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How Israel's media turned a British NGO into terrorists

Israel’s two biggest newspapers didn’t hesitate to copy-paste a press release from the Foreign Ministry, turning a small London organization into ‘Hamas in Europe.’
By Yoni Mendel
A Hamas supporter in Gaza City, March 23, 2014. (Basel Yazouri/Activestills.org)
A Hamas supporter in Gaza City, March 23, 2014. (Basel Yazouri/Activestills.org)
I often hear Israeli friends and co-workers belittle the Arab-speaking media in the country. Especially over the fact that many Arab media outlets in Israel don’t actually employ real journalists, and that any piece that is written in good Arabic for one of the more popular Arab news sites will likely be published without any changes.
I thought about it yesterday when I took the train from Tel Aviv to Haifa, while reading through Yedioth Ahronoth andIsrael Hayom, both of which were handed out to me free of charge. How easy it is, I thought to myself, to belittle local gossip stories published on an Arab site. And how difficult it is to deal with a bulldozer of messaging that hits Israelis on a day-to-day basis through Hebrew-language newspapers.
For those who didn’t get a chance to look through the aforementioned dailies on Tuesday, I will point out that both published — and gave prominent placement — to an article about a group called the “Palestine Return Centre,” which is “identified with Hamas,” and which was granted observer status by the UN Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations. Whoever reads these articles, even without a critical eye, understands that they contain everything but journalism. This is how Israel Hayom dedicated half of page three to the story, with a headline that read: “Hamas-affiliated group received status of observer.” Rival newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth put the story on page 8, under the headline “From Hamas into the arms of the UN.”
Let’s look closely at the details provided by both papers on the story:
Israel Hayom: The PRC organization, which is based in Britain, publishes anti-Israel propaganda in Europe, whether on the political level or among campuses and the general public.
Yedioth Ahronoth: The PRC organization, short for the “Palestinian Return Centre,” is based in Britain and publishes anti-Israel propaganda in Europe, on the political level, on campuses and among the general public.
Israel Hayom: In 2010, Israel declared the group an illegal organization, due to its affiliation with Hamas. According to Israel, Hamas members rank high in the organization, promote Hamas’ goals in Europe and maintain strong ties with the rest of the group’s wings, including the heads of Hamas in Damascus.
Yedioth Ahronoth: In 2010, Israel declared the group an “illegal organization” due to it being part of Hamas in Europe, and the fact that its senior members promote Hamas’ goals in Europe, as well as maintain ties with the heads of the organization in Damascus.
Israel Hayom: Observer status allows groups to strengthen their influence worldwide and spread their activity through, among other things, access to UN committees and conferences, such as the Human Rights Council, as well as permanent and independent representation in the UN.
Yedioth Ahronoth: As an observer organization, the PRC will be granted representation at the UN, as well as access to committees and conferences, such as the Human Rights Council, which will allow it to strengthen its global influence.
Israel Hayom: Among the supporters of this scandalous decision are “protectors of human rights” such as Iran, Sudan, Pakistan, Venezuela, China, Cuba and turkey. The only three states opposed were Israel, U.S. and Uruguay. India, Russia and Greece abstained. A representative from Burundi was absent from the discussion.
Yedioth Ahronoth: Twelve countries supported the decision, including Iran, Sudan, Pakistan, Turkey, China, Venezuela and Cuba. Three countries (U.S., Israel and Uruguay) opposed, three abstained (India, Russia and Greece) and Burundi was absent.
Israel Hayom: Deputy Foreign Minister responded to the decision: “That a Hamas organization will join the UN is outrageous… allowing a group affiliated with Hamas into the UN is akin to awarding it for its terrorism. There is no other way to look at it.”
Yedioth Ahronoth: Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely called the decision “outrageous.” “Allowing a group affiliated with Hamas into the UN is akin to awarding it for its terrorism.”
So what do we have here? In the spirit of an orchestrated campaign by Benjamin Netanyahu, Sheldon Adelson and Haim Saban, by Israel Hayom and Yedioth Ahronoth, and around the new tribal bonfire of “the war against boycott,” what we’re dealing with here is likely an enthusiastic press release sent out to journalists by the Foreign Ministry, as well as the intensive efforts made by Hotovely, the acting foreign minister. Along with Israel’s Ambassador to the UN, they succeeded in providing Israelis with the goods: the UN is against us, look at the hypocrisy, right of return, Palestinians and Hamas. Following that we had some good investigative journals. The talented writers at Yedioth and Israel Hayom made the effort of hitting Control-C followed by Control-V, thus bringing the press release to us untarnished.
