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Israeli ministers in war of words over ‘problematic’ move to brand Palestinian NGOs as terror organizations – reports

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Israel’s decision to designate six Palestinian NGOs as terrorist outfits has prompted infighting among ministers as members of the country’s fragile coalition government criticized the move as “detrimental” to national interests.

On Friday, Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz had signed an order that categorized the civil society groups in the West Bank as terrorist organizations – on the basis of classified findings by the country’s Shin Bet security service which allegedly showed that these groups were part of a network run by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) militant group.

Center-left members of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s government have denounced the move, with Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli – who leads the coalition partner Labor Party – blasting the “manner” in which it was rolled out as having “caused great damage to our relationships with our biggest and most important friends.”

The minister was referring to both international condemnation over the decision and the accusations by US government officials that they were not informed beforehand. According to the Haaretz newspaper, Shin Bet and Defense Ministry representatives are expected to fly to Washington in order to present to the Biden administration “unambiguous” evidence of terror links.

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Speaking at a party meeting on Monday, Michaeli said the fallout from the move could be “detrimental to Israel’s interests” and stressed that decisions of this nature “must be done with proper preparation” and “with the greatest trepidation, only if we are certain there is truly no other way.”

However, Gantz’s Kahol Lavan party issued a strong rebuke, telling Michaeli to not “interfere with the war on terror” since she “doesn’t know the details”. The statement was then branded as “chauvinist” by Environmental Protection Minister Tamar Zandberg, from the left-wing Meretz party, in a radio interview on Tuesday. Zandberg had previously called the decision “grave” and said his party would demand “clarifications.”

I think it is chauvinist to say to a woman who is a member of the Security Cabinet: ‘don’t interfere, you don’t understand anything.

In another interview, Welfare Minister Meir Cohen, from the Yesh Atid party, said that the attack on Michaeli was “unnecessary” and backed the Labor leader to “say whatever she sees fit”. But Cohen also added that such infighting “will not bring down the government”.

Bennett’s coalition government is composed of eight parties from across the political spectrum and the Arab Islamist party, also known as Ra’am. It has only a slim majority in the 120-seat Knesset. In recent weeks, Bennett has asked cabinet members to not “rock the boat” in order to pass the national budget before a November 14 deadline – failing which the government will automatically dissolve.

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Over the weekend, members of the Meretz party had criticized the Defense Ministry move with party leader and Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz describing it as a “problematic matter” with “implications… for human rights and democracy”.

The NGOs designated as terror outfits included a number of prominent organizations with significant backing and oversight from the EU and other international bodies. Named in the announcement were the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees; ADDAMEER – Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association; Bisan Center for Research and Development; al-Haq Organization; Defense for Children International – Palestine; and the Union Of Agricultural Work Committees.

Although the supposed evidence against the groups remains classified, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, who said he was “presented” with the intelligence, claimed the “decision had to be made” since there were apparently “very bad people taking advantage of the good ones” in these organizations. Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked of Bennett’s right-wing Yamina party also praised the decision as being based on “firm intelligence information”.

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