The government of Sweden should be commended for convening the International Forum on Holocaust Remembrance and Combating Antisemitism in the city of Malmo this week. Seventy-five years after Nazi Germany and its allies perpetrated the Shoah, Jew-hatred is again (or still) manifested in growing levels of vicious incitement and violent attacks in Europe, North America and elsewhere.
But in parallel, many of the participating governments, including the Swedish hosts, are complicit in the systematic efforts to demonize Israel, the Jewish state, which is the main component of 21st-century antisemitism. The new hate takes the form of obsessive and single-minded anti-Zionism, wrapped in a facade of support for “Palestinian suffering” at the top of the ideological pantheon.
Many of these campaigns are led by powerful non-governmental organizations (NGOs) claiming to promote agendas based on human rights and international law. These groups, in turn, are often funded by European governments – the same ones, including Sweden, that hold conferences and declare their firm opposition to antisemitism.
For 20 years, beginning with the infamous antisemitic Durban NGO Forum, European-funded networks have been at the center of the boycott movement (BDS). They also cooperate with officials in the UN Human Rights Council and the International Criminal Court (ICC) in promoting false or highly distorted accusations used to push images of Israeli war crimes and “apartheid.”
In using these labels, NGOs and their followers are singling out and delegitimizing Israel, regardless of borders or policies, and uniquely denying the Jewish people the right of self-determination. In turn, this propaganda is transformed into incitement and violence.
If the governments of Sweden, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and the rest were serious about countering antisemitism, they would begin by openly investigating the uses and abuses of the NGO industry. European governments, together, allocate on the order of €100 million annually to what are actually FONGOs (foreign government-funded NGOs) active in these campaigns. This is a massive amount of money, focused year after year on demonizing one country – Israel.
With such large budgets and almost no oversight, NGOs are easy vehicles for political manipulation. They also have direct access to media platforms and government officials who either sympathize with their ideological agendas or see them as unbiased sources of expertise (this is known as the NGO halo effect). The publications and statements that demonize Israel are quoted and echoed without fact-checking by ministers, members of parliament and journalists, greatly amplifying their influence.
Sweden is among the most active supporters of the NGO purveyors of hate and anti-Zionist invective. Some groups supported by the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA) are members of the network closely linked to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which is included in the lists of terror organizations by Israel, the US, Canada, and the European Union. SIDA has allocated over $8 million over four years to the Palestinian NGO Development Center (NDC), which, in turn, distributes this money to Al Haq, Defense for Children International Palestine (DCIP), and others in the PFLP network. SIDA also funds Diakonia ($11 million from 2015 to 2021), a church-based framework that exploits international legal rhetoric for anti-Israel BDS and lawfare, including the apartheid libel.
Germany is another country funding NGO hate and obsessive anti-Zionism, while its leaders, including outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel, publicly condemn antisemitism. Under the guise of human rights and international law, German government money is distributed to many of the same organizations through a maze of non-transparent funding frameworks. Inexplicably, German diplomats even post pictures of their meetings with the NGO officials leading the demonization campaigns.
In this reality of violence and hate justified as responses to false claims of Israeli “apartheid” and “war crimes,” and in the wake of the Malmo conference, the participants must go beyond the somber Holocaust memorials and words condemning 21st-century antisemitism. By acting to end this abuse of human rights by NGOs, they would do something with historic significance.
The first step would be to follow the lead of the European Union in clearly stating that “EU external funds, in compliance with existing measures, may not be misallocated to activities that incite hatred and violence, including against Jewish people.” In this context, it is essential that the language of the working definition of antisemitism, adopted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, be incorporated in all NGO contracts. This document was written in the shadow of the Durban conference and has become the consensus framework.
These are small steps, which by themselves will not eliminate antisemitism in Europe or elsewhere. But such measures would send an important message and begin a process of countering the 21st century’s primary source of hatred directed at the Jewish people.
The writer is founder and president of NGO Monitor and professor emeritus at Bar-Ilan University, where he founded the Program on Conflict Management and Negotiation.