In his article “Why does the EU continue to fund antipeace NGOs” (The Jerusalem Post, February 11, 2014) Prof. Gerald Steinberg presents a distorted picture of funding of human rights projects by the European Union.
The data he offers readers are a cocktail of tendentious research, intentional inaccuracies and downright EU-bashing propaganda.
Prof. Steinberg claims that the EU, through its funding policies is “actively promoting and funding the boycott and isolation of Israel.” First and foremost, rejection of boycotts is an explicit policy of the European Union. The president of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, on his recent visit to Israel once again made this clear, as have I. Moreover, this alleged policy of boycott flies in the face of a simple reality check. How could the EU be actively “promoting boycotts” while simultaneously managing the closest and broadest set of relations between the EU and any third country in the world? Israel and the EU conduct annual trade amounting to some 30 billion euros per year, and cooperation programs ranging from higher education to climate change and from rural development to space, not to mention Israel’s unique association to the EU’s 80b.-euro Horizon 2020 research program and the most recent offer of a Special Privileged Partnership (SPP) if the peace talks are crowned with success? In the article, the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR) is described as a “political warfare” tool whose sole aim is to exert “political pressure” against Israel by providing “millions of euros to radical political advocacy non-governmental organizations (NGOs)” that “promote the images of Palestinian victimization and Israeli oppression.” In fact, not one single project supported under the program includes these aims.
Not one. All Israeli NGOs whose projects are supported by us must be legally registered here and therefore pursue their objectives through peaceful means.
The EU actively monitors all projects supported by us and ensures that independent audits guarantee that all EU funds are used correctly and only for the objectives approved. The EU cannot, and should not, be held responsible for other activities in which these NGOs are engaged or the views which they express. Both Israel and the EU cherish the value of freedom of speech and attach great importance to vibrant public debate.
The picture that Prof. Steinberg paints on the scale of funding to Israel under EIDHR is also inaccurate and misleading.
Rather than receiving the lion’s share of funding as he claims, in fact Israel is not eligible for large parts of the EIDHR program which are naturally reserved for countries where human rights are most at risk. The allegation by Prof. Steinberg that 57 percent of total funding under the EIDHR for Middle Eastern countries focused on Israel and the Palestinians is simply ludicrous. The correct figure is around one-third of that. In actual fact the annual funding provided to Israel (€1.2m.) is on a par with what Croatia was receiving under the same program until it actually joined the EU last year! Moreover, when Prof. Steinberg refers to funding figures for “projects focused on Israel/Palestine” the undiscerning reader might easily be misled to assume that this refers to projects focusing on human rights concerns with regard to Israeli actions in the West Bank and Gaza. In fact, on the Palestinian side, EIDHR projects focus on human rights concerns with regard to Palestinian actions, for example, projects dealing with torture in Palestinian prisons, or the death penalty. In Israel roughly half of our projects are devoted to human rights issues unrelated to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
So, if the aim of the EIDHR program is not to isolate or boycott or delegitimize Israel, what is the EIDHR program actually achieving in Israel? Israel is a society in which the rule of law is deeply enshrined, a country in which human rights are cherished, a country that sets high standards for itself. The EIDHR’s overriding purpose is to sustain these important goals by providing support to Israel’s vibrant civil society in fields such as gender, people with disabilities, the rights of minorities and planning. One of the ways it does this is by bringing relevant information to the attention of the public and to government authorities.
In several cases, Israeli government ministries themselves are involved in EIDHR projects. For example, in a project on the rights of persons with disabilities, the Justice Ministry is a partner. In projects on education against racism, the Education Ministry gives accreditation to the teaching material and teachers trainings.
The EU also supports several projects dealing with planning activities, whether at municipal or regional levels.
The approach of these projects is to ensure community participation in the decision-making processes. In this field, government-commissioned planners often work hand-in-hand with the projects, for example for infrastructure planning in Beduin villages, later emulating the project methodology in their own activities. Planning projects, that encourage communities to express opinions and ideas in a constructive and professional manner, have led to qualitative inputs recognized as such by ministers and the Knesset.
In several projects where the focus is the West Bank there has been constructive interaction with the IDF which has worked with EU-funded projects to protect the access of farmers to their lands or to redefine training practices that would not disrupt the lives of civilians.
These are just a few examples of how EIDHR operates in Israel. Yet these and similar projects are never mentioned by Prof. Steinberg. After all, why let the facts get in the way when you have already reached you conclusion in advance? The author is the EU ambassador to Israel.