Trading truth for money

On January 5th the Knesset decided to establish a parliamentary committee to examine international sources of funding for Israeli organizations that “aid the de-legitimization of Israel through harming IDF soldiers.” While the decision enjoyed a wide support (41 in favor, 16 against), it turned into a heated spat between the Right and the Left.

The Knesset’s decision was adopted following revelations by organizations such as NGO Monitor and Im Tirtzu that many Israeli NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations) testified against Israel in the Goldstone Report; that they are involved in the issuing of arrest warrants against Israeli politicians and IDF officers in Europe; and that some of those NGOs’ funding comes from foreign governments.


Those who oppose yesterday’s decision generally make two points: A. the organizations that stand accused deal with human rights and therefore only deserve praise and protection; B. their sources of funding are already public knowledge, so there is no need to double-check them.


Both claims are half-true.


The same way that the UN “Human Rights Council” is dominated by human rights abusers, many NGOs use the “human rights” fig leaf to harass democracies at war and to whitewash murderous regimes. Why else would the Human Rights Council be presided by Thailand (since June 2010) and why else would Human Rights Watch do fundraising in Saudi Arabia (as revealed by the Wall Street Journal in July 2009)? Not all human rights organizations in Israel and in the world are a sham, of course. Some actually do care for human rights and dignity. But for many NGOs (including Israeli NGOs that are trying to get IDF officers arrested in London), using the “human rights” agenda has become a clever way of enjoying impunity for political activities that have hardly anything to do with human rights. 


Claiming that the sources of funding for Israeli NGOs are already public knowledge is no less misleading. Of course, Israeli NGOs report every penny raised and spent to the Non-Profit Authority. But many funds and foundations that donate money to Israeli NGOs are themselves supported by individuals, organizations and governments whose name and identity do not appear when NGOs report their donations. The public information disclosed by Israeli NGOs on their donations does not reveal the entire money trail – a trail that often includes foreign governments. The same way that many “human rights” organizations have nothing to do with human rights, those organizations call themselves “non-governmental” while being funded by governments.


Many Israeli NGOs have simply gotten used to their sense of impunity. So have Israeli universities. Last week, for example, Ma’ariv journalist Kalman Liebskind caught Ben-Gurion University (BGU) red-handed lying to its donors. 


Liebskind revealed that BGU’s French donors recently asked for explanations about reports that the University’s Political Science Department has become a uniform hub of radical politics. To which the University replied (via its representative for French speaking Europe) that many of the Department’s professors are “right-wing” and even listed them: David Newman, Danny Filc, and Renée Poznanski. Now, all three proudly define themselves as left-wingers – and for good reasons too. They’ve all signed petitions calling for Israeli soldiers not to serve in the disputed territories. Filc is a Board member of Physicians for Human Rights. David Newman is known for lambasting NGO Monitor and Im Tirtzu. One wonders if Newman, Filc and Poznanski will now sue their university for libel…


BGU’s reply contains another fantastic claim: that the Israeli Council for Higher Education is dominated by the Right, especially Shas and Israel Beitenu. In truth, however, the Council is a non-political body composed mostly of tenured professors. Claiming the Shas and Israel Beitenu are strongly represented at the Council is pure science fiction.


BGU seems to assume that its donors don’t have access to Google. Or rather, it suffers from the same syndrome than the so-called human rights NGOs: the syndrome of abusing your respectability to fool people.  


As Abraham Lincoln said: “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.” Thanks to the Internet, most people can’t be fooled most of the time, and trading truth for money is no longer a profitable business.