(New York, NY) — PEN America today said reports that the State Department is considering classifying leading human rights organizations as “anti-Semitic” is a cynical affront to those defending human rights globally. 

Summer Lopez, senior director of free expression programs at PEN America, said the following:

“If reports of a forthcoming policy statement are accurate, the State Department intends to declare that Human Rights Watch, Oxfam, and Amnesty International are ‘anti-Semitic’ organizations, and that no U.S. government funds may be provided to the three organizations—each one of whom, as a matter of policy, does not accept any funding from the U.S. government. So this pronouncement would be as hollow as it is needlessly cynical.  

“The declaration would, however, confirm that the Trump administration is unwilling to tolerate any criticism of its agenda or the agenda of its political allies. It is frankly abhorrent—and an affront to the First Amendment—to see the U.S. government pull directly from the playbook of dictators the world over by attempting to smear and discredit respected civil society organizations whose work doesn’t meet with their approval. Secretary Pompeo’s efforts to demonize human rights work undermines human rights advocacy on a global level and is an insult to the work of those within the State Department who fight to defend and advance human rights around the world. It is also an odious use of anti-Semitism as a cynical, political ploy; the dangers and threats of anti-Semitism are grave, but to use them in this way undermines legitimate attempts to raise those concerns.

“Such an announcement would legitimize foreign governments in their widespread efforts to hinder the vital work of these and other human rights organizations. If the work of these organizations, to document abuses and hold those who commit them accountable, is undermined in this way, it is vulnerable and marginalized people around the world will pay for the price, and dictators and human rights abusers who will benefit. Secretary Pompeo can disagree with the conclusions of a given human rights group without trying to delegitimize or punish them—something we had hoped would already be obvious to one of the highest-ranking government officials in a country that has long proclaimed a commitment to international human rights.

“We stand in solidarity with our colleagues in civil society against these politicized and unjust attacks, and condemn them as we have this administration’s recurring attempts to squash the critiques of journalists, authors, scientists, peaceful protestors, and too many others. We urge the State Department to abandon this irresponsible, embarrassing, offensive, and destructive course of action.”