A Q&A with the pro-Israel US lawyer rattling NGOs on counter-terror compliance

27 September, 2018 in English News by Baidoanews Webmaster
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    A Q&A with the pro-Israel US lawyer rattling NGOs on counter-terror compliance

    After Norwegian People's Aid, four more non-profits are being targeted in a sustained legal campaign

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After Norwegian People's Aid, four more non-profits are being targeted in a sustained legal campaign
Lawyer David Abrams is an American pro-Israel activist behind a legal campaign accusing non-profits of illegally helping terrorists. In the first major case of its kind, he helped the US government win a multi-million-dollar payout from Norwegian People’s Aid in April. He now has four more cases in the works, as he confirmed in a telephone interview with IRIN.

Several NGO officials, speaking only on background, given the sensitivity of the matter, told IRIN they’re rattled: Abrams has found a way to make a major liability out of relatively minor interaction with US-sanctioned groups. Any NGO that applies for US funding must attest it has not provided material support to US-sanctioned groups anywhere in the world, regardless of whether US funds were involved. This, Abrams has found, can provide a legal opportunity to prosecute them for making false claims.

NPA, which did receive US funding, rejected the "fairness” of Abrams case but agreed to pay the US government $2.05 million.

Abrams, who set up his own Zionist Advocacy Center (TZAC) in 2015, claims he is acting against those giving material support to US-sanctioned groups and defending Israel’s interests. He tried, and failed, to seek penalties against the Carter Center for engagements with representatives of Hamas and another Palestinian faction the US has designated as a terrorist group. He also failed to trigger action by US tax authorities against Médecins Sans Frontières for aspects of their health work with Hamas in Gaza, which the Palestinian group has governed since 2007.
Abrams’ campaign has coincided with a more robust enforcement attitude at USAID and compliance failures in Syria to make a tough environment for NGOs working in areas controlled by US-sanctioned groups. USAID’s inspector general said of the NPA case: "My office makes these cases a top priority and we will continue to investigate them aggressively.”

All of this adds to a sense of foreboding among NGOs, especially those working in the West Bank and Gaza. Adding to their anxiety is the fact that an NGO may not realise it is under investigation until the legal case is in full swing: NPA’s case was filed in 2015, but, the group told an interviewer, it only knew about it in September 2017.

Some 2.5 million Palestinians in the Occupied Palestinian Territories require humanitarian aid, according to the UN. NPA still supports agriculture, fishing and education projects, as well as a range of local civic groups there.

In a recent interview with IRIN, Abrams confirmed he has two more cases against NGOs already in the courts – one filed in February calling for a $150 million fine. He also said he has another two under preparation – one against an American NGO, the other involving a Middle Eastern group. The identities of the two NGOs with ongoing cases have been sealed by the court. Abrams would not divulge the identity of the other two he is investigating.

Excerpts of the interview follow, edited for length and clarity:

You had a case against MSF/Doctors Without Borders?

Well, according to my research, they had some kind of contract with Hamas so that they could operate in the hospitals in the Gaza Strip. My argument was that by contracting with Hamas, that is support of terrorism in violation of American laws. So even if there's no False Claims Act claim, my argument was that they still aren't in compliance with American laws.

Why didn’t the case work out?

The IRS didn't give an explanation. They just said "We looked into this and we're not pursuing it,” or something like that.

Are USAID and its Office of the Inspector General taking a tougher line on diversion to sanctioned groups?

You know, I don't know first-hand, although my sense is that it's becoming a bit of a hotter issue than it has been in the past. So I think that that's probably true; I don't know 100 percent.


I think the issue is getting more attention now. I think World Vision kind of got everyone’s attention and now the issue is getting more attention. It's also possible that the work I did has contributed to that. I don't really know. [In 2016, a senior staff member of World Vision in Gaza was accused of skimming off the NGO’s funds to benefit Hamas. He faces terrorism charges in an Israeli court.]

Has your campaign changed USAID policy?

I think that's a brick in the wall. And I think it's probably contributed. You know, I'm not going to claim full credit on that but I think I probably deserve a little credit, yes.

How do USAID view you?

They're fine with it. They're fine with it because they like to look at these cases and see. And they can make a determination if they think there's something there, or not.

How many of you work on this and how do you fund it?

My work is mainly me. I have the occasional intern, but I don't have a staff of people. In terms of funding, you know, it generates its own funding, because under the American law, the whistleblower or the person who brings the claim can get potentially a percentage of any settlement. So in this case against Norwegian People's Aid, I received over $300,000.

Is this your full-time job?

In terms of pro-Israel work, I also do anti-boycott work. As you may be aware, there's a movement to boycott Israel. So I do cases that involve legal challenges to those boycotts.

How would an NGO know they are involved when the cases are under seal?

If the government decides to investigate, they send an information request to the organisations. So they know they're being investigated, but they don't necessarily know that there is one of these False Claims Act cases.

These NGOs are trying to help people all over the world and now something that went on in Gaza might impact their work globally. Isn’t this disproportionate?

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