Seminar speaker

U.K. lawyer denies links to Hamas-tied group ahead of D.C. event next week

Rhys Davies, a U.K.-based human rights attorney, will speak at a seminar held at the National Press Club despite his ties to the Arab Organization for Human Rights in the U.K., a group led by a Hamas activist sanctioned by the Israeli government

Temple Garden Chambers

Rhys Davies

A British lawyer with ties to a Hamas-linked group is speaking at a conference being held at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. next week.

The two-hour seminar was organized by the International Human Rights Advisors and Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN), the latter of which is headed by an anti-Israel activist who calls for a boycott of Israel, and will place a critical lens on the United States’ relationship with the United Arab Emirates. 

Rhys Davies, a U.K.-based human rights attorney, will host next Tuesday’s event despite his ties to the Arab Organization for Human Rights in the U.K., a group led by a Hamas activist sanctioned by the Israeli government. 

Mohammad Jamil Hersh, AOHR’s founder and current director, was sanctioned by the Israeli government in 2019 for “his work with the designated terrorist organization ‘Arab Organization for Human Rights in UK,’ that belongs to and acts on behalf of the designated terrorist organization Hamas.”

Then-Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett described the organization at the time as “a charity affiliated with Hamas.”

Davies told Jewish Insider that he is not a member of the advisory board, nor has he ever served on the board. The advisory board page on the organization’s website in 2021 listed him as a member, but has since been taken down. He has continued to appear at AOHR events alongside Jamil since 2021, including at a forum where both discussed the potential legal routes to hold “the Israeli occupation accountable for its practices against Al-Aqsa Mosque” in December of 2022.

Davies noted that he is an “independent barrister practising in international human rights and international criminal law, based in London. My practice has a global reach and I have acted in many cases relating to the Middle East, meaning that I frequently speak at events like the one taking place next week.” He also added: “For the avoidance of doubt, I am not linked to, tied or otherwise associated with Hamas. Nor do I approve of Hamas in any context.”

Tuesday’s event, which the NPC only began publicizing this week on its website, will also feature a speech from Janan al Marzouki, the daughter of convicted UAE Muslim Brotherhood member Abdulsalam Mohamed Darwish al-Marzooqi. DAWN has advocated for Darwish’s release, and has also described Israel as a “democracy in exile” over its prosecution of its war in Gaza.

An official at the National Press Club said that the program is not being sponsored by the club, and the NPC is only allowing an outside group to rent its space for a fee — as part of its events business.

DAWN was started by dissident and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, who was murdered by Saudi agents before the organization publicly launched in 2018. According to the DAWN website, it seeks to promote “the human rights, liberty, and dignity of every person in the Middle East and North Africa … upheld by democratically elected governments,” and focuses on “governments with close ties to the United States and on the military, diplomatic, and economic support the U.S. government provides them.”

Sarah Leah Whitson, DAWN’s executive director, is formerly the director of MENA for Human Rights Watch. A 2010 article in The New Republic argued that fighting within the organization led its founder, Robert Bernstein, to conclude that HRW “has lost critical perspective on a conflict in which Israel has been repeatedly attacked by Hamas and Hezbollah, organizations that go after Israeli citizens and use their own people as human shields.” Bernstein named Whitson as the driver behind the group’s sharp anti-Israel turn.

Months after Bernstein’s op-ed was published, Whitson and others from HRW met with Hamas officials to assure them of the organization’s “neutrality and objectivity.” 

Jeffrey Goldberg, editor-in-chief of The Atlantic, has described Whitson as having “trafficked in a toxic stereotype about Jews” and “suggest[ing] a global conspiracy by Jews to dominate the world politically, culturally and economically.”

Whitson has argued that Holocaust museums should be required to show footage of recent suffering in Gaza and evoked what experts have described as the blood libel of equating Israel’s military actions in Gaza with the Holocaust. She also spread the conspiracy theory that Israeli helicopters killed revelers at the Nova music festival on Oct. 7, where Hamas massacred attendees.

DAWN has had an “Israel-Palestine program” since 2022, and in that short time, NGO Monitor, an Israel-based research institute that tracks the funding and activities of such groups, has compiled an extensive list of actions DAWN has taken against Israel. They found that the group has received funding from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Ford Foundation and George Soros’ Open Society Foundations.

The organization holds the position that Israel is an apartheid state, and has penned letters calling for the U.N. to adopt sanctions and for the world to institute an arms embargo against the Jewish state. Both of those letters were co-signed by organizations including Al-Haq, Addameer and others, which Israel has designated as terrorist groups for their ties to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. 

DAWN has called for individual IDF officers to be banned from the U.S. and investigated by the International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes. It also opposes the Abraham Accords, which it calls “regressive” and “an endorsement of arms sales and political favors between the U.S. and authoritarian regimes…in exchange for the sidelining of Palestinian rights.”

The NGO has also vowed to oppose Saudi-Israeli normalization efforts over the murder of Khashoggi.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this piece said that Davies did not respond to JI’s request for comment. After the story was published, he wrote to JI denying any association with AOHRUK. An earlier version also misrepresented who participated in one of the events Davies took part in.

The story has also been updated to reflect that the National Press Club is not sponsoring the event, but rented the space to an outside group.

Jewish Insider’s senior political correspondent Lahav Harkov contributed to this report. 

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