Recently Israel designated several human rights NGOs as terrorist organizations. The six organizations are alleged to have links to the PFLP:

The Israeli defence ministry said they were linked to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a secular political movement with an armed wing that in the past carried out attacks against Israel.

These organizations receive funding from various international sources:

The groups, well known for their human rights work, have received funding from EU member states, the United Nations and other donors.

This designation is viewed as arbitrary by other human rights groups, for example B'Tselem:

The Israeli human rights group B’Tselem called the government’s declaration “an act characteristic of totalitarian regimes, with the clear purpose of shutting down these organisations”.

It also seems to be viewed as arbitrary by some EU states, for example Ireland:

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has expressed concern at the designation by Israel of six NGOs operating in the occupied Palestinian territories as terrorist entities. [..]

He said no detailed evidence had been provided by Israel.

In a statement Minister Coveney said previous allegations against civil society organisations in the territory have not been substantiated.

Apparently Israel provided no evidence that these NGOs are linked to terrorist activities. So on which basis (legal or judiciary process) was this designation made?

Edit August 2022: a recent article in The Guardian says that "Earlier this year, Israel passed intelligence about the designation to the US, but a CIA intelligence assessment of the material did not find any evidence to support the claim, according to two sources familiar with the study."

  • 4
    @EkadhSingh-ReinstateMonica Sorry but I rolled back your edit: I think the quotes and the questions raised by various organizations/countries about whether this decision was arbitrary are very important for the context of the question. The decision by Israel to label a well known NGO as terrorist is not politically neutral: the fact that the decision is questionable from a democratic viewpoint is what makes it a political question imho.
    – Erwan
    Oct 27, 2021 at 15:10
  • 2
    IMO since it’s about the working of the Israeli government, it’s about politics either way, and the additional context just makes it seem like a push question. However, that’s just my opinion. Oct 27, 2021 at 15:14
  • 5
    It's also the case for Turkey, Russia, the US or indeed the EU. You will find that labelling groups as terrorist is usually an intelligence matter rather than a judicial/legal process. I am not aware of any country that would make a comprehensive justification for these decisions publicly available. Even when a court has some say in it (like the EUCJ does), it only serves to reveal how opaque the process is and it is very difficult to provide an effective recourse.
    – Relaxed
    Oct 28, 2021 at 12:36
  • @Relaxed of course, but the requirement for justification is higher when the designation as terrorist contradicts democratic values, at least in countries which aim to defend such values. Such arbitrary decisions from Turkey or Russia are not that surprising, but there would probably be some backlash if the US or the EU did this with a major NGO without providing any serious justification. Otherwise it's a backdoor for any arbitrary decision, for instance Israel could decide tomorrow to label the EU and the UN as terrorist as well, since they funded alleged terrorist organizations.
    – Erwan
    Oct 28, 2021 at 13:53
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    In practice that's exactly how it works. You might think they should be some serious justification but that's just not the case. Whether it's a violent group that seems obviously bad to you and me or some unknown organisation that hasn't been active for years and nobody cares about, there is no open process to lay out or dispute the evidence. As I said, it's a decision based on intelligence information that is deemed sensitive and not revealed to the public nor to the people or organisation impacted. I tend to agree that it feels arbitrary but that's just how it works.
    – Relaxed
    Oct 28, 2021 at 15:18

1 Answer 1


The designation was made by the Minister of Defence in accordance with Clause 3 of the 2016 Counter-Terrorism Law:

  • (a) Pursuant to this Article, the Minister of Defense may designate, by order, a body of persons as a terrorist organization, once he is convinced that paragraph (1) or (2) of the definition "terrorist organization" applies, and that it has a connection to Israel.
  • (b) The designation of a terrorist organization shall be based upon a reasoned written request from the Head of the Israel Security Agency, or from the head of another Defense Authority, submitted by the Head of the Israel Security Agency together with his opinion – [ether requests being] subject to the approval of the Attorney General. In the request, the Head of the Defense Authority shall specify the information and facts on which he is basing his position that subsection (a) applies with respect to the body of persons.
  • (c) With regard to a terrorist organization according to paragraph (2) of the definition "terrorist organization" that is acting in Israel through a party operating on its behalf—the Head of the Defense Authority shall only submit a request mentioned in subsection (b) after warning has been provided to the organization and it has continued its activity, provided that he [the Head of the Defense Authority] has determined that such a warning will not thwart the possibility of taking action against the organization.

The definition of terrorist organization referred to is:

  1. A body of persons in an organized and continuous structure that commits terrorist acts or that operates with the intention that terrorist acts will be committed — including an aforementioned body of persons that is engaged in training or instruction for the commission of terrorist acts, or that carries out an act involving weapons or performs a weapons transaction, in order to carry out terrorist acts—whether or not it has been designated as a terrorist organization pursuant to Part B;
  2. A body of persons in an organized and continuous structure that acts, directly or indirectly, to assist an organization mentioned in paragraph (1), or that acts with the intention of promoting the activity of such an organization, including by financing it – all of the foregoing, in a manner capable of making a substantial or ongoing contribution to the organization's activity, or [where such body of persons] has a substantial affiliation to [the organization], provided that the body of persons [defined in this paragraph] has been designated as a terrorist organization pursuant to Part B;

The designation orders themselves are linked at the bottom of the National Bureau for Counter Terror Financing of Israel (NBCTFI) press release, and contain a limited justification for the designation. For example, the designation order for the Union Of Agricultural Work Committees reads:

  1. The Union of Agricultural Work Committees was established in 1986 and became an arm of the "Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine" in Judea and Samaria and in the Gaza Strip.
  2. The institution's base is in Ramallah. According to its declaration, the Union is engaged in assistance to Palestinian farmers and furthering agricultural research and development projects. In practice, it promotes activity that serves the "Popular Front" objectives.
  3. The Union, together with additional "Popular Front" organizations, acted in forgery and deceit vis-à-vis many European countries and international organizations to obtain financing, which in practice reached the Popular Front" terror activity.
  • 3
    Thank you for the detailed answer. The provided justification is very vague indeed. I'm curious in particular about the timing: do you know by any chance if any event or investigation caused the change?
    – Erwan
    Oct 27, 2021 at 15:17
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    @Erwan The NBCTFI press release mentions the trigger as the conclusion of a joint investigation between themselves and the GSS that began in 2021 - I'm not sure if any more detailed information has been made available.
    – CDJB
    Oct 27, 2021 at 15:26
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    @tim unless this organization has official links to the PFLP, "became an arm of" is an unsubstantiated interpretation. There might be some specific evidence behind this claim, but it's not provided in this document.
    – Erwan
    Oct 27, 2021 at 22:25
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    There's nothing vague about that justification. You can argue that it's unsubstantiated instead. In practice, these decisions will be made based on information from the Israeli intelligence apparatus, which means we don't know why. I'd argue that by the same principle, any organization being designated as terrorist without they themselves explicitly confirming it is just as unsubstantiated.
    – Gloweye
    Oct 28, 2021 at 12:58
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    In practice any country can use this kind of legislation as a "punish anyone who criticizes us" law. Israel seems to be one country where that abuse is barely concealed. It's an interesting question to ask if the same laws applied to NGOs that overtly support Israel would also (if applied equally) would label many of them as terrorists. Oct 28, 2021 at 18:14

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