large amounts of circumstantial evidence.” That should not be a surprise when you consider that the Centre has been described, by a hard-right conservative publication, as the “public face of Israeli intelligence”, and by another pro-Israel outlet as “a body associated with Israel’s Military Intelligence Directorate.”

According to Israeli security correspondent Yossi Melman, “the symbiotic connection” between the Centre and Military Intelligence “aroused criticism” on the basis that the latter “should not be connected to a propaganda body.”

The PRC’s work in promoting the rights of the Palestinian people, especially the refugees, should hopefully receive a deserved boost if and when its ECOSOC-accredited status is formalised next month. Meanwhile, Israel and its apologists are once again exposed in their efforts to stifle and undermine those mobilising awareness of, and support for, the Palestinians’ basic rights.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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