GENEVA (23 November 2023) – UN experts* today expressed alarm at the worldwide wave of attacks, reprisals, criminalisation and sanctions against those who publicly express solidarity with the victims of the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine.

“Calls for an end to the violence and attacks in Gaza, or for a humanitarian ceasefire, or criticism of Israeli government’s policies and actions, have in too many contexts been misleadingly equated with support for terrorism or antisemitism. This stifles free expression, including artistic expression, and creates an atmosphere of fear to participate in public life,” the experts said.

“In other contexts, we also see a rise in antisemitic speech as well as intolerance, for those who support or are perceived to support Israel, or who express mere sympathy for Israeli suffering in the aftermath of the 7 October attack” they said. “This leaves little space for moderate views.”

The experts pointed out that artists, academics, journalists, activists and athletes have faced particularly harsh consequences and reprisals from states and private actors because of their prominent roles and visibility.

“People have the right to express solidarity with victims of grave human rights violations and demand justice, whether from one side or the other or both,” the experts said.

They noted with deep concern that several artists around the world have been targeted because of their art or political messaging, pressured to change topics of artistic expression, and labelled either as troublemakers or as indifferent to the suffering of one side or the other. “Some artists have been deprogrammed and censored for calling for peace, others have lost their jobs, and some artists have been silenced or side-lined by their own cultural organisations and artistic communities,” they said.

Journalists and media outlets in Israel and Western countries reporting critically about Israeli policies and operations in the occupied territories or expressing pro-Palestinian views have been the target of threats, intimidation, discrimination and retaliation, which have increased the risk of self-censorship, undermining the diversity and plurality of news that is essential for press freedom and the right of the public to be informed. At least one media outlet in Israel has been threatened reportedly with closure for perceived “bias” towards Palestine. They also criticised the disproportionate and wrongful removal of pro-Palestinian content by social media platforms.

The experts raised concerns about suspensions and expulsions of students from universities, dismissal of academics, calls for their deportation, threats to dissolve student unions and associations, and restrictions on campus meetings to express solidarity with the suffering civilians in Gaza and denounce the ongoing Israeli military response. Students have also been blacklisted in some universities as supporters of terrorism, with accompanying threats to their prospects for future employment.

“Some athletes, particularly in Europe, have been suspended after publishing their views on social media, while others have been threatened with suspension from their teams, termination of their contracts and even expulsion from their countries of residence,” the experts said.

“Sport is also about building bridges and enabling all people to meet and engage, while respecting diversity of origin and opinions, which every human being has the right to hold,” they said.

The experts noted a highly disturbing trend to criminalise and label pro-Palestinian protests as “hate protests” and to pre-emptively ban them, often citing risks to national security, including risks related to incitement to hatred, without providing evidence-based justification. “Such actions not only violate the right to protest guaranteed by Article 21 of the ICCPR, but are also detrimental to democracy and any peace-building efforts,” they said.

The experts recalled that any restriction on human rights must meet the conditions of legality, necessity and proportionality. “Furthermore, advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to violence, hostility or discrimination is prohibited under international law,” they said, calling on individuals in official positions in particular to desist from hate speech and inflammatory statements.

“States have a duty to address hate speech that dehumanises parties to armed conflict and civilians,” the experts said, echoing the High Commissioner’s recent call to end the rise of hate speech, antisemitism and islamophobia, and ensure a safe and enabling space for expressions of solidarity with Israelis or Palestinians.

“It is especially in times of conflicts and war that we need to uphold the universality of human rights, ensure the application of the rule of law without discrimination, and carefully avoid double standards,” they said.

*The experts: Alexandra XanthakiSpecial Rapporteur in the field of cultural rightsFarida ShaheedSpecial Rapporteur on the right to educationClément Nyaletsossi VouleSpecial Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of associationIrene KhanSpecial Rapporteur on the protection and promotion of freedom of opinion and expression.