“Our enemies call any form of popular resistance terrorism. Who decides and who defines what terrorism is? As far as I’m concerned, occupation is terrorism. My people and I have a right to fight it. I don’t care what others call it.”

- Leila Khaled


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The Dilemma

The recent designation of six Palestinian NGOs as terrorist organizations by the Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz was described as “an act of impunity,” by one of the targeted organizations, Al Haq. Al Haq was targeted alongside Bisan Center, Defence for Children International-Palestine (DCIP), Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees (UPWC), Addameer, and the Union of Agricultural Work Committees. Israel has targeted these organizations in order to:

  1. Disable organizations on the ground that facilitate the human rights and legal approach to hold Israel accountable
  2. Complicate foreign aid given to these “creme de la creme” organizations and generally to any NGOs under the responsibility of the Palestinian authority
  3. Directly attack the Liberal Zionist ideology that has implanted itself in Congress, in Israeli and among Palestinian civil society NGOs
  4. Maintain normalization in official spaces rather than people to people spaces

The purpose of this article is to especially examine the third and fourth points. The dilemma of the 6 NGOs has enabled an insidious opportunity for normalizers who pursue a two state agenda. NGOization of the Palestinian economy extends into how Palestinians have shifted from revolutionary freedom fighters to employees whose career activism rest upon grant funding.

“Israel” is not a valid state nor is it a normal entity, yet the billions of dollars invested by a variety of international funders makes interaction with Israel all the more tempting. Normalization is the endorsing or collaborating with an individual, ideology, or entity that carries, represents, or invokes “Israeli” aspirations or sentiments. In the case of the six NGOs, the agenda for public to public normalization is on full display.

NGOization has also given new opportunities for normalization to occur when the Israeli government or Palestinian government refuse to meet. The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, which intervened in the matter of these six NGOs hold that:

Normalization is not simply the establishment of official diplomatic relations between states. That is only a part of the normalization of officialdom. If that were the case, then Israel has already somewhat normalized in the past with many Arab states. Morocco, Oman, Qatar, and Tunisia have all previously had commercial offices in Israel. Doha even hosted an Israeli trade office for a time, with resident Israeli diplomatic representation. But no one could realistically claim any of this was full normalization. By and large, none of these forays lasted—and while they did last, no people-to-people normalization took place.

Normalization is not simply a top-level exchange of officials; rather, it’s a public-to-public engagement.

Public to public can mean groups of people, organizations, movements, all interacting. Public to public also carries a high emphasis on social media and public voice engagement. Really look at the different social media campaigns, panels, and online webinars occurring.

The Insiduous American Liberal Zionist Network: J Street, Foundation for Middle East Peace, and New Israel Fund

At least two of the six NGOs, Al Haq and DCIP, are funded by liberal Zionist funding bodies, like the Foundation for Middle East Peace (FMEP) a close collaborator with the New Israel Fund (NIF). Both are based in the United States and hold Liberal Zionist positions. In turn, they both interact regularly with J Street.

J Street

J Street is a pro-Israel lobby who according to the Washington Post presents itself “as an alternative for Democrats who have grown uncomfortable with both Netanyahu's policies and conservatives' flocking to AIPAC.” J Street believes:

...That the Palestinians have the right to join international organizations, institutions and conventions that welcome them, including as a member state. Given the precarious prospects for achieving the two-state outcome essential to Israel’s survival as a democratic homeland for the Jewish people, we believe Palestinian participation in such fora helps to bolster international support for two states while helpfully obligating the Palestinians to adhere to the responsibilities of statehood in key areas such as security, governance and human rights.

In April of 2021, J Street welcomed the Israel Relations Normalization Act. In what it calls “unilateral action and belligerence” as a slight to the Netanyahu-Trump teamwork, J Street celebrates normalization with other Arabs as a way to ease Palestinians into normalizing Israel and guaranteeing Israeli security.

