Groups spar with NGO Monitor over foreign funding

Watchdog group report finds foreign government funding for Israeli organizations totaled NIS 34,355,579 in 2012.

Dollar bills 370 (photo credit: Steve Marcus / Reuters)
Dollar bills 370
(photo credit: Steve Marcus / Reuters)
Foreign government funding for Israeli organizations totaled NIS 34,355,579 in 2012, according to a report issued on Monday by the NGO Monitor watchdog group.
2012 was the first year in which Israeli non-governmental organizations were required to report such donations, in line with the 2011 NGO transparency law.
NGO Monitor reported on the funding of 30 local organizations “from a number of foreign governments” to finance what it describes as “political advocacy.”
“NGOs receive funding from two primary channels, either via direct funding from foreign governments, or indirectly via third parties such as foundations and humanitarian, development, and religious NGOs,” according to NGO Monitor.
The NGO transparency law was the source of controversy when it was introduced and was among a number of initiatives, along with the so-called “Nakba Law” – which fines state-funded organizations that reject Israel as a Jewish state or mourn on Independence Day by declaring it a nakba (“catastrophe” in Arabic”) for Palestinians – and the anti-boycott bill, that were condemned by critics as “anti-democratic.”
The law states that a “recipient of support that received a donation from a foreign governmental body will submit [a report], within a week of the end of the quarter in which the donation was received.”
The Association for Civil Rights in Israel condemned the law when it was proposed, asserting that “despite claims made by the promoters of this law, as though it is intended to increase transparency – in practice its purpose is to delegitimize and curtail the activities of organizations that receive funds from, among other sources, foreign states.”
NGO Monitor president Prof. Gerald Steinberg stated that he believes the law to be an “international model for transparency.”
“It has been proven to be effective and serves as a contribution to the democratic processes. Once received, the funding information is made public, allowing all Israelis to access data on the influence of foreign governments on political discourse,” Steinberg said, adding that he views “the amount of foreign funding going to NGOs involved in polarizing activity in the context of the Arab-Israeli conflict” as “alarming.”
The positions taken by NGOs receiving foreign funding, he said, are “often contrary to the stated positions of the government funders.”
“Additionally, some of the donors involved through indirect government support, such as Christian Aid, Diakonia, and the Norwegian Refugee Council, are also involved in the Durban strategy based on delegitimization campaigns targeting Israel,” Steinberg continued.
Norway was the biggest donor to Israeli NGOs, NGO Monitor reported, with NIS 4,598,507 NIS donated to local organizations both directly and through third parties.
B’Tselem led Israeli NGOs in the amount of foreign funding, the report stated, with NIS 4,144,203 received, followed by ACRI with NIS 3,614,668.
ACRI spokesman Marc Grey took issue with Steinberg’s assertions, telling The Jerusalem Post that his organization’s donors are already listed on its website and that “the transparency law is as redundant today as it was when it was passed.”
Grey stated that “far from being deleterious, foreign funding to human rights organizations supports the protections of human rights and freedoms fundamental to the ongoing health of the state.”
“Beyond the fact that the basis for Israel’s relations with democratic countries is shared values – democracy and human rights above all – the State of Israel itself is a recipient of funds from these very same countries, in the framework of trade agreements, investments, loans, and donations,” he said.
Sarit Michaeli, the spokeswoman for B’Tselem, also responded negatively to the report, saying that NGO Monitor’s figures constitute “information B’Tselem has published on its website for years, long before we were legally required to do so.”
“NGO Monitor are Israeli government apologists masquerading as an objective watchdog,” she said. “They do not even practice what they preach in terms of their own transparency and their sloppy, third-rate research.”
“It seems that NGO Monitor can’t even calculate numbers properly, as they report completely missed several donations appearing in our quarterly reports, amounting to a gap of over 2 million NIS. This miscalculation not only ridicules their sloppy research, but also casts doubts on their conclusions about the amounts of funds provided by different countries,” Michaeli added.