NGO 'Lawfare': Exploitation of Courts in the Arab-Israeli Conflict

NGO Monitor, 2nd Edition, December 2010

80 Pages Posted: 11 Jan 2011

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: December 10, 2010


The use of courts to prosecute violations of human rights has grown exponentially since the 1990s. This growth has coincided with the vast accumulation of power by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the expansion of the concept of “universal jurisdiction.” NGOs claiming to promote human rights (many funded by European governments, the EU, and prominent foundations like the Ford Foundation and George Soros’ Open Society Institute) are engaged in international lobbying as well as filing civil lawsuits or initiating criminal complaints against Israeli officials and those doing business with Israel for alleged “war crimes” or “crimes against humanity” throughout Europe and North America.

These legal actions, ostensibly to provide “justice” to “victims,” are a form of “lawfare” – a “strategy of using or misusing law as a substitute for traditional military means to achieve military objectives” – intended to interfere with anti-terror operations, as well as to block future actions. They are also a means for actors that are not accountable to any form of democratic check to subvert a country’s foreign policy and interfere with diplomatic relations. While Israel is not the only country that has been subject to NGO lawfare (several prominent NGOs have filed similar suits against US officials in France and Germany), it is a primary target of these efforts. Though claiming to promote universal human rights, these same NGOs have not pursued cases against Palestinian, Hezbollah, Syrian, or Iranian officials involved in terror.

This monograph presents a number of case studies analyzing the central role that NGOs have played in the strategy of lawfare, using it to further their political campaign against Israel. The study begins with a discussion of NGO involvement in the movement to promote and expand the concept of universal jurisdiction and the creation of the International Criminal Court (ICC). Second, the paper will detail anti-Israel lawfare at the international level, examining the crystallization of the tactic at the NGO Forum of the 2001 Durban Conference, alternative strategies adopted by the NGO network in lieu of criminal prosecutions of Israelis at the ICC, and the International Court of Justice case against Israel’s security barrier. Third, the monograph details several NGO-led universal jurisdiction cases against Israeli officials and those doing business with Israel in the national courts of Europe and North America.

Keywords: Israel, Palestine, NGOs, universal jurisdiction, international criminal court, human rights, international court of justice

JEL Classification: K14, K33, K41, K42

Suggested Citation

Herzberg, Anne, NGO 'Lawfare': Exploitation of Courts in the Arab-Israeli Conflict (December 10, 2010). NGO Monitor, 2nd Edition, December 2010, Available at SSRN: or

Anne Herzberg (Contact Author)

NGO Monitor ( email )

1 Ben Maimon Blvd
Jerusalem, 92262

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