New Israel Fund (NIF)

The NIF has a rosy view of J Street, commending the Zionist lobbying group for “supporting the vision of a democratic Israel at peace with its neighbors.” New Israel Fund is concerned for the future of Israel, which it views is being jeopardized by exceptionalist positions, and so it takes on the language of “pluralism for Israel,” “equality,” and “access for minorities,” to ultimately “build and maintain a just society at peace with itself and its neighbors.” NIF is in a coalition with J Street alongside other liberal Zionist organizations.

Foundation for Middle East Peace (FMEP)

FMEP funds NIF itself as well as a few popular names like Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), Palestine Legal, If Not Now, Al Shabaka, and Adalah. FMEP has a funding philosophy that makes no mention of historical Palestine, does not refer to the ethnic cleansing of Palestine, but only mentions the “Israel-Palestinian issue,” and believes those Palestinians who did not leave during the Nakba or Naksa “should remain in Palestine.” Their president, Lara Freidman, calls it a “conflict,” and “is regularly consulted by members of Congress and their staffs, by Washington-based diplomats, [and] by policy-makers in capitals around the world.” In an interview earlier this year, she stated that a “big part of what [FMEP does] is support organizations that support a two-state solution, negotiation, and Palestinian rights.”

Together these three, FMEP, NIF, and J Street, as well as their umbrella of NGOs and coalitions, form an insidious type of normalization agenda. Their end goal is to end the occupation so the military presence in the fragments of Occupied Palestine are withdrawn, and Israel resumes its existence without any responsibility to displaced refugees. They work to normalize the significant population of Palestinians within historical Palestine to be treated as “minorities,” and place the burden on whatever is left of Palestine, devoid of true autonomy and sovereignty, to govern itself based on crumbs.

The “Rights Approach:” How Liberal Zionists Norm Israel into the Conversation of Equality

This tactic to normalize through nonprofits and NGOs, which are often referred to as “civil society,” is a long held strategy that is rooted deeply in American Liberal Zionism and resonates with the progressive movement that has planted this method in Congress. A recent strategy was put forth by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (CEIP). CEIP has advocated that without Palestinians, normalization with other Arab countries will not be as successful. CEIP presented what they refer to as the “Rights Approach” to both the Foundation for Middle East Peace and in turn J Street. The "Rights Approach" "reaffirms and safeguards 'Israeli' security" by building a collaborative human rights advocacy movement that leverages NGOs, elected officials, and popular activists as an alternative to the stalled talks between the corrupt Palestinian Authority and unyielding "Israeli" government. This progressive front for normalization wants both perspectives at the table, in a bottom up approach that normalizes the public to put pressure on the official representatives of Israel and Palestine at the table.

The sense of “equality” this strategy brings is not in terms of liberation, rather these imperialists will be “paying equal attention to long-neglected Palestinian rights...whether in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, Gaza, or, in specific ways, inside Israel.” They erase historical Palestine and center human rights to circumvent the Right of Return. And in speaking to million dollar donors like FMEP which funds both Palestinian and Israeli NGOs, they are able to impact the work of organizations on both sides for the sake of this normalizing agenda.

For example, Sahar Francis, the director of Addameer, was mentioned according to the slanted Jerusalem Post , as expressing concern for Israeli democracy. “The laws used to target Palestinians can be used against everyone,” JPost reports her saying. While she could very well be speaking about Palestinians who are targeted within historical Palestine, Zionists will use these statements to fuel concern within the Zionist entity, as Yousef Munayyar puts it, “a transnational nexus.” Yet Israeli conversations of equality are not relevant when colonized Palestinians battle the entirety of the Zionist entity. On the pathway to liberation, are the starving prisoners on hunger strike, the masses who rose from historical Palestine to confront the Zionist presence in Al Aqsa, and the besieged people of Gaza who refuse to normalize Israel.

The Carnegie analysts emphasized that “President Joe Biden’s administration should place a rights-based approach at the center of its strategy.” The human rights they convey are spliced by colonial borders, and that is why the Liberal Zionists are worried that the one state agenda of the far right will ultimately make Palestinians and Zionists members to the same state--and when that occurs, then the question of human rights and equality will be more damaging to supremacist Zionists. To avoid a full fledged civil rights movement in Israel, the Liberal Zionists want to hand out rights within the cages that bar us from liberating Palestine. For this reason, organizations are being encroached upon by the Carnegie strategy of public to public normalization.

