Two Israeli ministries are coordinating a smear campaign against the UN Special Rapporteur on the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Francesca Albanese. The personal attacks are based on lies aimed at removing her from office.
Israeli “Hasbara” organizations discredit the role of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967. Hasbara is the Israeli propaganda campaign (see BIP Update #174). The Office of the Special Rapporteur was created by the United Nations to monitor and document human rights violations committed by Israel against Palestinians. The office, which is honorary, was held by Michael Lynk from 2016 to 2022 and is currently held by Francesca Albanese.
Albanese states that the State of Israel is guilty of the crime of apartheid. Israel, she says, is a settler colonial state that has yet to be held accountable for war crimes and crimes against humanity in the occupied Palestinian territories.
Albanese, like her predecessors, has faced fierce opposition since taking office in May 2022. In December, the Israeli government’s Hasbara platform, ACT-IL, stepped up the attack on her when it launched a campaign discriminating against Albanese, calling for her removal from office; a similar petition on Change.org followed.
Earlier this month, the campaign escalated into a shitstorm of simultaneously published inflammatory articles and tweets. The recently reopened Israeli Ministry of Strategic Affairs (source in Hebrew) funds NGOs to indirectly spread Israeli narratives without any apparent Israeli government involvement. So does NGO Monitor, the organization also behind the fabrication of evidence against six Palestinian civil society organizations (see BIP Update #193) as well as the International Legal Forum (ILF).
Several hateful articles accusing Albanese of anti-Semitism were published between April 9 and 12 in the Times of Israel (which amplified the Change.org petition against Albanese), World Israel News, the Washington Free Beacon, Jewish News Syndicate, European Jewish Press, The Jerusalem Post, and The Foreign Desk. The articles coincided with a Twitter campaign pressuring UN Secretary General Guterres and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk to fire Albanese.
The articles contained outright lies, accused Albanese of anti-Semitism without any evidence, and claimed she had “incited Hamas to violence” for misrepresenting a conference she had attended as one “sponsored by Hamas.” In addition, she had “endorsed anti-Jewish terrorism” because Albanese had affirmed the Palestinians’ right to self-defense.
Carinne Luck, International Director of the Diaspora Alliance, told BIP:
“The relentless campaign by the Israeli government and its supporters to undermine the application of Universal Human Rights and the mandate of the Special Rapporteur in the name of combating anti-Semitism not only harms Palestinians and Israelis, but also does nothing to protect the rights and security of Jewish people. Conflating anti-Semitism with criticism of Israel in this way only makes it harder to recognize anti-Semitism when it occurs.”
The Israeli Ministry of Diaspora Affairs joined the Ministry of Strategic Affairs on April 14 when Minister Amichai Chikli revealed that the Israeli government is actively involved in the campaign. Chikli is an openly racist politician who voted against his Jamina party under the previous Israeli government after it agreed to form a coalition with an Arab Palestinian party. Because of his racist and anti-democratic views, a large demonstration was organized against Chikli in Berlin, which preempted his attendance at the International Conference on Anti-Semitism. He flew back to Israel without attending the event (source in Hebrew).
Nicola Perugini, associate professor of international relations at the University of Edinburgh, told BIP:
“The attempt to justify the conquest and expropriation of land as an act of self-defense is a recurring feature of settler colonial regimes. Since the 1960 UN Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonized Countries and Peoples, the international community has agreed that colonialism must be ended and that colonized peoples have a right to resist. How can one defend what must be ended?”
Sid Shniad, founding member of Independent Jewish Voices Canada, told BIP:
“The late Knesset member Shulamit Aloni explained that supporters of Israel often respond to criticism of Israeli mistreatment of Palestinians by claiming that those who voice such criticism are engaging in anti-Semitism. The most recent use of this tactic is evident in the current campaign against Francesca Albanese, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Ms. Albanese is in good company, considering that several previous rapporteurs, as well as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have been subjected to the same smear campaign.”
Francesca Albanese is the first woman to serve as Special Rapporteur on Palestine. Her male predecessors, Richard Falk, John Dugaard, and the aforementioned Michael Lynk, were also sharply attacked by Israeli officials and pro-Israel groups – to that extent, this targeted and forceful attempt against Francesaca Albanese is a continuation of Israel’s previous strategy.
The attack on Albanese cannot be viewed in isolation from the misogyny prevalent in the Israeli far-right government. This is expressed in the low number of female ministers, in the government’s crackdown on women’s rights, which has alarmed feminist groups, and in the appointment of May Golan, a far-right activist who has publicly expressed his desire for leftist women to be “raped by ni***ers” (source in Hebrew).
The current hate campaign against Francesca Albanese coincides with the month of Ramadan, which is holy for Muslims, during which Israeli forces attacked worshippers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, desecrating the mosque and violating Muslims’ religious freedom. Instead of responding to Special Rapporteur Albanese’s legitimate criticisms, the Israeli government is now trying to reframe tensions with Palestinians into a religious conflict and denounce as anti-Semites anyone who advocates for Palestinian rights.
Francesca Albanese told BIP:
“This is neither the first nor the last time that my mandate and my person will be attacked. An apartheid regime, as confirmed by the international legal framework, can persecute those individuals and organizations that oppose it. I must remain focused on my work and the millions of people oppressed or affected by the occupation, as well as the many who are threatened around the world for denouncing it.”