Had they done their research — by using Google, for instance — they would have discovered that the Israeli claims against the PRC come from one source (an Israeli one, of course): The Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center. Those journalists would have found out that at the center of the allegations lies the fact that in 2009, a PRC committee hosted Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh through video conference. And the fact that they are an organization that promotes the right of return for Palestinians (how could they!?). And that they oppose the occupation. And that they even held a protest against Operation Cast Lead. And that they have a year conference.
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, May 29, 2014 (Screenshot from Palestinian Interior Ministry YouTube)
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, May 29, 2014 (Screenshot from Palestinian Interior Ministry YouTube)
In addition, hold tight, they would have also discovered that Israeli organizations had discovered that the PRC is a “propaganda organization.” Had they delved a little deeper, they would have found out that PRC publishes an academic journal titled JPRS – Journal of Palestinian Refugee Studies; that they have no connection to Hamas; and that they have been working in Britain since 1996. And if they really wanted to do their homework, they would have gone to the PRC website and discovered that there is a long response to Israel’s allegations at the UN, and that the organization is considering suing Israel for libel.
As a token of appreciation to Israeli journalism in its darkest times, which is being constricted by Prime Minister Netanyahu, who is fortifying his rule on the media and who promotes a nationalistic and dangerous public discourse, I will provide the PRC’s full response. This, despite all those Israeli citizens who believe that we must treat the Foreign Ministry’s press statements as truth:
We express our deep frustration and anger by the statement made by Israel which in essence questions the credibility of the UN which has agreed on our CEIRPP membership years ago. We believe that the only reason that Israel is launching this huge campaign against us is due to the simple fact that we defend the right of return for Palestinian refugees.
Prior the vote, Israel presented an explanation of vote where it has allegedly and baselessly claimed that the PRC is affiliated to Hamas.
The accusations stated: “PRC has known affiliation to the terrorist organisation Hamas….the organisation is in support of Hamas…”it’s our responsibility as members of this committee to prevent terrorist organisation from infiltrating the UN… And let it be clear, voting Yes and accrediting the PRC is accrediting Hamas…world media sources, national intelligence agencies and independent research organisations have cited connections between the Palestinian Return Centre and charity collation and INTERPAL both known as large finances for terrorism”
The practice of the Israeli delegation before the NGO committee is dangerous and is entirely refused where it blatantly accused PRC of being a member of Hamas. All these allegations stated by delegation of Israel are false and unfounded and they are only circulated by Israeli intelligence, Israeli NGOs, Israeli politicians and Israeli watchdog organisations. Thus, the Israeli claims have Zero credibility.
All the sources used by the Israeli delegation lack credibility since they are either funded by the government of Israel or funded by the many pro Israeli lobby groups worldwide. We know these sources one by one and we are certain that the Israeli delegations will not be able to reveal them as they solely Israeli ones.
We call on the Israeli delegation, if to be convincing to the committee members, to come up with any independent evidence from third parties – not Israeli or pro Israeli sources – that we are affiliated to Hamas. We are certain that the Israeli delegation will utterly fail in this simple task!
PRC have been operating in the UK and across Europe since 1996. We worked with many MPs, MEPs, senior ministers, politicians, governments, government bodies and NGOs. For all these years, we have never been associated with Hamas by any of the European country including the UK. If we are really associated with any terrorist organisation, the UK which is at the forefront of fighting terrorism would have outlawed and labelled us as such!
In reply to Israeli statement that we are “Hamas” because we hosted a televised speech for Mr. Ismail Haniya at one of our conference, we argue that such statement is preposterous for the following reason:
“PRC hosted Ismail Heniya’s televised speech at the time when he was the Prime minister of the Palestinian Authority – which is the official Palestinian government recognised worldwide – following the 2006 elections which was observed by the European Union and other international bodies. Additionally, worldwide leaders and members of diplomatic corps have met Ismail Haniya including the former American president Jimmy Carter; this doesn’t give any party the justification or reason to accuse Carter of being Hamas or those worldwide leaders too! However, by the Israeli standards, Carter and all those who met Haniya are Hamas and terrorists!”
PRC will lodge official letters of protest for the UN General Secretary, ECOSOC council and its member states.
We announce that PRC is considering legal action against the Israeli delegation at the UN. We also hold them accountable for the safety and security of our members worldwide. Such allegations and defamation where we are described as terrorist and affiliated to Hamas are dangerous, baseless and will have negative ramifications on our work and members.
To conclude, PRC will continue to work with its worldwide partners to promote the Palestinian Right of Return is enshrined by the many UN resolutions. We will remain independent and dedicated to serve the cause of Palestinian refugees and their right of return.
Yoni Mendel is the projects manager of the Mediterranean Unit at the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute, and co-editor of the book review section of the Journal of Levantine Studies (JLS). This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call, where he is a blogger. Read ithere.

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