State Department pressed by GOP over funding anti-Israel group accused of terror ties

Antony Blinken
Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks at a Senate Committee on Foreign Relations hearing on the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik) Andrew Harnik/AP

State Department pressed by GOP over funding anti-Israel group accused of terror ties

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EXCLUSIVE A pair of House Republicans are asking the State Department to investigate its decision to fund a Gaza Strip-based group accused of “cooperating with” and “supporting” Palestinian terrorists.

The Washington Examiner first reported Wednesday that the State Department between August and September awarded $90,000 combined in grants to the Phoenix Center for Research and Field Studies, an entity the Israeli watchdog NGO Monitor says partners with leaders of Palestinian Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, two U.S.-designated terror groups. Reps. Chris Smith (R-NJ) and Gus Bilirakis (R-FL) are now calling on Secretary of State Antony Blinken to take “remedial action” and provide an “explanation” for the cash, according to a letter on Thursday afternoon.

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“We respectfully request that you look into this matter and, if the matter proves to be as stated by NGO Monitor, we request further to be informed how the selection of Phoenix Center happened, what remedial action the department will take in regard to these grants, and what action the department will take in order to ensure that this does not happen again,” the lawmakers wrote to Blinken.

News of the taxpayer-backed awards has led to an uproar among the House GOP, with Rep. Tim Burchett (R-TN) slamming the State Department in a Wednesday House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing for supporting “thugs.” The Phoenix Center for Research and Field Studies, which launched in 2021 at the University of Gaza, has held conferences and workshops alongside officials from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which the State Department determined to be terror groups in 1997, NGO Monitor says.

The U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem is listed as being linked to the grants, which total $60,000 to “further promote diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility,” and $30,000 for a project related to information technology, specifically, to “raise the awareness of IT trends and provide networking opportunities with IT employers in Europe and Asia for target audiences,” according to funding records. The programs are running until next summer.

For instance, the Phoenix Center for Research and Field Studies has said online it hosted a discussion on President Joe Biden’s visit to the West Bank, which came as the U.S. announced $316 million in Palestinian aid, alongside senior PIJ members A. Muhammad Shallah, Khader Habib, Ahmed Al Mudallal, and Khaled Al Batsh, and senior PFLP member Mohammed Al Ghoul, said NGO Monitor.

The letter from the Republicans said the center in September 2022 held a discussion alongside Habib, which saw participants emphasizing the need for “continued resistance action until achieving a third intifada.” Smith and Bilirakis also pointed to a November 2022 event from the center in which its programs director, Salah Abdalati, allegedly praised West Bank terror cells.

Abdalati has called for “armed resistance” against Israel and praised “resistance fighters,” the Washington Examiner found. He’s also praised deceased terrorists on social media, including Khaled Mansour and Tayseer al Jabari.

“This raises concerns about the process by which the Phoenix Center was selected, vetted, and approved as a State Department grantee,” Smith and Bilirakis told Blinken. “Nor would it be relevant that one of the grants refers to a project for the development of IT skills and networking opportunities and the other to a project to enhance knowledge and skills in public speaking since due to the fungibility of money, funding for one activity of an entity facilitates that entity’s other activities.”

On Wednesday, Rep. Brian Mast (R-FL) called it “an international embarrassment that the Biden administration is actively funding violent anti-Israel groups in Gaza and the West Bank,” replying to the Washington Examiner‘s report on the funding program.

https://twitter.com/RepBrianMast/status/1707061511884050741

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The Washington Examiner reached out to the State Department for comment.

“Under absolutely no circumstances should the State Department be subsidizing an organization that promotes the killing of innocent Jews and terror attacks against our great ally Israel,” the lawmakers added in their letter to Blinken.

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