The US is considering the designation of some leading international NGOs, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Oxfam, as "anti-Semitic" in its ongoing effort to shield Israel from criticism. An announcement by the US State Department is expected within days, Politico has reported.
According to the political magazine, it is Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who is pushing for the designation. The 56 year old is said to be eyeing a future presidential run and has taken a number of steps to gain favour with pro-Israel and Christian evangelical voters who make up a key part of current President Donald Trump's electoral base.
The proposal has been condemned by human rights group and career officials alike. Amnesty International USA slammed the allegation on Thursday, saying that the "baseless accusations are yet another attempt to silence and intimidate international human rights organisations."
Amnesty added that it is deeply concerned. "Conflating anti-Semitism with legitimate criticism of Israeli government policy is detrimental not only to ending serious crimes under international law, but also to efforts to address and end anti-Semitism, and it may encourage other countries to make such baseless claims."
Officials within the US State Department have been reported as saying that efforts to label prominent human rights group as anti-Semitic would be a gift to authoritarian governments that have long sought to delegitimise such groups for their work exposing mass atrocities and crimes against humanity.
Human rights groups have long been targeted by Israel and allies of the occupation state who claim that there is too much focus on its treatment of the Palestinians. This is rejected strongly by campaigners against human rights abuses.
"It's preposterous," Democrat Representative Tom Malinowski (New Jersey), a former Washington director of Human Rights Watch, told the Washington Post. "They also document the treatment of the Palestinians by the Palestinian Authority. They are critical of every government in the world, including the United States. Yet the State Department under every previous secretary of state has relied on these organisations as credible sources of information and treated them as partners."
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Oxfam also rejected the allegation. "Any insinuation that Oxfam supports anti-Semitism is false, baseless and offensive," said Noah Gottschalk of Oxfam America. "Oxfam and our Israeli and Palestinian partners have worked on the ground for decades to promote human rights and provide lifesaving support for Israeli and Palestinian communities. We stand by our long history of work protecting the lives, human rights and futures of all Israelis and Palestinians."
Efforts to silence critics of Israel have gathered pace in recent years. The controversial International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism has been championed by pro-Israel groups and is said to have been weaponised in order to silence legitimate criticism of the Israeli government's anti-Palestinian policies and practices. Seven of the eleven examples of anti-Semitism cited by the IHRA conflate criticism of Israel with anti-Jewish racism.