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.
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
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
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."