My SunriseDC posts have gotten me a bunch of new followers, and I've promised to start disappointing them as soon as possible.
Well, no time like the present, so here we go.
You probably heard the news that Israel designated six Palestinian human rights organizations as terrorist groups, alleging they are tied to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). The US has already signaled its discontent with the move, and for my part I've suggested that a good "throw an elbow" move would be to take some extremist but nonetheless politically connected Israeli organizations (think Lehava) and place them on a terror watchlist (something we should be doing anyway, but now certainly would make an especially poetic time to do it).
But saying the Israeli government's decision to label these groups as terrorist organizations was wrong is not all that hot a take. None of you will be disappointed in me for making it, I fear. So try this one instead: the decision to label these groups as terrorist organizations was wrong even if one can find links between the organizations and the PFLP (and indeed, there are reports suggesting that there are at least some connections).
Maybe that'll get your attention.
The reason, to be clear, is not because the PFLP is not properly deemed a terrorist group. It absolutely is. And while less well known these days than, say, Hamas or Islamic Jihad, the PFLP has been responsible for some of the most gruesome violent terrorist assaults in Israeli history, including a massacre at Lod Airport that killed twenty eight people. I have no fond feelings towards the PFLP.
What came to mind, rather, was someone on my twitter feed suggesting that the PFLP was being treated as a "contaminant" -- any connection to it, at any level or through any personnel, was enough to generate this sort of absolute and uncompromising crackdown by association. "Contaminant" caught my eye because it was the same word Abe Silberstein had used to characterize what SunriseDC was doing to Jewish organizations re: Zionism -- the slightest touch or whiff was enough to warrant expulsion.
(Yes, I can already hear the howls of protest at even drawing the comparison. How dare you compare the entire ideology of Zionism with a literal terrorist group? Or, how dare you compare a criminal enactment by a national government with a decision by a piddling activist group in DC? You needn't bother to message me about it.).
One can already see, if one looks, a familiar set of excuses and modes of justification. Sure, Israel seemed to target Palestinian human rights groups -- but it didn't ban all groups. It is articulating a neutral standard, and in any event are you saying it's wrong to oppose the PFLP, a known terrorist actor? Why, it is downright insulting -- I daresay the real racism -- to suggest that a Palestinian NGO couldn't not be associated with the PFLP! You're conflating "Palestinian", an identity, with the particular ideology and tactics of certain organizations (namely, violent militant leftist resistance to the Israeli state)!
All of this is a way of eliding a simpler reality. What Israel is doing is suffocating Palestinian civil society and human rights advocacy. That it doesn't do so absolutely comprehensively is not a defense. That it has superficially defensible reasons that have nothing to do with "suffocating Palestinian civil society" is also not a defense. That you can pour through the archives and see that this assistant director was on a panel with that social activist who attended on a grant by a man whose has also seeded money to the PFLP's government affairs wing is, too, not a defense.
The internet may be big, but the world of the Palestinian community, much like the Jewish community, is pretty small, in the scheme of things. For any remotely prominent or active player, there aren't going to be too many degrees of separation between the participants -- still less, if they're concentrating on the broadly defined shared goal of bringing attention to wrongs and mistreatments done to the Palestinian people by Israel, or, for that matter, the PA (if, as Anshel Pfeffer speculates, what Israel was actually doing is targeting internal Palestinian critics of the PA at Abbas' request, that only strengthens the point). I know for my part it would not take a lot of effort or steps to connect me to some people and groups I very much do not like and do not support (to say nothing of those with whom I disagree with on most issues but may provisionally align with for a narrow or discrete project where interests align), because the Jewish world is small, and the Jewish political world is smaller. We've all seen the breathless "investigations" which show that David Schraub is a member of this organization which is sponsored in part by this other foundation which has also funded this other group and would you look who is on their Board of Directors?
We're all familiar with the genre. I've seen, more times than I care to count, the amateur and professional shops eager to offer reams of evidence "showing" how all of Israeli or Palestinian society is a seamless web of conspiracy, such that any pin in the corkboard can and must be ostracized not because they are Israeli or Palestinian or Jewish or Muslim (perish the thought!), but solely because of neutral standards demonstrating their own bad acts and associations. And the peddlers of these screenshots and PDFs and databanks pat themselves on the back for their deep investigative reporting and congratulate themselves for proving that everyone is acting on basis of principle, and the cries of prejudice and bigotry are just the usual suspects caterwauling.
Such logic is suffocating. It is suffocating notwithstanding the smarmy replies asking whether it is "really so hard not to associate oneself" with so-and-so or such-and-such wrongdoer, and it is suffocating notwithstanding the probable fact that someone, somewhere, maybe genuinely is sufficiently disconnected to pass muster (or more likely, has their particular set of connections excused and overlooked on an ad hoc basis -- everyone has their good ones). I'm not a libertarian, but anyone with even a smidgeon of libertarian instinct can understand how the weight of enough regulations, any or all of which can sound sensible or salutary on their own, can crush the life out of even good, public-spirited businesses. The same holds true for public participation. Cast the net wide enough and fine enough, and Israel will never need to come out and say "Palestinian human rights organizations are banned". It can get rid of them all -- or all but a token few -- through regulations and policies that are not just neutral on face, but sound to the credulous audience perfectly sensible and defensible on face.
It strikes me as quite likely that there are, if one looks deep enough and stretches broad enough, some connections between the groups Israel targeted today and the PFLP. That's mostly because I suspect one could find such connections (to PFLP or to some other genuine bad guy) for essentially any political Palestinian actor; just as one could do it without too much trouble for essentially any political Jewish or Israeli actor. What strikes me as exceptionally unlikely is that these groups are outright fronts for the PFLP, pretending to do some human rights makework in the front office while busily building bombs and rockets in the back.
So no doubt you will see some bloggers or news outlets come out in the next few days with breaking reports of just how this human rights NGO is tied to the PFLP. And no doubt they will hold themselves out as proving that the very idea that Israel's actions were anti-Palestinian, that they were targeting human rights groups as opposed to engaged in the laudatory fight against terrorism, is a lie and a libel. They may even believe these things.
They'll be wrong. And their logic suffocates.