Monitoring shrinking space for civil society defending Palestinian rights in Europe

The ELSC documents and analyses the restrictive measures that result in “shrinking space” for civil society defending Palestinian rights across Europe and produces unique country reports exposing incidents, policies, legislation and case law related to repression of the Palestine solidarity movement in Europe.

ELSC Report: The Attempt to Chill Palestinian Rights Advocacy in the Netherlands

The Attempt to Chill Palestinian Rights Advocacy in the Netherlands” is the first monitoring report on the attempted repression of civic space for Palestinian rights. It documents 76 repression incidents between 2015 – 2020, aiming to expose civic space repression, and legally challenge it through advocacy.

Repression attempts include defunding, denial of space, restriction on academic freedom, threats with violence or cyberattacks, threats with lawsuits, and smear campaigns that baselessly conflate legitimate criticism of Israeli policies and solidarity initiatives with antisemitism or support to terrorism. Despite broad protections for civic space in the Netherlands, and even though the attacks often don’t succeed, the report exposes a genuine chilling effect on Palestinian rights advocacy.

The primary perpetrators include Israel-advocacy groups, and the enabling actors include media outlets and political parties that play a role in amplifying the disinformation and/or attacks. To address the chilling effect, we urge the Dutch government, universities or city councils to comply more proactively with their positive obligation to protect civic space. In particular, members of parliament and civil society have a duty to leverage the government to comply with this obligation whilst media, donors and financial services providers also bear their own responsibilities to protect civic space to ensure open and democratic debate.

Read the report here

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Growing mobilisation of civil society against Israel’s flagrant violations of international humanitarian law and Palestinian human rights has prompted an unprecedented campaign of stigmatization and repression, not only by the Israeli government but also by foreign governments, parliaments and other civil society actors.

Aimed at silencing criticism of the State of Israel, this campaign of repression targets individuals, groups and organisations advocating for Palestinian human rights, as well as agencies, NGOs and charities providing humanitarian aid to Palestinians whether they are Palestinians, Israeli or international.

The means employed are defamation, criminalization and arbitrary restrictions of lawful advocacy and humanitarian work. Political, legal, and media pressure is deployed to portray advocates for Palestinian rights as threats to Israel’s security and sovereignty. Following the USA and Canada, Europe has become the new battlefield for campaigns aimed at delegitimizing discourse about Palestine.

In recent years, several European countries have adopted a new definition of antisemitism, the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism. This includes a problematic list of illustrative examples conflating the criticism of Israel’s policy with antisemitism.

This inaccurate and illegitimate amalgam has, however, been progressively implemented through predominantly soft law instruments. Additional parliamentary motions outlawing the call to boycott Israel have been implemented in some countries, both at national and regional level, such as in Germany, Austria and France.

Although these motions are non-legally binding, they have a significant chilling effect on civil society’s free space to challenge the Israeli apartheid regime, leading to false accusations and reprisal. Solidarity groups, organisations, intellectuals, academics, students and artists have had applications for public spaces denied, funding cut off, invitations to events or prizes withdrawn, speeches cancelled, etc. This stigmatisation has also led to self-censorship to avoid backlash.

Monitoring and analysis by the ELSC and partners have outlined several tactics employed to suppress voices advocating for Palestine:

  • False accusation of antisemitism and/or terrorism;
  • Adoption of a restrictive policy or piece of legislation, concerning for example the IHRA Definition of Antisemitism or prohibition on BDS activities;
  • Threat of legal action or legal action;
  • Refusal / withdrawal / threat thereof of the use of a public/private facility for a Palestine related activity or event;
  • Closure or threat of closure of bank account or obstruction of access to fundraising and/or money transfer tools;
  • Closure, threat of closure, or removal of content from a social media platform;
  • Cutting off funding from public or private donors, or attempts made to influence donors to do so;
  • Physical interference or attack by authorities or private persons;
  • Cyber attack.

By making an exception from the fundamental rights, European states and societies contribute to the phenomenon of “shrinking space for civil society” that is arising worldwide, in both democratic and non-democratic states. Political struggles and social justice movements have less and less space to organise, to operate, to have a legitimate voice, to protest and to dissent.

Country Reports

Report an Incident / Request Legal Support

Advocates for Palestinian rights are facing a variety of attacks aimed at silencing their voices or hindering their work: from denial of public space, public funding or online platforms, closure of financial accounts, legal threats or lawsuits, to enforcement the adoption of anti BDS motions that falsely declare the Palestine solidarity movement as antisemitic.

Contact us if you or your group, association, NGO, foundation, have been intimidated, slandered, censored or banned from speaking out or carrying out solidarity actions, or if you are just seeking legal advice about your rights.

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