PAX urges the EU to protect the freedom of expression in the light of the coordinated campaign of the Israeli Ministry of Strategic Affairs to silence peaceful dissent.
On Friday 25th of May the Israeli Ministry of Strategic Affairs (MSA) published its report The Money Trail. In this document, the MSA accuses Palestinian and European NGOs, including PAX, of promoting boycotts against Israel and its delegitimization. The MSA also claims that funding these organizations contravenes official EU policies. However, as EU High Representative Federica Mogherini has consistently said the EU does not fund Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) activities. The EU does consider the BDS movement as protected by freedom of expression and freedom of association in line with the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. The EU does fund specific non-BDS related-activities of NGOs that do support BDS. This is consistent with the freedom of expression and association. Moreover, throughout its report, the MSA often conflates opposition to Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories with all-out boycott campaigns. In fact, many of the listed NGOs do not support BDS.
Project on the Arab Peace Initiative
The project of the Dutch NGO PAX that has been singled out by the MSA is a case in point. The project was a cooperative effort between a Palestinian and an Israeli NGO in which PAX participated and to which it financially contributed. The project advocated for the Arab Peace Initiative: the 2002 Arab League proposal to normalise the relations between the Arab countries and Israel, in exchange for the Israeli withdrawal from the 1967 Occupied Territories and a just and agreed upon settlement of the Palestinian refugee question. Part of this project was implemented in cooperation with Israeli Members of the Knesset. PAX believes that reaching a sustainable solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict requires cooperation with Israeli partners, as well as Palestinian. It is therefore ironic that the MSA refers to this project as proof that PAX is in favour of a boycott of Israel.
The occupied territories are not in Israel
PAX has always advocated for a strict differentiation between Israel and the occupied territories: the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights. It follows the same line as the UN and the EU concerning international law and the 1967 occupation. In 2016, the UN Security Council called upon its member states ‘to distinguish, in their relevant dealings, between the territory of the State of Israel and the territories occupied since 1967’ (UNSC RES 2334, Art. 5). The EU has been consistent in its principled support for international law. The EU has issued guidelines on labelling products from illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories; over 20 EU member states have issued advisories warning their business sectors against financial links with the illegal settlements; and settlement entities have been barred from accessing EU funds. PAX urges the Dutch government and other EU Member States to carefully implement the relevant UN Resolutions and EU guidelines.
Freedom of Expression
Concerning the call for BDS, PAX fully agrees with the EU as well as the Dutch government that persons and organisations promoting BDS are protected by the freedom of expression and of association. This said, PAX does not advocate and has never advocated for a boycott of Israel. The MSA also mentions PAX’s connection to the Pax Christi International network. However, Pax Christi International did not participate in the project on the Arab Peace Initiative. It is an autonomous organisation that publishes its own independent statements. In the document the MSA refers to, Pax Christi International explicitly states that it ‘does not support an economic boycott of Israel as whole’, but argues that an ‘economic boycott must explicitly target products and services originating from the illegal settlements and companies that profit because of the illegal occupation.’
Ending the Occupation
The MSA report The Money Trail fits within a broader campaign to silence peaceful dissent against the occupation and to exclude human rights organisations from European funding and political fora. We call on the EU to clearly and publicly debunk the misinformation in this report. The EU and its Member States should insist that the Israeli government withdraws from the territories occupied in 1967 and stop its violations of international law and human rights. Finally, we urge the EU to remain committed to protecting the freedom of expression, association and assembly in Europe and elsewhere.