Reviving the Two-State Solution: Embedding the “Rights Approach” into Congress

In alignment with this “Rights Approach,” J Street called on Joe Biden to denounce Defense Minister Benny Gantz for acting unilaterally without informing the U.S., as Gantz’s terrorist designation potentially harms J Street’s ability to push for a two state solution that would merely legalize the current status quo. J Street has no problem sending billions of dollars worth of heavy weapons to the Zionist colonial entity. Rather J Street wants to rewind the clock to how things were in a pre-Trump era. The cavalier actions of Benjamin Netanyahu and the Zionist Right strained the close relations Democrats have held with Israel.

The pressure is on Congress now and especially so called Progressives to bring back negotiations and fulfill obligations to the two state strategy that safeguards a Jewish supremacist, Zionist state alongside a meagre Palestinian one. The recent Appropriations Bill is insistent on a two state agenda and reinvigorates the U.S. imperialist role in the region, granting military aid to Israel in the upcoming year and empowering the Palestinian Authority’s security apparatus. But according to a report by Foreign Affairs in August, a variety of Israeli and Palestinian leaders agreed that the two-state solution is dead.

Democratic members of Congress formed the first J Street delegation since Trump’s presidency and wasted no time meeting with Israeli elected officials to offer their version of the two state solution agenda. Under the Biden administration, the two state agenda has always held consensus, but now J Street has the opportunity to present a new way that the AIPAC method failed to accomplish. Rep. Mark Pocan and Rep. Jamaal Bowman, whom many mistook as allies, were members to the normalization delegation. While meeting with illegal Zionist settlers, they also made time to meet with Palestinians in the South Hebron Hills, where the liberal Zionist NIF grant recipients, Combatants for Peace, are heavily active.

H.R. 2590: Cementing the Occupation with Cries for Human Rights

H.R. 2590, introduced by Rep. Betty McCullum, is an example of how the two state solution is revived in Congress while hiding behind the backdrop of Palestinian human rights. McCollum, after all, is endorsed by J Street. She endorsed more military funding for Israel to kill Palestinians and maim the region, and she also endorsed additional emergency funding for the Iron Dome. She is parading the J Street position while American nonprofits celebrate her for being brave for the Palestinian people. In a coalition meeting hosted by the U.S Campaign for Palestinian Rights which focuses heavily on pushing H.R. 2590, a national leader for Jewish Voice for Peace said that H.R. 2590 is all about “making sure Israel is always listening to American law.”

Palestinian humanity is just the pawn.

This resolution calls to limit military aid to Israel when Palestinian families suffer because of this aid, and to build this argument, H.R. 2590 invests at least a page of data derived from the Defence for Children International- Palestine (DCIP). DCIP receives funding from the normalizing funding group, FMEP.

Gantz Highlights the Rift between American Zionism and “Frontier Zionism"

The NIF was sued in New York by the far right Zionist Advocacy Center for using NGOs to electioneer, for example. When both sides realized the legal pandora box this would open up for both of their influential roles in Israeli politics, the lawsuit was dropped. In being sued, the volatility of Israeli political agendas is clear, and it is also clear that the protection of Israel comes first.

The disagreement is simply the strategy each is willing to take to protect Israel. Both view each other as risking Israel. Should they keep occupying and annexing, they risk a Jewish majority state. Or like a gameshow, the Liberal Zionist will make out with their conquestial winnings before they lose it all. While the far right in the US wage lawsuits, the liberal Zionists took it to the UN.

