Shining a light on the NGO campaign of distortion

Certain NGOs have upped the ante since and have sought to ensure their activities will be placed under no further public scrutiny and that even their illegitimate activities will be placed above the law.

July 23, 2013 22:43
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BTselem Logo 311. (photo credit: Courtesy)

Israel’s democracy is under threat again! This is the constant refrain heard from certain NGOs every time their taciturn and covert work comes under the spotlight. It has become so frequent and predictable it would be pitiful, if not for the nefarious and outsized effect these NGOs have on the internal and external conversation about our country and its future.

In 2011, the Knesset voted in favor of the public’s right to know the details of foreign government involvement through NGO funding, passing legislation requiring all recipients, regardless of political agenda, to report quarterly in order for this shadowy industry to work in a more transparent manner.

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This simple act of legislation was fought using the NGO industry’s almost limitless resources, and political support was mobilized with claims the proposed law signaled the end of democracy. The substance of the bill was massively distorted and the bill itself was seldom referred to or referenced in this all-out attack.

Thankfully, this bill passed into law. However, smarting from the loss, certain NGOs have upped the ante since and have sought to ensure their activities will be placed under no further public scrutiny and that even their illegitimate activities will be placed above the law.

The bill I am co-sponsoring with Ayelet Shaked seeks to remedy a situation which no self-respecting democracy can endure. Any NGO which receives foreign government funding and which advocates for or carries out certain actions will be restricted to receiving no more than NIS 20,000 a year from a given nation.

The criteria which would restrict government funding are: if an NGO or member of an NGO calls for IDF soldiers to be tried in international courts; calls to boycott, divest from or sanction the State of Israel or its citizens; denies Israel’s existence as a Jewish and democratic state; incites to racism or supports armed struggle against the State of Israel by an enemy state or terror organization.

Any and all opponents of the bill should simply state which of these criteria are problematic or offensive to them. These actions are deeply injurious to the State of Israel and its citizens and are already to a great extent illegal if performed by Israeli citizens. The question which should remain is: Why should NGOs be above the law, and why should foreign governments continue to fund these activities? Should a state allow the flow of massive funding to any organization which incites racism, supports terrorism or the dismantlement of our nation in its current form? It is time the NGOs using scare-tactics and threats answered this simple question.

In fact, we should stop referring to these organizations as NGOs, because they are far closer to the definition of a GONGO; a government organized nongovernmental organization. In an article in The Washington Post in 2007, Moisés Naím, editor-in-chief of Foreign Policy magazine, described GONGOs, writing that “Governments are funding and controlling nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), often stealthily” and act “as representatives of citizen groups with lofty aims when, in fact, they are nothing but agents of the governments that fund them. Some governments embed their GONGOs deep in the societies of other countries and use them to advance their interests abroad.”

Any government which supports an organization meeting one of the five criteria mentioned in the proposed law is covertly seeking to undermine our nation and society and its highly representative liberal democracy. As a democratically elected official, it is my responsibility to protect our society and its citizens from such gross, covert encroachment and interference in our democratic process.

It is vital that the public become more informed, not less, regarding who or what is pulling the strings, especially since a concerted public relations campaign is already being mobilized against this new legislation.

However, reading through the masses of op-eds and press releases that have been written against our legislation, few, if any, refer to the bill or its actual contents.

Terms such as “anti-democratic” and the “repression of criticism” are bandied about in the certainty that they will press the correct buttons and bring about pressure for the law to be shelved.

The GONGOs most threatened by this legislation are not only threatening Israel’s democracy, they are also scrambling to ensure the endurance of their multi-million dollar (or euro) industry and their paychecks, which could be depreciated as a result of curtailed funding.

While the NGO world is very good at asking questions, it is very bad at answering them. It is time to turn the focus on these organizations that frequently deem themselves above the law.

Their campaign of intimidation will only succeed if we as a nation are uninformed and easily manipulated.

British philosopher William Haley once said that: “There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all arguments and which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance – that principle is contempt prior to investigation.”

This is what the NGOs who are mobilizing against our legislation hope for. They hope that their ad hominem attacks against the authors and supporters of the bill and the use of negative tried-and-tested keywords will disguise the reality behind this long-overdue law.

We must turn the spotlight where it has yet to be truly shone: on those who believe that by holding the light themselves they will continue to remain in the dark, free from inquiry.

It is time to ask important questions and demand a code of legitimate and appropriate conduct from the self-appointed and heavily funded yet opaque guardians of our public discourse.

If enough Israelis are informed and accept that the criteria contained in the law is perfectly legitimate to mitigate against the danger, then we will win the battle for the heart of Israel’s democracy. If not, then our nation will continue to be unduly influenced by foreign governments and their shadowy, self-serving agents.

The writer is a Knesset member for Yisrael Beytenu and vice chairman of the coalition.

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