Dozens of Israeli human rights activists of the B'Tselem group picket in east Jerusalem.
(photo credit: AFP PHOTO)
The European Endowment for Democracy provided the B’Tselem organization a €30,000 grant last month to fight proposed legislation to require NGOs that receive half of their funds from foreign governments to detail that information and wear special identifying tags in the Knesset.
According to the Jerusalem-based NGO Monitor, the seven-month grant was given on December 15, the day after the Im Tirtzu organization released a video calling the heads of four left-wing human rights NGO’s – including B’Tselem – foreign agents.
“The funding was allocated amid a heated internal Israeli debate over the role that foreign government- funded NGOs play in Israeli democracy,” said NGO Monitor spokesman Aaron Kalman. “The nature of the grant, openly aiming at influencing Israeli legislation, again highlights the infringement on sovereignty and the manipulative intent of European government funding in the context of Israeli democracy.”
But B’Tselem spokeswoman Sarit Michaeli said, “I fail to see the problem with a grant that we are clearly proud of.”
Michaeli said that B’Tselem reports every donation to the NGO registrar and annually puts its financial reports online. While the EED did not disclose the amount of the grant on its website, Michaeli readily provided that information and said that it has been reported to the NGO registrar.
Last month, the ministerial committee on legislation approved the so-called “NGO transparency bill,” championed by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, which is now winding its way through the Knesset.
The bill has been criticized by both EU and US government officials, as well as human rights groups in Israel, as a piece of legislation meant to stymie dissent and something that poses a threat to democracy.
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Supporters of the bill say it is merely an attempt to curb and make transparent foreign intervention in Israeli domestic affairs.
The EED, set up in October 2012, is fashioned after the US Endowment for Democracy and is designed to foster democracy in the EU’s neighborhood. It reportedly has a budget of about €8 million a year.
The organization’s grant to B’Tselem appears on its website under the heading, “Combating anti-democratic laws aiming to silence opposition.”
“B’Tselem is working with a coalition of organizations to counter legislative attempts to restrict the work of NGOs that defend human rights and expose Israeli government policy in the Occupied Palestinian Territories,” the website reads. “The human rights organization itself is a leading voice in denouncing human rights violations in the OPT.”
The organization describes its mission on its website as a “grant-giving organization that supports local actors of democratic change in the European neighborhood and beyond.”
The EED said it was created to “promote the European values of freedom and democracy.” The organization said it is a joint effort of the EU member states and EU institutions, but is an “independent private law foundation with its seat in Brussels.”
In a related development, Im Tirzu wrote a letter to Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein Sunday asking him to demand that B’Tselem reveal the name of a Palestinian- funded lobbyist working on its behalf in the Knesset, and which bills and motions he influenced.
Im Tirzu cited the Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law Secretariat, a Palestinian organization based in Ramallah, which said in its 2014 annual report that it employed a lobbyist via B’Tselem who was involved in issues like “the expulsion of communities from the Jordan Valley, the water crisis in the West Bank, settler violence and east Jerusalem checkpoints.”Lahav Harkov contributed to this report.
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