According to Israeli media reports, the Israeli intelligence service set up a special department several months ago to monitor groups involved in bringing humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip, claiming that such groups “delegitimize Israel”.The Israeli daily Haaretz reported on Sunday that officials within the Israeli Military Intelligence establishment had begun monitoring local and international groups involved in attempts to break the four-year long Israeli siege of the Gaza Strip through humanitarian aid flotillas. An international flotilla, including US representatives, is planning to enter Gaza in May – a year after an Israeli attack on a similar flotilla killed nine activists.

One official in the Israeli Foreign Ministry said that the investigatory powers of the new department were too vague and broad, adding, “[w]e ourselves don’t know exactly how to define delegitimization. This is a very abstract definition. Are flotillas to Gaza delegitimization? Is criticism of settlements delegitimization? It’s not clear how Military Intelligence’s involvement in this will provide added value.”

The Haaretz report also quoted an official from the Israeli Prime Minister’s office, who said that the department is needed in order to address the growing criticism of Israel internationally, saying “The new unit’s orientation will be to collect information and carry out intelligence research for the Foreign Ministry and other government ministries.”

Israeli officials said that the mandate of the new department includes any groups that are engaged in campaigns to boycott, divest from or sanction Israel, groups that attempt to bring charges against Israeli officials for their invasion of Gaza and other violations of international law, and groups whose work ‘delegitimizes’ Israel.