BERLIN – Controversy is swirling around the German NGO Medico International for its financial support of the Israel-based NGO Breaking the Silence, including its support for a planned – but subsequently canceled – book presentation on Tuesday in Ramallah.

Prof. Gerald Steinberg, the president of the Jerusalem-based human rights watchdog organization, NGO Monitor, told The Jerusalem Post before the cancellation that, “This specific event in Ramallah – funded by a German NGO – highlights Breaking the Silence’s facade. The organization presents itself as a grassroots NGO, directed towards Israeli audiences, but many of its events take place outside of Israel, using funding from European governments and the New Israel Fund.

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Even the name itself is misleading – there is rigorous debate in Israel about IDF actions, and there certainly is no ‘silence’ about Israel to break in Ramallah.”

Medico International, a health-services provider, was listed as a sponsor of Breaking the Silence’s book presentation, according to a posting on the website of the Association of International Development Agencies (AIDA).

The AIDA website notice read: “Medico International has been a partner of Breaking the Silence since 2009, and we would be honored if you can come to the book presentation.”

Breaking the Silence is an organization run by former IDF soldiers, which collects testimonies of soldiers who served in the West Bank that involve cases of mistreatment toward Palestinians. The organization states its goal as to “portray a different and grim picture of questionable orders in many areas regarding Palestinian civilians.”

Steinberg added that “The group’s statements and activities show its activist nature – Breaking the Silence members Yonatan and Itamar Shapira were on the ‘Jews for Justice for Palestinians’ boat ‘Irene’ that tried to sail to Gaza in September 2009. During a March exhibit in Sweden, a Breaking the Silence representative said that Israel is the oppressor, and that Israel ‘creates the terror’ that it encounters.”

In an e-mail to the Post on Wednesday, Dana Golan, executive director of Breaking the Silence, wrote “the information regarding an event in Ramallah was based on a misunderstanding on the part of Medico International, and that in actuality, no such event took place in.

“To be clear, Breaking the Silence will hold no events in Ramallah as this is illegal under Israeli law, and any such claim causes damage to our reputation and is grounds for a lawsuit for libel.” Golan declined to answer Post questions about Medico International funds for Breaking the Silence activities.

Medico International receives funding from the German Foreign Ministry for specific projects in Israel and the Mideast region.

In an e-mail to the Post on Wednesday, Tsafrir Cohen, the coordinator for Palestine and Israel in Frankfurt, wrote “Medico International is a highly transparent organization, and most of the information requested can therefore be found on our website. Medico international’s support for its Israeli partner organization Breaking the Silence is funded by Medico International’s own donations, i.e. there are no state or EU moneys involved.”

When asked about the Breaking the Silence event, Luke McBain, the head of Medico’s offices in Israel, told the Post on Tuesday that there has been a “cancellation of the event,” but Medico “supported projects of Breaking the Silence in 2009 [and] 2010.”

A spokeswoman for the German Foreign Ministry wrote the Post by e-mail on Tuesday, saying “the Foreign Ministry does not contribute to Medico International. The Foreign Ministry supports a project carried out with Medico International and local partners for the reestablishment of the livelihood of marginalized community’s in the Jordan Valley and the southern Hebron Hills through wind and solar energy.”

According to the German Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, “412,000 euros were earmarked for the Medico International wind and solar energy project.”

Steinberg, from NGO Monitor, responded, “The German Foreign Ministry – as with other European foreign ministries – should more closely monitor and evaluate how its funding to various NGOs is actually utilized. Groups that receive Foreign Ministry funding should not utilize it in a manner that contradicts the official policies of the government or contradicts the NGOs’ own stated mission and principles.

“Certainly, events that are purely anti- Israel – and represent only one narrative – do not help foster peace and mutual understanding. Also, which bodies or committees or individuals in the German government are involved in deciding to fund this or other political advocacy NGOs, and what exactly is the decision-making process?”

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