Analysis: Is it wrong for human rights organizations to accept donations from foreign countries?

Experts say nothing illegal about such contributions as long as the organizations follow clear-cut rules.

By DAN IZENBERG
July 30, 2009 22:53
3 minute read.
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money good 88. (photo credit: )

The government, backed by right-wing organizations like NGO Monitor, has decided to pull out all the stops to prevent foreign countries from contributing money to Israeli human rights organizations critical of Israel's treatment of the Palestinians. In the past few days, Israel vehemently protested against the Dutch Embassy in Tel Aviv for contributing almost €20,000 to Breaking the Silence to print its report on alleged human rights violations and war crimes committed by IDF soldiers during Operation Cast Lead. The government has also protested to the British government for funding human rights activity. But is there a problem with foreign government funding for human rights or other humanitarian organizations in Israel. Is it illegal? Immoral? Is it "just not done?" And what about funding for Jewish settlement organizations in the West Bank from powerful, wealthy Christian pro-Zionist churches and organizations in the US and Europe which have a clear right-wing political agenda? According to a number of experts in this field, there is nothing illegal about such contributions as long as the organizations follow clear-cut rules. "There is a sacred principle in philanthropy - transparency and accountability," said Dr. Arik Carmon, head of the Israel Democracy Institute. "When an organization receives a donation, it must define in advance what the money will be used for. Afterwards, the recipient must issue a report accounting for how each dollar was spent. I have no problem with donations from foreign countries as long as these principles are observed." Prof. Natan Lerner of the Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya, told The Jerusalem Post that it is "standard practice all over the world to receive donations from foreign countries for all sorts of things, universities, hospitals and other institutions and projects. When the recipients are involved in political activity, it is more complicated. Nevertheless, as long as it is done openly, it is perfectly all right. Left-wing organizations in Israel have always acknowledged that they received money from governments. In the US, it is very common for the government to fund projects and organizations in other countries." Allan Baker, a former legal adviser to the Foreign Ministry, said the practice was apparently legal since most of the organizations were registered as non-profit organizations in the Ministry of Justice and their status had not been taken away. "Whether or not it is ethical to accept money from a government that is opposed to Israeli government policy is another question," he added. "It is legal but it stinks." B'Tselem spokeswoman Sarit Michaeli and Breaking the Silence attorney Michael Sfard told the Post that the organizations they represent declared all their sources of non-private funding and the information was available on their respective Web sites. According to Michaeli, it was perfectly logical for the European Union to donate money to human rights organizations in accordance with its fundamental values. "Universal human rights principles are a central pillar of Europe as expressed in its Charter and all other defining documents," she said. "In its relationship with Israel, Europe has expressly stated that it wants to advance various goals including financial transparency, scientific and academic excellence, mutual economic prosperity and human rights and, in fact, Israel has agreed with the importance of these goals." She said the EU donates not only to human rights groups but also to Ben-Gurion University, the Jerusalem Center for Israel Studies, the Technion and private sector industries. Sfard warned that if the government tried to prevent foreign governments from contributing to civil society organizations, it might cause untold damage to other sectors and branches of society. "Israel and Zionism are based on foreign contributions," he said. "The government may try to block foreign funding to human rights groups dealing with the Palestinian issue, but they have no idea where the campaign will end."


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