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Anti-Israel NGOs spark call for reform from MEPs
By BENJAMIN WEINTHAL
20/02/2014
NGO Monitor presents Middle East funding bias to EU parliament.
 
The Jerusalem-based organization NGO Monitor delivered a presentation on Tuesday to members of the European Parliament, which outlined irregular funding practices for EU funded NGOs in the Middle East, including organizations that seek to delegitimize Israel.

Speaking from Brussels, Prof. Gerald Steinberg, president of NGO monitor, told The Jerusalem Post that a “highly disproportionate number of NGOs are focused on the Israel-Palestinian conflict... more so than any other part of the world.”

He added “some [EU] money goes to BDS [Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions] and other ways to sabotage Israel’s judicial system.”

NGO Monitor issued the analysis of EU funding on Tuesday.

The report is titled “Evaluating Funding for Political Advocacy NGOs in the Arab-Israeli conflict.”

The report only covers EU funded NGOs from the period of 2007-10, because the EU has declined to provide comprehensive data for subsequent years.

It asserts there is a disparity in European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR) funds. Israel and the “Occupied Palestinian Territories” received over €11 million, more than any other country.

Non-democracies like Syria, Iran, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates received no human-rights funds from EIDHR during the examined period.

The EIDHR has an annual budget of €160m. and its aim is to promote “democracy and human rights in non-EU countries.”

Bastiaan Belder, a Dutch MEP (member of European Parliament) and chair of the Parliamentary Delegation for relations with Israel, told the Post, that he regrets “to see that 57 percent of EIDHR funding is given to Israel and the Palestinian ‘Occupied’ Territories, while Israel is regarded by Freedom House as the only ‘free’ country in the Middle East.

While other countries, scoring much lower and classified as ‘unfree’ [such as the PA administered territories, Saudi Arabia and Iran] receive much less or even no funding under EIDHR.

This is illogical and funding allocations to Human Rights priorities in the region should be reconsidered.”

He added, “I am deeply concerned about the findings of the report and I call upon the European Commission and the EU Delegation in Israel to stop the funding to NGOs that undermine Israel’s legitimacy and the Middle East peace process.”

Sarah Ludford, a British MEP, told the Post that the NGO Monitor report “raises serious concerns which the European Commission needs to answer in a very detailed, open and forensic manner, which it has not so far done in answering MEPs in the last few years.

Grants to NGOs working in the context of the Israel-Palestinian conflict are bound to be somewhat controversial, but it is not acceptable for European taxpayers’ money to fund political activities which are in basic contradiction to EU goals.”

She continued, “These include not only democracy, non-violence and the rule of law, but also trade and economic partnership with Israel based on the association agreement, so to have EU money supporting the BDS agenda is shooting ourselves in the foot.”

There are EU sponsored NGOS that engage in politically biased attacks without a commitment to neutrality, according to the report. For example, EU provided €169,661 to the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions.

The ICAHD has accused Israel of “ethnic cleansing,” “genocide,” “collective punishment” and “apartheid.”

The Holy Land Trust was a recipient of EIDHR funds. NGO Monitor said the trust advocates BDS and supports the Kairos Palestine Document, which calls for BDS against Israel and rejects the “Jewish historical connection to Israel in theological terms.”

Hannu Takkula, a Finnish MEP, told the Post, “It is unfortunate that there are indisputable concerns about distribution of the EU’s financial support for various parties and NGOs. It seems to me that the High Representative Baroness [Catherine] Ashton is not to be blamed as the cause of the apparent imbalance in the EU policies and in the way they are implemented. Instead, the whole EU needs to be more careful and thorough in investigating the various projects and NGOs that receive financial support from the EU.”

He continued, “It is a worrying trend that within the EU there is an increasing number of groups which have more clearly taken sides in conflicting issues. Meanwhile the EU’s overall aim to pave the way for peace has not been kept in full focus. I believe that the EU would more effectively fulfill its values and goals if it attempts to be as neutral as possible and strives for balanced policies.”

Ashton’s spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic did not immediately reply to a Post query.

Asked about the NGO Monitor report, Alexandra Thein, a German MEP, told the Post: “We discussed this issue in this Monday’s meeting of the European Parliament’s delegation for the relations to Israel of which I’m a member. Fact is that the European Union is actually not financing NGOs but programs. To fulfill these programs, contracts are finalized with various NGOs and the European Commission is evaluating the progress. If NGOs do not adhere to the modalities of these contracts their terminations are likely.

The Commission has its own guidelines and modalities of how it supervises the funds paid to NGOs.”

She added, “Our main target with regard to the work of all these different NGOs in Israel, is that freedom of expression and plurality of opinion is safe guarded in the democracy of Israel.”

Thein raised eyebrows in 2010 in Germany. She was slated to speak at pro-Palestinian conference featuring a Hamas politician. Thein’s party the Free Democrat’s pulled the plug on her speaking engagement at the event. On her own website, she has a section called “Focus Palestine,” where she posts notices about Israeli acts of “land discrimination.”

Thomas Philipp Reiter, a spokesman for Thein, wrote to the Post saying, “ she doesn´t have a section called ‘Focus Palestine.’ However there was a section about Middle East issues with this misleading title until February 2012 but Alexandra Thein decided two years ago to delete it.”

Takkula proposed some guiding principles.

“There must be a more careful analysis of the overall situation before any money is allocated or released for any NGOs or projects in the region; there must be enough accurate information/ details as a basis for decisions about financial support; thorough monitoring of the NGOs and their activities and projects is needed; there must be more openness about the use of EU funds; all decisions about funding must be made on the basis of the EU fundamental values,” he said.

He said, “This means that the NGOs and projects must enhance democracy, human rights, fundamental human freedoms and the rule of law.”

Steinberg told the Post that the US Congress conducts an annual review of NGOs and their funding streams. The US congress has changed the terms of agreements because the NGOs lack of sound practices.

In sharp contrast, said Steinberg, “The EU Parliament has never exercised oversight power.”

Belder said “I believe that more transparency, accountability and professional and independent evaluation of the financial allocations to EIDHR projects in Israel are needed.

“I would like to receive an honest, detailed and comprehensive answer of the Commission and the EU Delegation in Israel to the findings presented in the report by NGO Monitor,” he added.
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