Israel is a very porous country, in the sense that individuals and
organizations, particularly with money, can easily gain influence. This is both
a reflection of an open and lively democracy and a remnant of the early Zionist
movement, when Jewish philanthropists from the Diaspora, such as the Rothschild
and Montefiore families, had central roles and close links with political
In the 1950s and 1960s, David Ben-Gurion and his political
machine continued to rely on external donors, including friendly socialist
parties, for campaign financing. Following this lead, Menachem Begin and Herut
were also supported by their backers.
Like other remnants of Zionist
politics, foreign funding continues, with unexamined consequences.
this context, the “exposé” of tax-exempt funding for right-wing organizations
(“Tax-exempt funds aid settlements in West Bank,” The New York Times, July 6) is
not surprising. But the authors missed or erased half the story.
NGO Monitor’s extensive research, the scale of tax-exempt funding from the US
for the other side of the spectrum probably exceeds the $20 million average
annually reportedly provided to support the settlement agenda. And, as in the
case of groups targeted in the Times, radical left grantees push objectives that
are also in direct opposition to US government policies.
research shows how numerous groups that receive tax-exempt donations promote
violent demonization, boycotts (illegal under US law) and “one-state” policies
that are equivalent to seeking the destruction of Israel. These include
Electronic Intifada, ICAHD-US, Friends of Sabeel, the benignly named Middle East
Children’s Alliance and the Palestinian Right to Return Coalition.
Free Gaza Movement, which sponsored the ships that included violent jihadists
from the Turkish IHH organization, tells supporters to send taxdeductible
donations through the American Educational Trust. And the International
Solidarity Movement receives funding via directed donations to the AJ Muste
Memorial Institute and the Middle East Children’s Alliance, both of which have
tax-exempt status. ISM members regularly violate Israeli law through violent
“direct actions,” including participation in the recent Free Gaza
Powerful Israeli left-wing groups that campaign against
settlements also obtain funds in this way and use this money to lobby in the US
against the policies of Israel’s democratically elected governments. This
category includes American Friends of Peace Now, B’Tselem and Ir Amim (which is
active in promoting the Palestinian narrative on Jerusalem).
dozens of groups on the Israeli left, as well Palestinian counterparts, are
funded by US-based mega-donors, such as George Soros’s Open Society Institute,
the New Israel Fund ($31 million annual budget) and the Ford Foundation. OSI and
Ford support Human Rights Watch, with a $40 million annual budget, and a Middle
East division that works to “turn Israel into a pariah state,” to quote HRW
founder Robert Bernstein. Similarly, US donations to Londonbased Amnesty
International help to promote the double standards and political warfare
targeting Israel, exploiting the moral foundation of human
European governments and the EU add tens of millions of dollars
annually, often without transparency, to many of these organizations. European
money for Israeli opposition groups, such as B’Tselem, Ir Amim, Gisha, the
Geneva Initiative, Breaking the Silence and many more, skew the balance and
gives the left an advantage that it fails to get through the democratic process.
And while the tax exempt donations from the US are transparent, based on
voluntary private decisions and spread across the ideological spectrum, European
governments funnel tax revenues to a very narrow Israeli political position,
often in secrecy and without due process or accountability.
context, partisan media reports on US tax exemptions for groups that support
settlements become part of the Israeli ideological battles. The stakes are very
high, and left-wing NGOs are seen as leading the campaign to isolate Israel
using allegations of war crimes, as reflected in the Goldstone report on Gaza.
Over half of the claims and references in Goldstone’s indictment are attributed
to 48 of the opposition NGOs, many of which are funded by European governments
and tax-exempt donations from the US.
In response to growing criticism of
these activities, left-wing NGOs and their supporters have launched
against ideological enemies. In July 2009, Gush Shalom circulated a
memo telling supporters that it “has been engaged recently in the
funding and implementation of a legal and public advocacy campaign aimed
blocking foreign funding of illegal settlement activity.” And Akiva
columnist for Haaretz and involved with NGOs on the left, sent NGO
series of emails presaging efforts to impair funding for pro-settlement
Rather than more partisan reports targeting the “pro-settlement”
side of the NGO battlefield, a wider analysis and debate on the unique
of externally funded NGOs in Israel is long overdue. This question needs
addressed by all sides in the framework of Israel’s democratic process.
legislation that fills in the missing gaps in transparency, particularly
secret European funding processes for political NGOs, would be an
The writer is president of NGO Monitor
and professor of
political science at Bar-Ilan University.