Terra Incognita: The European lobby in Israel

The EU, realizing it cannot get Israel to change its laws through diplomatic means, has resorted to creating an internal lobby - through lavish funding of NGOs - to get Israel to bend.

A Beduin woman and child 311 AJ (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
A Beduin woman and child 311 AJ
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Ever since the publication of John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt's The Israel Lobby there has been much talk of the "lobby." In England mainstream and respectable Channel 4 aired an entire program entitled Inside Britain's Israel Lobby which claimed the "lobby" "owns" the Conservative Party. Amidst all the talk of an Israel lobby in the West, people have ignored the growth of a lobby located in the Holy Land itself, the European lobby in Israel.
The European Parliament adopted the European Initiative for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR) in 1994. This was part of the European Union's broader belief that "democracy and human rights are universal values that should be vigorously promoted around the world." The initiative was supposed to promote democratization through the promotion of "fair and free" elections and mainstreaming "democratic values" through "accountability, transparency and equality."
In 2007, a subtle change in the name of the EIDHR was made. The word "initiative" was changed to "instrument." This seemingly banal change may be a result of semantic arguments among EU staffers but it puts in words the increasingly meddlesome way the EU has chosen to work within Israel.
The EU may have realized during the second intifada that its concerns were not being listened to. Perhaps they heeded the increasingly alarmist statements of Israelis themselves, such as former Haaretz editor David Landau who in 2007 told US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice that the US needed to "rape" Israel into a settlement with the Palestinians. Regardless of the exact cause, in 2002 the European Union began lavishly funding non-governmental organizations in Israel. It claimed that it was doing this because of "the vital contribution made by NGOs to the promotion and protection of the principles of liberty, democracy, respect for human rights and the rule of law."
Between 2002 and 2008, a total of $14 million was granted to various Israeli NGOs through the EIDHR. My investigation of the NGOs that received funding revealed that the lion's share of the money benefited two groups: Palestinians and Israeli Arabs. $5.5 million was directed specifically to causes for Palestinians such as the Association for Civil Rights in Israel's project "Building a Better Future: Empowering the Palestinian Residents of East Jerusalem to access their planning and house [sic] rights" which received $135,000. A further $7m. went specifically to programs that benefit only Israeli Arabs such as the al-Awna fund's "Master Plan for the Unrecognized Beduin Villages: Securing minority rights for housing and social services" which received $263,000. Even when the EIDHR funded programs for women it did so only for programs for Beduin or Israeli Arab women, except for a token $100,000 it gave to an organization called Isha le Isha (Woman to Woman) which helps fight women trafficking.
There was not one cent directed specifically towards any of the numerous and diverse Jewish communities in Israel: Ethiopians, Russians, Yemenites, Persians or Jews from the Caucasus. The only mention of Jewish citizens as potential recipients was in a grant to the Mossawa Center, the advocacy center for Arab citizens in Israel. It received $402,000 for a project that "aims to combat racism and transform inter-communal relations between target groups who include the Jewish majority, Arab minority and ethnic groups including the Russian, Ethiopian, Mizrahi and Reform Jewish communities."
Around $73,000 was directed towards former IDF soldiers. It wasn't to help them with trauma or reward them for a "shared citizenship." It was to get them to "break the silence" about what they witnessed while in the army, to provide testimony that might lead to a process whereby European courts might put the soldiers or their officers on trial for war crimes. Of course that is not what Breaking the Silence stated for the public. They described their project as "personal encounters with former Israeli combat soldiers."
THE EIDHR's "instrument" to affect Israeli policy is merely the tip of the iceberg. In its November 2009 report "Trojan Horse: The impact of European government funding for Israeli NGOs" NGO Monitor illustrated that individual European embassies in Israel and other EU projects give lavishly to Israeli NGOs, sometimes even making up the majority of their budgets. In fact "foreign-funded local NGOs are responsible for a significant portion of the petitions brought before the Israeli High Court of Justice," says the report.
The EU, realizing it could not get Israel to change its laws through diplomatic means, has resorted to creating an internal lobby within Israel to get Israel to bend to the will of Europe.
Israel's human rights organizations would counter that it is not important where their money comes from, their cause is just. It is also true that some Israeli human rights organizations view everything through the lens of the conflict, meaning they apply only for projects involving Palestinians or "Palestinian citizens of Israel" and don't have an interest in the rights of the Jewish population of the country.
Shatil, which claims to help Ethiopian Jews, applied for $1m. for Beduin and $1m. "to educate and raise awareness among the Arab residents of Israel's five Jewish/Arab mixed cities" and nothing for the Ethiopians.
The question is whether the EU funding of these organizations constitutes the creation of a shadow lobby. The EIDHR doesn't directly sue Israel on behalf of the freedom of movement of Palestinians. Instead it funds local NGOs that do. Furthermore the EIDHR sends $8.4m. in funding directly to NGOs in the Palestinian territories on top of the money it gives to Israeli NGOs whose projects only benefit Palestinians.
In every other country in the world, the EIDHR directs its funding towards large-scale projects supporting "democracy" and "civil society." In Egypt it gave $10m. (2003-2008), none of which went specifically towards projects for the minority Coptic Christians.
It is time for those, especially in Europe, who speak about a"Jewish/Israel" lobby to recognize that for eight years Europe hasdirected a concerted effort towards establishing a European lobby inIsrael that discriminates against its Jewish population and supportssome radical NGOs.
The writer is a PhD researcher at the Hebrew University.