The proposal has prompted sharp opposition from career officials in the department, who say it would be a gift to authoritarian governments that have long sought to delegitimize human rights groups for their work exposing mass atrocities and crimes against humanity, according to the two people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss future policy decisions.
The organizations deploy scores of workers in dangerous hot spots, where they often face resistance from local governments.
The State Department declined to comment on a pending declaration, which was first reported by Politico.
Pro-Israel advocates have long complained of bias by groups such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, saying they focus too heavily on the treatment of Palestinians by the Israeli government.
The groups, however, have a lengthy track record of spotlighting the mistreatment of individuals at the hands of governments elsewhere, including authoritarian regimes and Western democracies.
“It’s preposterous,” Democratic Rep. Tom Malinowski (N.J.), who previously worked as Washington director of Human Rights Watch, said in a phone call. “They also document the treatment of the Palestinians by the Palestinian Authority. They are critical of every government in the world, including the United States. Yet the State Department under every previous secretary of state has relied on these organizations as credible sources of information and treated them as partners.”
Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Oxfam each strenuously denied any accusation of anti-Semitism.
“Any insinuation that Oxfam supports anti-Semitism is false, baseless, and offensive,” Noah Gottschalk of Oxfam America said. “Oxfam and our Israeli and Palestinian partners have worked on the ground for decades to promote human rights and provide lifesaving support for Israeli and Palestinian communities. We stand by our long history of work protecting the lives, human rights, and futures of all Israelis and Palestinians.”
Over the years, the groups, especially Human Rights Watch, have criticized the construction of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, deeming them illegal under international law. Pompeo reversed years of U.S. policy by declaring that the United States does not consider the settlements a violation of international law.
If the State Department moves forward on the decision, it is likely to be celebrated by the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, pro-Israel Republican donors and a wide swath of Christian evangelicals, who say human rights organizations disproportionately target Israel.