The theatrics show just how exacerbated the spectrum of Zionism is, when Israel’s U.N. Envoy and ambassador to Washington, Gilad Erdan, dramatically ripped up a human rights report that covered Israel’s crimes against Gaza in May. He mocked the Progressive Zionists as “the extended ‘Squad,” for risking Israeli lives. To those who are Zionist but not Liberal, the “progressive purity” of J Street is seen as a risk to Israel, and claim that American Jews are not concerned for Israel in the same way Israelis are. While the rift across the Atlantic may be wide, even within Israel there is a lack of consensus across Zionists regarding their next steps.

Gantz Targeted the 6 to Directly Combat the Liberal “Rights Approach” and Public to Public Normalization

With a military background in favor of annexation, Benny Gantz, within the chaos of Israeli politics is a perceived centrist. Even when he ran against Benjamin Netanyahu, he asserted that the relationship between Israel and the moderate American Democrats must be amended. His designation of the 6 NGOs as terrorists isolates those within the so-called Progressive Democratic circle who pursue the “Rights Approach.” His move to criminalize these NGOs in one swoop also targeted the funding sources of these organizations. A significant amount comes from Europe, and with this designation came the Zionist pressure on European donors to cut funds. The cases put forth to international courts name him specifically.

Al Haq, DCIP, and Adameer provide heaps of evidence against not only Israel for these human rights cases, but also against the Palestinian Authority. In essence they threaten the viability of a so called official body representing Palestinians with which Israel can interact. Normalization has historically been viewed as an official government or economic exchange. Yet the existence of these six NGOs who do not accept USAID grants, take away from the official role the U.S. has instilled in the Palestinian Authority as a distributor of USAID. Members of the six NGOs, like that of Bisan Center and Al Haq, were arrested by the Palestinian Authority just a few months ago when they protested against the assassination of Nizar Banat.

But tagging along them, in insiduous fashion, was the delayed arrest of Fadi Quran, of the Liberal Zionist lobby group Avaaz. Avaaz, which provides a petitioning platform that is used widely in the FMEP-NIF network, was founded by Ricken Patel, who also served on the advisory board of J Street. Quran’s own arrest the day following that of rights advocates, was leveraged into a strategic conversation with FMEP’s Laura Freidman and de facto Palestinian Authority member, Hanan Ashrawi. FMEP’s close proximity to J Street are important to note, especially since J Street has urged for elections and often questions the viability of the Palestinian Authority, which seems to take its cues from the moderate Democratic Zionists who are AIPAC aligned. Much of Quran’s work is to navigate “misinformation,” to identify potential leaders in public to public forums.

The Biden administration denies ever being consulted on Gantz’s designation of the six NGOs as terrorist organizations. In his designation he also declared the expansion of more illegal settlements. His decision to annex is a direct blow to the FMEP, NIF, and J Street “Rights Approach” strategy. Secretary of State Blinken called Gantz to address his disregard for the general U.S. two state position, and Gantz went forward with annexation anyways. Gantz may have done so in response to the Two State Solution Act put forth by the Democrats, which among other things, mentions that “no funds, defense articles, or defense services the United States provides may be used to annex more Palestinian territory or violate internationally recognized human rights.”

How the Liberal Zionists Recouped

From Washington, the voices that endorsed arming Israel with 3 billion dollars in military aid against Palestinian civilians are rallying to support the six NGOs, staying loyal to the “Rights Approach” of Liberal Zionism.

Rep. Mark Pocan, who aligned with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rep. Rashida Tlaib to block weapons sales to Netanyahu, yet approved sales to a Bennet administration, made a tweet defending the necessity of the six NGOs because they “are working to bring peace in the region and are vocal critics of Hamas & the PA.” J Street is a friend of Pocan. His statements show the need for these NGOs by J Street to be an alternative to the existing bodies that Israel has engaged with.

Meanwhile in Washington, Ilhan Omar held a public to public normalization meeting with NIF sponsored NGO Breaking the Silence, focusing on Gantz and his empowerment of illegal settlements as a threat to the stability of Israel. Ilhan Omar voted in favor of arming Israel in the Appropriations Bill.

