Israeli political NGOs and the transparency law
Groups such as B’Tselem or Association for Civil Rights in Israel are primarily political opposition groups, as distinct from human rights organizations.
B'Tselem video of soldiers, Palestinians in Hebron Photo: YouTube Screenshot
Transparency regarding foreign government funding for non-governmental
organizations is essential for ensuring the values of democracy and
Last week, NGO Monitor released a detailed report on
submissions made by NGOs to the Israeli Registrar of Non-Profits in 2012, as
mandated by the NGO Funding Transparency Law.
The law, which was passed
in February 2011 and went into effect at the beginning of 2012, requires NGOs to
file quarterly reports on support received from foreign government
The submissions show that, as of February 10, NIS 40,126,562 was
provided to 32 NGOs from a number of foreign governments in 2012. Of this, NIS
25,881,545, 64 percent, went to 14 political NGOs involved in polarizing
activity and political advocacy in the context of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
These groups include B’Tselem, Adalah, Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, Gisha
and Yesh Din.
Many political advocacy NGOs use foreign government funding
to greatly inflate their impact within the Israeli democratic process, in a
manner without parallel in any other democracy.
Groups such as B’Tselem
or Association for Civil Rights in Israel are primarily political opposition
groups, as distinct from human rights organizations.
These political NGOs
are also active in promoting false allegations of “war crimes” and “racial
discrimination,” which are uncritically repeated by the international media,
European diplomats, and UN officials, as part of demonization campaigns. This
was a central part of the discredited Goldstone report, and is repeated
On January 30, B’Tselem used its large budget to promote
highly distorted and misleading allegations about the IDF’s use of non-lethal
force to counter violent protests in the West Bank. The EU and the UN then
parroted these accusations.
Israeli NGOs also benefit from the misleading
label of “civil society” groups in order to advance the Durban Strategy based on
delegitmization campaigns targeting Israel. As with the Goldstone report, the
Israeli NGO network was central in the UN’s politicized report on settlements,
released in January. In other examples, officials from Coalition of Women for
Peace and the Israeli Coalition against House Demolitions travel the world
promoting BDS (the boycott, divestment and sanctions) campaigns.
release of our report had a number of important ramifications. First, it
generated more transparency from NGOs funded by foreign governments. The most
important aspect of the NGO Transparency Law is the obligation to report
completely and in a prompt manner, in contrast to the standard delay of two or
more years, by which time the damage in terms of false allegations and
anti-Israel campaigns is already done.
Donations to Adalah had not
appeared on the Registrar of Non-Profits website until this week, but now the
Israeli public knows that this NGO received NIS 311,352 from foreign governments
in the first quarter of 2012. Similarly, B’Tselem posted updated funding
information on its website as a result of our report.
THE MASSIVE funding
of Israeli political groups through European government frameworks is
unprecedented in relations between democracies, particularly when the funding
decisions are made under tight secrecy.
Although the figures on the
Registrar’s website are likely incomplete as it appears that not all
foreign-funded NGOs submitted reports, this law has helped Israeli and European
citizens in terms of the public’s right to know how their lives are affected by
this form of external intervention. European officials will now be forced to
justify what has largely been a failed and counterproductive policy of funding,
often contrary to their own stated policy declarations in regard to the Middle
East peace process.
Another result of our report was angry and uncivil
backlash from some of the political advocacy NGOs. In a Jerusalem Post article
on our research, “Groups spar with NGO Monitor over foreign funding” (February
5, 2013), B’Tselem’s spokesperson Sarit Michaeli lashed out at NGO Monitor,
evidently without checking the facts. She referred to an alleged “gap of over
NIS 2 million” between what B’Tselem reported and what our research showed, and
claimed that “B’Tselem has published [funding information] on its website for
Both these statements are misleading.
As expressly stated
at the beginning of our report, the numbers therein reflect the total foreign
government funding listed on the Registrar of Non-Profits website as of January
27, 2013. Therefore, submissions that appeared after that date were not included
in our report. Since January 27, updates were made to the Registrar’s website
showing further grants to B’Tselem in the amount of NIS 500,000. This shows that
either Michaeli failed to carefully read NGO Monitor’s analysis and did not
consult the Registrar website, or B’Tselem deliberately misled the Israeli
public and the readers of the Jerusalem Post in order to smear NGO
As to her second claim, until February 5, 2013, B’Tselem’s
website only listed foreign government donations for 2011. On February 5, a few
days after NGO Monitor’s report was published and after Michaeli made defamatory
remarks about our research in the media, B’Tselem added the quarterly reports
for 2012. (This can be verified based on the date of the webpage and the dates
of the PDFs posted on it.) In response to our report, B’Tselem CEO Jessica
Montell stated in a radio interview that foreign government funding is nothing
to be ashamed of. Indeed, 72 percent of donations to B’Tselem in 2011 came from
foreign government entities. But the defensive reactions and attempts to silence
public debate suggest otherwise.
The new funding transparency law has
broken through the secrecy of foreign government funding processes and advanced
the Israeli public’s right to know. Transparency regarding government funding
for NGOs transcends partisan ideology, it is essential for ensuring the values
of democracy and accountability, and to opening the door to further
The writer is managing editor at NGO Monitor
(www.ngo-monitor.org), a Jerusalem-based research institute.