Hot chocolate, life insurance and NGOs

What’s in a name? The umbrella term NGO is misleading; it’s time to distinguish between virtuous causes and groups that have reprehensible political agendas.

NGO (photo credit: Courtesy)
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) tend to be perceived by the general public as groups of civic-minded citizens working together on projects geared at fighting poverty, saving the ecology, helping oppressed minority groups or protecting wildlife. Yet what of those self-serving political interest groups that also masquerade behind the NGO category? Today the government approved a proposal to form an inquiry committee to investigate the activities and funding of left-wing NGOs. 15 NGOs issued a joint statement condemning the initiative with the ironic assertion: “We have nothing to hide.”
RELATED:The Israeli judiciary: A model of independence (Premium)Do it Livni, for the sake of Israel (Premium)US President Obama's unique opportunity with Pollard (Premium)Demonization, delegitimization, or just simple critique? (Premium)Banning the right to strike(Premium)
Advertising and public relations experts woo potential clients by giving them examples of highly successful product name changes that led to changes in their public perception. One such example is hot cocoa, whose former image was that of a children's drink forced on unwilling kids at bedtime by a stern nanny. Marketing the drink as "hot chocolate" transformed it into a sophisticated adult drink with connotations of exotic luxury.
Changing the name of what is essentially death insurance to "life insurance" enabled insurance salesmen to market the product without having to mention the dreaded D-word. 
Perhaps it would be pertinent nowadays to add "interest groups" to the lexicon of terms that have been changed to influence public opinion. Interest groups or lobbying groups play a valuable role in all societies. They flourish particularly in democratic and open societies, enabling groups of people with similar interests to propagate their views. Many of these groups represent benign or altruistic pursuits ranging from human rights, ecological concerns, nature hikes and chess.
However, as most people are aware, these groups can also represent more nefarious interests, such as those of tobacco firms or of questionable political affiliations. In international relations the term "interest group" has been replaced with the anodyne initials NGO. The UN has a list of some three thousand accredited NGO's some of which are indeed benign but many that have clear political agendas.
UN Accredited NGO's include IHH (Insani Yardim Vakfi), the Turkish NGO that instigated the Gaza flotilla, and the "Palestinian Grassroots Anti-Apartheid Wall Campaign" whose political agenda at least is self apparent. However, most UN accredited NGOs have names that suggest the protection of children, human rights or health concerns. Masked by seemingly innocuous names are political bodies with agendas that are often anti democratic and anti Israeli. A large part of the delegitimization of Israel campaign is conducted by NGO's with political agendas. They are also the driving force behind human rights conferences (such as UN Durban) that are turned into hate-Israel fests.
By nature, interest groups or NGOs lack transparency and are accountable, if at all, only to their members and to their financial backers. The financing of NGOs comes from private donations but also from government grants. The European Union alone allocates some 800 million Euro annually to various NGOs. The Israel based organization "NGO Monitor" has attempted to publicly disclose the financing of some anti-Israel NGOs, with varying degrees of success.
NGOs are here to stay on the international scene, but perhaps it would be useful if now and again they were appropriately labeled "interest groups." It’s time we differentiate between genuine do-gooders and groups out to sully the Jewish state.
The writer teaches international law at the Hebrew University and is the former legal adviser to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.