Monitoring shrinking space for civil society defending Palestinian rights in Europe
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students and artists have had applications for public spaces denied, funding cut off, invitations to events or prizes withdrawn, speeches cancelled, etc.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.