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NGO Monitor turns to EU court for transparency
January 21, 2010 10:00
J'lem watchdog filed suit against European Commission, demanding it disclose funding documents.
NGO Monitor turns to EU court for transparency

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NGO Monitor, a Jerusalem-based watchdog organization, announced on Wednesday it has filed suit against the European Commission of the European Union, demanding that it meet its own transparency requirements and disclose internal documents revealing the decision-making process and criteria for funding Israeli and Palestinian nongovernment organizations.

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Gerald Steinberg, the president of NGO Monitor, said at a press conference in Jerusalem that the EU has contributed at least NIS 177 million since June 2005 to about 150 Israeli and Palestinian NGOs, most of which he said demonized and delegitimized Israel.

The application to the EU Court of Justice was filed by the Asserson Law Office, an international law firm providing English legal services from Jerusalem.

Steinberg, who is a British citizen, said he was applying to the court on the basis of a European Commission regulation which states that "in the event of a total or partial refusal to grant access to documents, the applicant may institute court proceedings against the institution."

On October 23, 2008, Steinberg asked the EC for the transcripts of meetings relating to the funding decisions for grants to Israeli and Palestinian NGOs for the past three years under the PfP (the Partnership for Peace) and EIDHR (European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights) programs. He also asked for other reports and documents.

It took six months for the EC to respond to the request, but even then it only sent a small number of documents and only after whiting out substantial parts of their contents, charged Steinberg.

The EC told Steinberg it could not provide more information because disclosure would undermine public security and also damage privacy and commercial interests.

Attorney Trevor Asserson said none of these were applicable to Steinberg's request.

"The EC is throwing up a cloud of obfuscation," he charged.

Steinberg alleged that of the roughly 70 Israeli NGOs that receive funding from the EC, three-quarters demonize and delegitimize Israel. These, he charged, included B'Tselem, Hamoked Center for the Defense of the Individual, Yesh Din, Ir Amim, Bimkom, The Public Committee against Torture in Israel, Adalah, The Israel Committee against House Demolitions, Gisha, The Association for Civil Rights in Israel, Peace Now, Mossawa, Breaking the Silence, Machsom Watch and The Center for Alternative Information.

Steinberg added that he regarded all organizations calling for a boycott, divestment or sanctions against Israel as being anti-Israeli political organizations.

In response to Steinberg's charges, David Kriss, EU press and information manager, made the following statement: "In line with the EU regulations on transparency, the European Commission has provided Prof. Steinberg with comprehensive information on the funding of projects in Israel and in the region. The extensive information at Prof. Steinberg's disposal is proof of this. However, in accordance with European law, any EU citizen is entitled to launch an appeal against a decision of the Commission.

"...NGOs whose projects are supported by the European Commission need to be fully compliant with Commission rules and procedures and, in general, operate in a way which is fully consistent with the democratic values of the EU. This does not imply that EU policy has to be systematically reflected in all their statements, seminars or publications. In fact the Commission requires all project publications to carry a disclaimer stating clearly that the contents of a particular document can under no circumstances be regarded as reflecting the position of the European Union. Moreover, the EU fully supports diversity of opinion and the right of expression as long as this is in line with its fundamental democratic principles. Information on funding is readily available on Commission Web sites."

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