Anti-Israel NGO behind impending US sanctions on IDF battalion

DAWN, a US-based NGO, “has intensified its legal attacks against Israeli officials,” says NGO Monitor’s Gerald Steinberg.

By David Isaac | | Topics: IDF, America
Soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces Netzach Yehuda Battalion, May 19, 2005. Photo by Abir Sultan/Flash90.
Soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces Netzach Yehuda Battalion, May 19, 2005. Photo by Abir Sultan/Flash90.

DAWN (Democracy for the Arab World Now), a US-based NGO that has sought “arrest warrants against Israelis” in international fora, has provided the so-called evidence driving the US State Department’s anticipated sanctions against an Israel Defense Forces battalion, NGO Monitor reports.

“The reported sanctions to be imposed by the US State Department on IDF combat units and individuals stem directly from a coordinated campaign by extreme political NGOs,” said Gerald Steinberg, founder and president of NGO Monitor, in a statement provided to JNS.

“Currently, the leading NGO is DAWN, a US-based tax-exempt organization that has intensified its legal attacks against Israeli officials since October 7,” he said.

In October 2022, DAWN submitted to the State Department a Leahy Law referral against the Netzach Yehuda Battalion for alleged “systematic and widespread abuses.”

(The Leahy Law refers to two provisions prohibiting assistance by the United States to units of foreign forces implicated in the commission of human rights violations.)

On Sunday, the IDF said that it’s not yet aware of Biden administration-imposed sanctions against the battalion, but is monitoring the situation.

However, Israeli leaders reacted sharply to the reports with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Minister-without-Portfolio Benny Gantz, both members of the War Cabinet, criticizing any sanctions move.

“Sanctions must not be imposed on the Israel Defense Forces,” Netanyahu wrote in Hebrew on social media on Saturday.

“In recent weeks, I have been working against the imposition of sanctions on Israeli citizens, including in my conversations with senior U.S. government officials,” he said.

“At a time when our soldiers are fighting terrorist monsters, the intention to impose a sanction on a unit in the IDF is the height of absurdity and a moral low,” the prime minister added. “The government I head will act by all means against these moves.”

If Washington sanctions the IDF unit, it would be the first time the United States has taken such a step against the Israeli military.

Netzach Yehuda is an exclusively male, haredi battalion which, until late 2022, served in the Jordan Valley and Samaria. It has faced accusations of abuse, most notably in the 2022 death of 78-year-old Palestinian-American Omar As’ad, who died after he was initially detained by the battalion.

Under the sanctions, Netzach Yehuda would be barred from receiving US weaponry, training with US soldiers or taking part in any US-funded activities.

DAWN has in the past requested State Department sanctions against other Israelis, including a reserve military judge. It also urged a visa ban against IDF Brig. Gen. Naama Rosen-Grimberg, military secretary to Israeli President Isaac Herzog.

In September 2023, DAWN was a plaintiff in a lawsuit seeking to block Israel’s entry into the US Visa Waiver program.

“We know that DAWN has an extensive list of targets and is not interested in stopping with one IDF unit or few individuals,” Steinberg said.

DAWN was launched in 2022, the brainchild of Jamal Khashoggi, the Muslim Brotherhood-supporting Saudi journalist killed in 2018 on the orders of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, according to a 2021 US intelligence report.

Khashoggi had a history of antisemitic posts, to the point of suggesting belief in the infamous antisemitic forgery “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

The current executive director of DAWN, Sarah Leah Whitson, signed an open letter dated Jan. 17 titled “Global Support for Brazil’s Backing of South Africa’s ICJ Petition.”

“Whitson previously served as director of the Middle East and North Africa Division at Human Rights Watch (HRW) from 2004-2019. Working closely with executive director Ken Roth, she played a central role in HRW’s antisemitic obsession with Israel,” NGO Monitor reported in March.

Esam Omeish, a member of DAWN’s board, is a former national president of the Muslim American Society (MAS), which according to federal prosecutors “was founded as the overt arm of the Muslim Brotherhood in America.”

Another, Nihad Awad, was co-founder of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), which was identified as a Muslim Brotherhood front group and named as an unindicted co-conspirator in the 2008 US v. Holy Land Foundation trial.

“DAWN has officials connected to the Muslim Brotherhood, as well as to the most notorious antisemitic and anti-Israel groups,” Steinberg said.

The funding for DAWN is murky but NGO Monitor was able to identify several sources, including George Soros’s Open Society Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and the Arca Foundation.

“The fact that only 44% of DAWN’s $2.1 million income is transparent raises questions regarding the remaining 56%. It cannot be ruled out that it comes from foreign government sources,” Steinberg said.

“Any decision based on these unreliable sources will not withstand examination based on due diligence. It would be advisable for any government entity to refrain from relying on such groups, as they misuse their influence and authority to politically target the only Jewish state,” he added.

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