Coming clean on foreign money

Foreign governments are intervening in Israeli domestic politics.

President Reuven Rivlin meeting with the European Union's foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini‏ (photo credit: REUTERS)
President Reuven Rivlin meeting with the European Union's foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini‏
(photo credit: REUTERS)
A BILL that will hopefully ensure that Israel is not treated as a penetrated banana republic has made it through the government’s ministerial legislation committee. If passed by the Knesset, Israeli NGOs receiving the bulk of their funding from foreign governments will have to be up front about it like the health warnings on cigarette packs.
But the battle has only begun. Before Knesset ratification, the labeling bill’s proponents must rebut criticism that the law stifles free speech and is discriminatory. The first charge is fanciful.
Nobody has been muzzled by being labeled a lobbyist.
If that were the case, Washington’s K Street would shut down.
On the face of it, the discrimination charge seems justified.
Only left-wing NGOs are going to be outed by the new law, as they are the beneficiaries of foreign government largesse. But this complaint acknowledges an inadmissible reality. Foreign governments are intervening in Israeli domestic politics by giving exclusively to groups who share and can advance their agenda of pushing Israel back to indefensible borders. This is markedly disrespectful of Israeli democracy.
How would the EU like it if Israel poured in money to the Brexit campaign to secure Britain’s departure from the EU? Nor is Israel like Lukashenko’s Belarus, where the political opposition requires external help to express itself and contest democratic elections.
On the other hand, private donations are an even playing field. If the settlements have a financial angel in Irving Moscowitz, Israeli peaceniks can count on an S. Daniel Abraham.
Moreover, private donors, like private publishers, have to justify their outlays only to themselves. Donations by foreign governments create a vicious circle. To justify the grant the foreign government must vouch for the bona fides of the supported organization and the justice of the cause. For its part, the NGO, to justify the funding it receives, is under pressure to supply actionable exposés even when there is little to expose.
While the proposed legislation is justified on merit, it is undeniably a backlash against recent NGO antics. No NGO has created more antipathy for itself than Breaking the Silence, whose sole raison d’être is to pry Israel out of Judea and Samaria by demonizing the IDF.
It is totally legitimate, however strongly I may disagree, to advocate Israel’s withdrawal from Judea and Samaria. But it is totally illegitimate to secure this objective by calumniating the IDF and imputing to it a moral compass worthy of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s army. By doing so, BTS seeks the following: to fuel external humanitarian intervention against Israel to eject it from Judea and Samaria; make the IDF’s rules of engagement so restrictive that the soldiers will be unable to protect themselves or the Israeli citizens in Judea and Samaria; and propagate the canard that the IDF is debased due to the occupation and only a withdrawal will restore its purity of purpose.
The charges made by Breaking the Silence rely on anonymous accusers. They omit precise names, units and locations, which could further an investigation of suspected illegal actions by the IDF’s military justice system. BTS, however, is not interested in justice but in vilification. While Breaking the Silence will undoubtedly condemn the proposed legislation as McCarthyism, the anonymous accusations and innuendos, which have become its stock in trade, epitomize that very phenomenon.
Israel’s war dead include soldiers who would be alive today had the IDF not displayed excessive solicitude for avoiding civilian casualties. In April 2002, the IDF sustained 23 dead in clearing the Jenin refugee camp by going house to booby- trapped house. It didn’t simply flatten the camp and look to see whether the rubble glowed in the dark. This policy was not reversed but continued in the Gaza operations of 2008-9, 2012 and 2014, and again the price was paid. Yet to secure its political objective Breaking the Silence seeks to create a chimerical alternative reality of an IDF intent on gratuitous slaughter.
Ironically, if the labeling bill gets through the Knesset, Breaking the Silence will be able to take much of the credit for its passage. 
Contributor Amiel Ungar is also a columnist for the Hebrew weekly Besheva.