UK government dismisses latest attempt by UK Lawyers for Israel to harm Palestinian civil societyPublished on Mon Oct 11 2021
For many years now, politically-motivated actors have used legal fora to inflict damage on civil society organisations supporting Palestinian rights, by attempting to silence them and delegitimise their work. These attacks, generally referred to as “lawfare”, are mostly conducted by disinformation groups supporting Israel’s occupation and apartheid regime, such as: NGO Monitor, Regavim, Shurat HaDin, International Legal Forum, Lawfare Project, and UK Lawyers For Israel (UKLFI).
UKLFI in particular is a legal advocacy and campaigning organisation based in the UK that has been attempting to smear and disrupt the work of Palestinian human rights groups and their partners for years. While its disinformation campaigns have taken a toll on civil society, its attempts to get official bodies to accept its defamatory claims have been largely unsuccessful; its allegations have been found to be groundless on numerous occasions. Just between 2017 and 2019 UKLFI submitted several complaints to the government charities’ regulator in the UK against at least 3 charities, all of which were rejected. Moreover, On 9 March 2020, UKLFI was required to issue a public apology after being sued in a defamation case (which was settled) for having accused DCI – Palestine of providing financial and material support to proscribed organisations.
In one of its latest attempt to delegitimise Palestinian civil society, UKLFI submitted a complaint to the UK National Contact Point for the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises (UK NCP) against PricewaterhouseCoopers Palestine Limited (PwC Palestine) for an alleged violation of the OECD Guidelines (the Guidelines). In this case, the lawfare organisation claimed that PwC Palestine breached the Guidelines by providing its audit service to two Palestinian NGOs, Union of Agricultural Work Committees (UAWC), a leading agricultural development organisation which has been attacked for supporting Palestinian farmers in Area C of the West Bank, which Israel has targeted for continued settlement expansion, and DCI-P (once again). The complainant raised inflammatory allegations arguing that the latter Palestinian organisations had links with a proscribed organisation in the UK and that PwC Palestine had failed to expose such links.
In its response, PwC Palestine explained that it undertook thorough client acceptance checks as well as periodic continuance checks to comply with legal, regulatory and ethical obligations imposed by the Guidelines. Moreover, the respondent argued that “UKLFI’s allegations of links between PFLP and the 2 NGO charities are not well supported or evidenced.” On 24 September 2021 the UK NCP issued the final decision, concluding that the complaint was unfounded as PwC Palestine “had appropriate policies and procedures in place to obtain reasonable assurance that its clients were upholding appropriate legal, compliance and ethical standards and also conducted reasonable investigations following the allegations by UKLFI.”
Such a decision plays a crucial role in the struggle of global civil society against the phenomenon of shrinking civic space, as it exposes the groundlessness and unreliability of the accusations that lawfare actors such as UKLFI use to interrupt the activities of human rights organisations. A recent report from Charity & Security Network, a US-based organisation that protects the ability of nonprofits to carry out peacebuilding, humanitarian, and human rights missions, delves into the harm caused by these lawfare actors and offers policy recommendations for governments, donors, and civil society groups.