Transparency, particularly regarding public funds, is an essential element of
democracy, but for those in official positions with something to hide, the
theory is often better than the practice.
This gap between words and
deeds is especially apparent when it comes to the secrecy that surrounds
large-scale foreign government (mostly European) funding provided to Israeli
political advocacy NGOs (non-governmental organizations). The European Union’s
refusal to provide any information or documentation on how decisions to fund
these organizations are made is one manifestation of the problem.
response, the Israeli Knesset passed the NGO Funding Transparency Law, which
went into effect at the beginning of 2012. The law mandates that NGOs file
quarterly reports about support received from foreigngovernment bodies. This
information is then posted on the website of the Registrar of Non-Profits,
allowing all Israelis to access data on the influence of foreign governments on
domestic political discourse.
Thanks to this added transparency, Israeli
citizens know that 17 NGOs received a total of 40 grants from foreign government
sources in the first part of 2012. We can also determine that a sizable majority
of these grants are for projects related to the conflict, and that Norway was
the largest donor to Israeli NGOs (over 3 million NIS in three
Parallel to the efforts of the Knesset and the Registrar of
Non-Profits, more and more governments are publishing details about NGO funding
on their own websites. There is room for improvement – the information is not
always comprehensive – but many European and American government officials
understand that secrecy is no longer tenable.
Another form of
nontransparency is “website scrubbing.” NGOs have removed material from their
websites after NGO Monitor and others provided evidence of anti-Semitic or
anti-human rights activities by these NGOs.
The purging of offensive
material allows the NGO to project a false image of piety.
In order to
avoid further embarrassment, the scrubbing is rarely accompanied by an apology –
which one might expect from a group that claims to represent moral values and
ideals. However, the net sum is a reduction of anti-Semitic and blatantly
anti-Israel content on the web.
This was the case after an NGO Monitor
exposé led European-government funders to press Badil, a Palestinian NGO
supporting the “right of return,” to erase an anti-Semitic cartoon from its
website. The caricature, which featured a Jewish man with a hooked nose and
sidelocks garbed in traditional Hassidic attire and holding a bloody pitchfork,
had won an award in a Badil poster contest.
More recently, the Ecumenical
Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI), a World Council of
Churches organization that supports anti-Israel boycotts and promotes a
one-sided narrative of the conflict, performed a two-staged scrubbing of its
website: On July 9, the Church of England considered a motion to support EAPPI.
In advance of the vote, NGO Monitor circulated a fact sheet, noting,
inter-aliya, that in Issue #6 of EAPPI’s Chain Reaction magazine (Summer 2007),
EAPPI participants advocated for illegal and inflammatory activities “to end the
occupation,” such as hacking government websites.
At some point in early
July, EAPPI quietly removed Issue number six from its website.
(A copy of
the magazine is on file with NGO Monitor.) But that left a telltale visual gap
on EAPPI’s site between Issue 5 and Issue 7, highlighting the issue, so EAPPI
subsequently deleted the entire Chain Reaction webpage.
By scrubbing its
website, EAPPI tacitly acknowledges the document’s immoral taint. But for five
years, EAPPI had endorsed its contents, and only acted because of public
scrutiny surrounding the Church of England vote.
On other occasions,
ostensibly unremarkable information about NGOs is deleted from websites, raising
For instance, on June 28, NGO Monitor sent routine inquiries
to the funders of a new Israeli “progressive think-tank,” Molad: The Center for
the Renewal of Democracy, asking about the scope of their support. One funder,
the New Israel Fund (NIF) responded without supplying substantive answers to our
The other, the Anna Lindh Foundation, which is funded by the
EU, failed to reply.
Instead, as research by NGO Monitor shows, it
scrubbed key information from its website profile of Molad, including reference
to Molad’s funders and a list of current projects.
For its part, Molad
reveals very little about itself. As of this writing, Molad’s website has zero
content on it. Molad has issued at least one policy paper, and apparently has
shared it with the New York Times and perhaps other journalists.
document is unavailable online.
Government and NGO officials should not
oppose transparency, which is the bedrock of democracy.
taxpayer-based funding is used for partisan political advocacy, the public has
the right to know the sources of and processes behind this funding.
contrast, these and many other attempts to scrub websites and hide information
contribute to failed policies, engenders mistrust, and lead to embarrassment
when the details are made public.
The writer is the managing editor at
NGO Monitor (www.ngomonitor.org), a Jerusalem-based research institution
dedicated to promoting universal human rights and to encouraging civil
discussion on the reports and activities of nongovernmental organizations,
particularly in the Middle East.