Betty McCollum tweeted shortly after the Gantz decision, an introduction to her resolution “calling on the U.S. House to condemn Israel’s labeling of six Palestinian human rights groups” to “make it clear that anti-democratic repression of Palestinian civil society is not tolerated.”

The U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights (USCPR) has heavily invested in promoting Rep. Betty McCollum’s H.R. 2590, despite the support she receives from J Street. USCPR often coordinates with FMEP and NIF grant recipients like Jewish Voice for Peace, and to deflect and disseminate insidious normalization, they promoted the slogan, “Congress Pick a Side,” as a response to Gantz.

Both J Street and AIPAC have taken a side - the Israeli side. Rep. Betty McCullum continues to choose Israel, while USCPR is choosing McCullum. The side they encourage Congress to pick has virtually nothing to do with Palestinians and everything to do with an investment in Liberal Zionists.

Insidious Normalization or Infiltration

The liberation of Palestine does not start in the NGO industrial complex of “civil society.” Organizations can always be reinvented, but principles should forever remain the constant. For this reason one must understand that these recent actions by all actors are not contradictory. Beware of the insidious nature of the industry where Liberal Zionism plays as a friend to Palestinians.

Following the Gantz decision, the six Palestinian NGOs were featured on an online public panel that was moderated by FMEP’s president, Lara Freidman, and was hosted by a variety of imperialist organizations and Think Tanks, including the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (CEIP). During the session, Sahar Francis of Addameer emphasized that “after the creation of the State…[which] remained using the British security regulations, anti-terror laws that Israel was relying on since ‘48 till today, both in Israel and in the Occupied Territories,…gives huge space to the Minister of Defence inside Israel to designate any group of people as a terrorist group...and anyone who criticizes the policies of the State.”

The reality of legal frameworks within the Zionist entity’s occupation of historical Palestine, versus the military colonialism of the West Bank and Gaza are not the same. The legal ramifications of a white Israeli employee of an NGO in colonized Al Lod is not equitable to the shabab who resist land theft by white, American Zionist settlers in Beita.

Confusion and tensions rose in Palestine when the Palestinian NGOs also publicly met as a group with twenty different Israeli NGOs that are supported monetarily or in coalition work with the FMEP and NIF. The Palestinian public, which had rallied for the six organizations initially, began to raise concerns about public to public normalization. Why were Israelis welcomed into the Ramallah offices of Al Haq? Meanwhile, Combatants for Peace, a grant recipient of NIF and a constant presence in J Street forums and collaborations, went so far as to thank “Gantz for the opportunity” to create a “unified front” with the six NGOs.

The encounter in Ramallah was even captured in the most recent piece of legislation put forth by Rep. McCollum which condemns Gantz’s designation of the NGOs as terrorists. She even references the 21 Israeli NGOs who supported the targeted six Palestinian ones. She directly quotes them to seal their voices into the resolution. This is all to confront the “network of rising nationalist Israeli civil society organizations and associated organizations outside of Israel, with the support of Israeli government” that the resolution references. Clearly, there is collaboration between NIF and FMEP organizations and McCullum’s J Street friendly approach.

Holding the Frontline

Palestinians have long held that their frontline consists of freedom fighters. From the working class, to the farmers, to the prisoners, and those who throw rocks at the checkpoint, they are the popular movement that makes up a public effort. Yet they are slowly being coopted as an image for the frontline Liberal Zionist agenda that replaces these heroes with NGOs and lawyers.

“Civil Society” Palestinian organizations sitting with Israeli NGOs are no different than the PLO sitting at the Oslo Accords. NGOization creates some perceived distance at the table from governments, for the illusion that it is the independent people who are engaged. This is the spirit of the public to public normalization strategy. But these people are carefully selected, these forums carefully designed, and these situations carefully manipulated by the lobbies and funding groups that pull the strings.

It is unclear if Bisan Center, Union of Palestinian Women's Committees, and Addameer, will join DCIP and Al Haq and become grant recipients or work more closely with FMEP, NIF, or J Street following these interactions.

You’ve turned me from a human into a cause…”

- Ghassan Kanafani