Norway's FM slams Lieberman over NGO remarks

Store tells 'Post' it's "dangerous" to link organizations to terrorism, says FM's messages are "a worrying sign," is very concerned.

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January 12, 2011 23:00
3 minute read.
Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Store

Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Store 311 AP. (photo credit: AP)

 
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Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Store censured Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman on Wednesday for his sharp criticism of NGOs, telling The Jerusalem Post it was “dangerous” to link these organizations to terrorism.

In the harshest comments to date from a European statesman regarding the establishment of a parliamentary committee to investigate funding of the NGOs, Store said, “When leading politicians go out and compare and link NGOs to terror, I think it is very dangerous. These messages have enormous impact and create suspicion, mutual suspicion and a climate that democracy should not have. I think it is a worrying sign.”

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Store, on a two-day visit, told the Post he was “very concerned” about the recent Knesset action on the NGOs.

“Israel is the democracy in this region,” he said. “A vibrant civil society, with organizations that say things which we don’t like as governments, is part of democracy, it is a test of a strong democracy.”

Norway is a significant donor to some 18 NGOs operating in Israel and the Palestinian Authority – such as the Palestinian Central Bureau for Statistics, the Palestinian Independent Commission for Citizen’s Rights, and the Hebron Rehabilitation Committee – and the issue came up during a meeting Lieberman and Store held in Jerusalem on Tuesday evening.

Store asked Lieberman about the Knesset decision to set up a parliamentary inquiry into left-wing NGOs, with Lieberman replying that the aim was greater transparency regarding where the money was originating. He told Store it was absurd that Saudi Arabia, not exactly a beacon on human rights, would be funding human rights organizations in Israel.



Lieberman, according to his office, told Store that in a democratic country it was important for NGOs to operate and that they should be encouraged. But he said it was also the right of democracies to protect themselves, and not let radical groups use the cover of charity work to spread hatred and terrorism.

Spanish Ambassador Alvar Iranzo, whose country is another major contributor to the NGOs, told the Post that while he understood that on one hand this was naturally a domestic issue subject to internal legislation, the policy of the EU and most member states was to subsidize civil society in Israel, the PA and other countries, promoting the values of peace in the region.

Iranzo said that the EU would “not be too happy” if Israel made “things more difficult.”

Another senior EU diplomatic official said the issue would likely be raised in Brussels next month at the annual EU-Israel Association meeting.

Store is in the country as part of a regional trip that is also taking him to Jordan, the PA and Syria. In addition to meeting Lieberman on Tuesday evening, he met on Wednesday with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and opposition head Tzipi Livni.

Lieberman, meanwhile, traveled on Wednesday to Greece, another sign of the blossoming ties between Athens and Jerusalem. He met with his Greek counterpart, Dimitrios Droutsas, who was here in October, and will meet during his three-day visit with Prime Minister George Papandreou, Defense Minister Evangelos Venizelos and Minister of State for Investment Haris Pamboukis.

On the eve of this visit, Papandreou phoned Netanyahu and – according to Netanyahu’s office – the two men agreed to set up a governmental advisory body that they will head to coordinate closer cooperation between the two countries. The first meeting of this body is scheduled in the coming months.

In other diplomatic developments, National Security Adviser Uzi Arad met in Moscow on Wednesday with his Russian counterpart, Gen. Nikolai Patrushev. A statement from the Prime Minister’s Office said the meeting reflected the close contacts between the two countries, and had added significance in light of the labor sanctions at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem that led to the cancellation of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s visit here next week.

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