|EU parliament 224.88.(Photo by: Courtesy)|
NGO transparency will protect democracy
By G. STEINBERG
Government use of taxpayer funds to secretly promote particular groups and policies in other democracies is a violation of international norms.
For several months, the Knesset’s proposed Foreign Government NGO Funding
Transparency legislation has been a major target for anti-Israel
NGO officials who benefit from this often secret funding
were widely quoted in the media, in the European Parliament, and elsewhere,
alleging that the draft bill provided “proof” of the dire threat to Israel’s
Opinion: Advancing transparency where it’s really missing
On this basis, NGO officials and ideologues have placed this
issue on the European Parliament’s agenda for September 8.
campaign on this issue received a major blow on August 16th, when the Knesset’s
Constitution, Law and Justice Committee debated and approved an updated version
of the draft legislation.
For anyone interested in the facts, in contrast
to the ideology, a brief examination of the text will end questions regarding
the vibrancy of Israeli democracy.
The purpose of this very concise
legislation could not be clearer – it will increase transparency for Israeli
NGOs that receive foreign government funds. Public monies used for political
purposes are entirely different than donations from private individuals or
foundations – although these should also be transparent.
governments use taxpayer funds to secretly promote particular groups and
policies in other democracies, this is a blatant violation of international
norms and the principle of national sovereignty.
The degree to which
European governments seek to influence the Israeli public sphere through funding
for radical NGOs is without precedent or parallel in the democratic
Contrary to claims made by NGO officials, the bill will not
restrict the foreign government funding for their groups. It will, however, make
reporting far more visible – including quarterly reports – ensuring that funding
sources for political campaigns are made public while the information is
UNDER THE current system, one or two years can elapse after an
NGO political or media blitz has ended before reports are submitted. The Israeli
public will also be able to know which foreign governments are sponsoring a
specific advertising or propaganda campaign designed to influence important
This legislation became necessary after the European
Union and member governments began channeling tens of millions of shekels to
Israeli and Palestinian NGOs to promote EU interests on the most controversial
and difficult questions facing Israeli society. Many of the recipient groups are
active in the demonization of Israel in the UN, European Parliament, and foreign
And in Israel, this money pays for media advertisements,
propaganda materials, Knesset lobbyists, onesided academic conferences and
frequent appearances before the Israeli Supreme Court.
The EU and its
member states fund groups such as Yesh Din, Breaking the Silence, PCATI, Gisha,
B’Tselem, and many others who were major contributors to the Goldstone “war
crimes” indictment against Israel. Other NGO recipients lead the boycotts,
divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaigns against Israel, and spearhead ‘lawfare’
attempts to have Israeli officials arrested while traveling abroad.
while the EU claims to promote “two state” policies, money from the EU budget is
allocated to groups that campaign for one state, meaning the abolition of
The secret European funding processes also protect decision
makers from investigation and accountability.
Other than a few officials,
no one knows whether the current funding process violates due process of law and
standard administrative practice. Secrecy makes it impossible to learn who
actually allocates these monies, how they are distributed, whether any groups
receive special consideration, and whether anyone fully monitors or evaluates
In a June 23rd hearing of the European Parliament’s
Subcommittee on Human Rights, officials from two Israeli NGOs – the Public
Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI) and Mossawa – portrayed criticism of
the secret process by which they are funded by the EU as a McCarthyist
And they demonstrated their commitment to free speech by
attempting to prevent NGO Monitor from speaking at the hearing, falsely claiming
that the latter was a governmental organization (in fact NGO Monitor was the
only organization invited to speak that does not receive funding from any
On September 8th the European Parliament’s Plenary is
scheduled to debate an oral question on the “Draft Bill on Israeli NGOs.” The
oral question includes the inquiry “How will this legislation affect the
relationship between the EU and Israel, within the context of the Association
Agreement in particular?” Perhaps, in light of the bias, the inappropriateness
of the interference in Israeli affairs, and the changed text, this session will
now be cancelled, while the Israeli Knesset fulfills its democratic
The writer is president of NGO Monitor and professor of
Political Science at Bar Ilan University.