The U.S. is offering nearly a million dollar grant for projects that include reporting alleged human rights violations by Israel, prompting critics to lambast the Biden administration as “hostile” to its key ally.
The Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (DRL) at the State Department announced “an open competition for projects that strengthen accountability and human rights in Israel and the West Bank and Gaza” last month. According to the Jerusalem Post, which first reported on the matter, it is the first competition of its kind from Washington and one that raises concern over the potential for abuse by entities who seek to boycott and sanction Israel.
The aim is to “collect, archive and maintain human rights documentation to support justice and accountability and civil society-led advocacy efforts, which may include documentation of legal or security sector violations and housing, land and property rights.”
International human rights lawyer Arsen Ostrovsky called the move “outrageous” and a “gross interference in Israel’s domestic affairs.”
It will “only empower those seeking to delegitimize Israel under guise of ‘human rights,’” Ostrovsky tweeted.
This is outrageous! Not only potential gross interference in Israel’s domestic affairs, but will also only empower those seeking to delegitimize Israel under guise of ‘human rights’. @StateDept @SecBlinken @USAmbIsrael https://t.co/BYMV30C64J
— Arsen Ostrovsky (@Ostrov_A) March 23, 2022
Prof. Gerald Steinberg, director of human rights watchdog NGO Monitor, a group that tracks anti-Israel non-profits, wrote a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken saying that the initiative will open the gates for anti-Israel groups to legitimize the “apartheid” charge against Israel.
“In light of the Biden Administration’s repeated rejection of such campaigns, we call on the State Department to reconsider this program,” Steinberg wrote. “If however the NOFO [notice of funding opportunity] proceeds, the application of clear and rigorous safeguards will be necessary to ensure that taxpayer funds are not provided to organizations advancing a discriminatory, anti-Israel agenda under the façade of accountability and human rights.”
He went on to say that the U.S. is in danger of allowing such projects to follow in the footsteps of European governments, which justify funding organizations that have advocated for boycotts of Israel and for Israeli officials to be tried for war crimes under the guise of human rights.
“It’s hard to see any other explanation for this type of grant,” he said.
Such human rights organizations targeting Israel are “an industry on the order of at least $50 million to Israel and Palestinian groups from European governments, plus there is UN support. It’s even more if you include Human Rights Watch and Amnesty” – both of which have accused Israel of being an apartheid state – “and this funding could, in theory, go to them,” Steinberg said, according to the report.
According to the DRL’s contest rules, applications cannot “reflect any type of support for any member, affiliate or representative of a designated terrorist organization” or benefit foreign militaries or paramilitary groups.
The submitted projects can also “take meaningful action in pursuing truth, accountability and memorialization; and/or provide psychosocial support to survivors of atrocities.”