Does the EU hear the Israeli public?

Terror-ties are not an isolated problem.

A European Union flag flies outside the European Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, December 19, 2019. (photo credit: REUTERS/YVES HERMAN)
A European Union flag flies outside the European Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, December 19, 2019.
(photo credit: REUTERS/YVES HERMAN)
Last October, the EU Delegation to Israel published an unusual tender, worth €285,000, soliciting the assistance of local public relations companies in order to “change the negative image” of Europe in Israel.
The proposal cites an EU-commissioned survey which demonstrates the extent of Israeli public mistrust of Europe. According to the survey, 55% see the EU as Israel’s “enemy,” while only 18% identify it as a “friend.” According to the Israeli news outlet ICE, the results of the survey reaffirm negative perceptions toward EU member states on a number of fronts, including their funding to non-governmental organizations (NGOs), claims that the EU supports the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign directly or indirectly, and even accusations that it “supports terror entities indirectly.”
These attitudes, apparently held by many Israelis, did not emerge suddenly. The EU is completely out of sync with Israelis on the issues that strike the deepest emotional chords, and is seen as tone deaf, at best, in appreciating the Israeli perspective.
Even if the public learns about the EU’s investment in cutting-edge scientific research at Israeli universities, they will not soon forget about how Europe flirts with BDS with product labeling or treating the anti-Israel movement as merely free speech.
Israelis see that the EU engages selectively with a narrow ideological group of civil society, such as B’Tselem and Breaking the Silence. They hear the repeated condemnations of Israeli policy concerning Area C of the West Bank, as if this is the major issue on the EU’s agenda.
Then there is EU and European funding for organizations that delegitimize Israel, including those that have ties to groups which the EU itself designates as terrorist entities. Two months after the European tender proposal, the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) announced it had uncovered a 50-person terrorist network operated in the West Bank by one of these groups, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). The statement named several leading PFLP figures, several who currently or previously worked for European-funded NGOs in financial roles.
Samer Arbid, suspected of having commanded a PFLP terrorist cell that murdered a 17-year old Israeli girl in August 2019, worked as the accountant of the PFLP-affiliated NGO Union of Agricultural Work Committees (UAWC) at the time of his arrest. UAWC is funded directly and indirectly by the Netherlands, Germany, France, Belgium, Spain and Norway. Arbid previously worked as an accountant for the PFLP-tied NGO Addameer, funded by Norway, Ireland, Spain, Switzerland and the German Heinrich Böll Foundation.
Abdel Razeq Farraj, who was indicted for authorizing the bombing, was finance and administration director of UAWC.
Walid Hanatsheh, finance and administration manager at the PFLP-linked and EU-, Spain-, and Sweden-funded Health Work Committees (HWC), led PFLP “military” operations in the West Bank, commanded Arbid, and was responsible for the terrorist cell’s funds, according to his indictment.
These terror-ties are not an isolated problem.
NGO Monitor has for years warned of current and former NGO board members, officials and employees affiliated with the PFLP terrorist organization. Some of these individuals have publicly participated in PFLP events, while others served prison sentences for crimes committed as part of the terrorist group.
Recently, the EU and a handful of countries instituted safeguards meant to prevent funds from reaching terrorist groups, including the EU’s introduction of an anti-terrorist clause in its grant contracts. These measures have been met by strident protests from the Palestinian Authority and Palestinian NGOs, suggesting that Europeans may waffle if they want to remain popular in Ramallah.
The key question is whether the new policies will be vigorously implemented, or if the NGOs’ terrorist connections will continue to be ignored or excused. After all, European governments have funded these NGOs for years despite the evidence of terrorist links. In addition, it is unclear if funding provided via the UN would be subject to these regulations, creating a significant loophole and means for Europe to circumvent its legal obligations.
Israelis rightfully wonder if European governments would deal so casually with organizations connected to ISIS. Would an NGO working in Europe be lavished with funding and legitimacy if its employees and board members were photographed at an al-Qaeda rally, let alone arrested as a part of a terrorist cell?
Perhaps there is a better way for Europe to improve its image in Israel than by hiring PR companies.
European governments should instead heed the Israeli public’s criticism, increase oversight over their foreign aid, and end funding to radical NGOs and terrorist-tied groups.
The writer is a senior researcher at NGO Monitor, a Jerusalem-based research institute.