Anti-Zionism corrupts democratic institutions because it works in secrecy.
Canada lived through the experience with Rights and Democracy, a now defunct
A recent judgment of the European Court of
Justice reminds us that the Canadian experience was part of a global pattern of
non-disclosure of information about taxpayer funded grants to anti-Zionist
NGO Monitor attempted to get from the European Union disclosure of
the evaluation of the grants the EU lavished on anti-Zionist NGOs. The European
Commission refused to provide the information. NGO Monitor president Gerald
Steinberg took the European Commission to court.
The European Court of
Justice in late November 2012 upheld the non-disclosure decision. The commission
reasoned that, with public disclosure of the evaluations of the grants to the
beneficiary NGOs, “there is a high risk that information would be used by
opposing groups or persons to damage the reputation of those NGOs.” The court
limited itself to determining whether procedures were respected, holding that
the decision on the merits fell within the discretion of the
The notion that information about evaluation of public
funding should be withheld because its release might damage the reputation of
the beneficiary is antithetical to democratic principles. The public has a right
to know how their money is spent and whether the money is well spent or
THOUGH THE form of non-disclosure was different, the effort in
Canada to hide from accountability was the same. When Israel began Operation
Cast Lead in December 2008, to defend itself against rocket attacks from Hamas
in Gaza, the staff of Rights and Democracy, a government-funded agency,
attempted to get approval of a one-sided press release condemning Israel from
its board of directors. Then-acting board chairman Jacques Gauthier, on behalf
of the board, in early January 2009, refused.
The staff then did an end
run around the board refusal, deciding at a management committee meeting in late
January 2009 to use discretionary funding, without disclosure to the board, to
pay Al Mezan, Al Haq and B’Tselem for confabulated, decontextualized “research”
on the Gaza conflict. This “research” claimed that Israel had committed a wide
range of human rights violations for what in reality was nothing more than
self-defense efforts against Hamas attacks.
This “research,” at least in
the short term, bamboozled Richard Goldstone and became the backbone of the
one-sided Report of the UN Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict, chaired by
Goldstone. Goldstone, when he got hold of the real facts, eventually repudiated
the report under his name.
The Rights and Democracy board finance
committee innocently attempted, at its meeting in March 2009, to find out how
discretionary funding was being spent. The staff flatly refused to give the
committee that information, taking the bizarre position that only the full board
was entitled to disclosure and not the finance committee.
The reason for
the stonewalling became evident when the information was eventually released to
the board (but only after the staff had lined up their friends on the board to
support the staff position). In January 2010, after the board composition
changed, taking away the staff’s supporting majority, the board voted,
belatedly, to repudiate the grants.
Like Goldstone, Rights and Democracy
president Rémy Beauregard had an about-face. He voted with the new majority in
favor of the motion repudiating the grants which he had earlier approved. He
acknowledged at the board meeting that “we could have done our homework better.”
Tragically, he died of a heart attack that night, leading to a sustained public
The grant beneficiaries were themselves not open. Al Haq
well over a year later disclosed the grant in its financial statement as a
contribution to core funding.
B’Tselem, on its website, does not disclose
Information about the grant, in Hebrew only, dated a year
and a half after the payment, is found on the website of GuideStar, an
organization which gathers and publishes information about Israeli
Al Mezan, on the cover of a report published in Arabic in
June 2009 and in English in August 2009, “expresses appreciation” to Rights and
Democracy for its “major contribution to the success of this documentation
project.” The report does not indicate how much money was given or
The government of Canada through its 2012 budget abolished Rights
and Democracy. At some point, an institution needs to be established to replace
it. All government agencies, including the European Commission and the eventual
successor to Rights and Democracy, though, need to lay in their defenses to
prevent their seizure by staff running their own agenda without
The recent decision of the European Court of Justice is not
an isolated incident. It is just the most recent example of the continuing
global pattern of anti-Zionism by stealth.
The writer is an international
human rights lawyer based in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and the longest serving board
member of Rights and Democracy.