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Report on NGO "Lawfare" in the Palestine/Israel conflict

The report, published by NGO Monitor, is an unprecedented source that should however be read attentively with a critical eye towards its evidently biased perceptions of the situation in the region. Less fortunately, it is clear that the report puts greater weight on the underlying critique that it has endeavoured to submit against the activities of human rights NGO in the region. Nevertheless, it bases this critique on factually flawed appreciations that are vastly unfounded, unqualified and based on flawed logic.

Inter alia, the report submits that “though claiming to promote universal human rights, these same NGOs have not pursued cases against Palestinian, Hezbollah, Syrian, or Iranian officials involved in terror.” It further holds with disdain that “as in other politicized NGO campaigns, these activities consistently draw an immoral equivalence between anti-terror operations and mass scale atrocities, minimize or omit the context of terror, exploit international legal terminology and rhetoric, level condemnations without providing proper bases or reliable evidence, and use incomplete, distorted, or inconsistent legal definitions.” Indeed, some harsh statements that reflect nothing from the reality in the field, and exemplify very clearly the standpoint of those that endeavoured to write the report.

Its executive summary announces that “Instead of engaging in debate and making the difficult choices of nation-states, such as how to weigh sovereignty and security concerns with human rights, these NGOs advance their political agenda regardless of the wider impact of their actions.” The report claims that NGOs working in the field are ” invest[ing] vast budgets in their public relations campaigns in order to identify Israel as a pariah state whose justice system refuses to punish violators of the most serious crimes.”

The report speaks of the lawsuits that NGOs have submitted transnationally but does not make note of the fact that the reason this is done is in an attempt to remedy the lack of judicial accountability, and challenge the cooperation between the judicial and executive arms, which has turned the Israeli Supreme Court into the face of the occupation and its principal mechanism for self-justification. The Israeli Supreme Court is known to consistentantly side with the government and the security services who use vague secret evidence and general security considerations to systematically violate human rights and international humanitarian law with complete impunity. Its decisions are unreasoned and its use of international law selective and manipulative (to take note only of a few of such judicial instances see here, here,  here and here).


  1. Elizabeth Elizabeth 15 October 2008

    I wish to probe further into your contention that the Supreme Court of Israel consistently sides with the Israeli government and security services. I confess initially that I have not had the opportunity to review the Court’s judgments in Hebrew, and have only considered those published in English. However, these judgments includee notably the so-called “targeted killings” case – Public Committee against Torture in Israel et al. v. Government of Israel et al. of November 2006. That case was noteworthy for its conflation of proportionality standards in international humanitarian law and international humanitarian law, but also for its emphasis on using both branches of law to restrict the use of the IDF’s “targeted killings” policy. I would welcome further debate on the Supreme Court of Israel’s approach to international human rights law, and to Israel’s own Basic Law, which contains elements of human rights protection. A simple characterisation of the Court’s jurisprudence as pro-government, pro-IDF and anti-human rights may not do justice to its legacy and its current work. I say this as a scholar in international human rights law who has serious concerns about IDF policies and practices, and welcomes judicial activism in this regard.

  2. Ms. Azarov claims that my report, “NGO ‘Lawfare’: Exploitation of Courts in the Arab-Israeli Conflict,” is “biased” and “contains harsh statements that reflect nothing from the reality in the field” because it documents how human rights NGOs working in the region use EU taxpayer funds to clog European and US courts with suits intended to harass Israeli officials for engaging in measures to protect Israel’s civilian population. And because my report further documents how these same self-proclaimed “defenders of human rights” have not pursued similar cases against Palestinian, Hezbollah, Syrian, or Iranian officials involved in terror specifically aimed at the Israeli civilian population. Indeed, she cannot offer one example of these NGOs bringing suit on behalf of Israeli victims of terror or to end Palestinian “impunity”. She further argues that there is a “lack of judicial accountability” in Israel and that the “Israeli Supreme Court [is] the face of the occupation and its principal mechanism for self-justification.” These false statements ignore that NGOs have direct standing to bring cases to the Court (an unprecedented example of NGO power) and use that power to bring tens of cases each year which get a full and fair hearing. Moreover, Ms. Azarov omits the many cases where the Court has done its utmost to balance security needs with human rights.
    Rather than offering a substantive critique with which we can engage in a productive debate on whether NGOs are exacerbating the Arab-Israeli conflict, Ms. Azarov is unable to provide specific examples to back her claims, instead only offering blanket condemnations and sweeping generalities. How disappointing.

  3. Anne Herzberg Anne Herzberg 17 December 2008

    Incredulously, Ms Azarov appears to be claiming that the Israeli Supreme Court does not address human rights because it only translates a “miniscule” amount of its opinions into English and that its opinions are invalid because they are only issued in Hebrew. This argument, if it is her intent, is silly at best, if not shocking. Regardless of whether its opinions are translated into English, Israel’s Supreme Court has issued HUNDREDS of opinions addressing issues of IHL and provide Palestinians with far greater access to the courts than probably any other Western democracy. For more information, please see the following report:
    One last point: Ms Azarov claims that our work presents a “politicized perspective”. Yet, the choice of language and level of hyperbole in her review and subsequent comments surely reveal her “politicized perspective” as well. I invite readers to this website to look at NGO Monitor’s material and draw their own conclusions.

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