A matter of sovereignty: NGOs vs Israel

Core of controversy surrounding NGOs in Israel is not only whether their activities are detrimental to the state, but inordinate influence on public opinion.

New Israel Fund logo 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
New Israel Fund logo 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The core of the controversy surrounding scores of politically-motivated NGOs in Israel is not only whether their activities are detrimental to the state, but their inordinate influence in shaping government policy, media perceptions, and public opinion.
Virtually totally funded by foreign governments, the EU/EC, anti-Israeli organizations and church groups, these NGOs have direct and indirect ties with government officials who are empowered to decide crucial issues.
Many of these officials are and/or were associated with controversial NGOs, a clear conflict of interest – and, if not illegal, certainly unethical.
With access to those in power and a sympathetic media, these NGOs exploit Israeli democracy and manipulate the judicial system to further their political agendas disguised as free speech and humanitarian concerns.
Israelis are asking, therefore, what right foreign governments, organizations, foundations and churches critical of Israeli policies and harmful to Jews have to promote their interests through local NGOs.
This is not about legitimate rights to protest abuses of civil and humanitarian rights, but attempts to change the basic nature of the state and undermine its values and ethos.
Their relentless attack against the right of Jews to live in eastern Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria strikes at Israel’s right to exist at all.
Pursuing agendas which demonize and delegitimize Israel, these NGOs were involved in the Durban Anti- Racism Conference and provided false information to the UNHRC Commission on Gaza headed by Richard Goldstone.
Since these controversial NGOs receive almost no funds from Israelis, why should they be considered “Israeli?” They are essentially foreign NGOs staffed by Israelis and in some cases non-Israelis.
Reports prepared by NGO-Monitor, the Institute for Strategic Studies and Im Tirzu, based on financial records filed with Rasham Ha’amutot, which approves non-profit organizations, focused primarily on funds received by controversial NGOs particularly from foreign governments. The full picture, however, reveals that the NGOs are almost entirely and exclusively funded by foreign groups – directly and indirectly.
In 2010, for example, Breaking the Silence received about NIS 3.1 million; 1.5 million from the EU, UK and Spanish government. The rest came from Oxfam, the New Israel Fund (NIF), Dutch, German, Danish and Irish church organizations, and even NDC, the Palestinian NGO which promotes Boycott/Divest/Sanctions (BDS) campaigns.
In 2010, B’Tselem received about NIS 9.3 million; 1.75 million from Norway, EU and Britain. The rest came from Dutch, Irish, Swedish, German, Danish church organizations, NDC, George Soros’ Open Society, NIF and private foundations.
Peace Now’s latest listed budget (2009) was about NIS 4 million; NIS 2.1 million from Norway, Britain and Belgium. NIS 1.6 million came from American Friends of Peace Now, and NIS 250,000 from Canadian Friends and George Soros.
With deep pockets, these NGOs engage in domestic “lawfare,” using the judicial system and media against Israel and Jews.
Several years ago, for example, Peace Now charged that 85 percent of Ma’ale Adumim was built on “private Palestinian/Beduin land” and produced a lavish booklet filled with maps to prove their point. The story was front-page news until a week later; when challenged, Peace Now admitted that they were wrong. The media which had proclaimed Peace Now’s charges didn’t bother to print a correction and the damage was done.
Numerous legal actions brought against government policy and Jews living in disputed areas are initiated by foreign-funded NGOs like Peace Now, Yesh Din and ACRI – whose members and associates have judicial, academic and prosecutorial roles. Late justice Haim Cohen, for example, was one of the founders of ACRI. Bringing cases to the High Court allows the court to make policy unilaterally.
Without any ability to challenge these decisions, they become law.
Critics of proposed Knesset legislation to restrict anti-Israel NGOs charge that it undermines democracy and stifles free speech.
Its advocates argue that the NGOs in question serve as propagandists against Israel, threaten the state’s democratic system via their exaggerated claims and influence and cripple Israel’s ability to defend itself in the international community.
Why do foreign organizations pour hundreds of millions of dollars and Euros into political NGOs that have nothing to do with their national or genuine humanitarian interests? Why do they pay for publications which present Israel one-dimensionally as a violator of human and civil rights – intended to malign Israel around the world? This dispute is about the absence of accountability and a lack of transparency.
That means not only listing one’s sponsors, but full disclosure, including of transfers of funds between NGOs and of how funds are used. For example, although the EU no longer sends funds directly to B’Tselem, it does so indirectly via funds to ACRI which are sent to B’Tselem and other NGOs.
Minimally, the Rasham Ha’amutot has the authority to monitor contributions to NGOs and the relationship between these NGOs and foreign interests who may be inimical to the Jewish state. Monitoring means data collection and dissemination of that data, including detailed reports on their activities, sources of funding, governance, etc., as is done in the US, for example.
The mechanism that NGO Monitor has developed to evaluate NGOs can be used by the Rasham, the Comptroller and a special Knesset committee to develop criteria for approval and full transparency.
Restricting the ability of foreign governments, churches and foundations to fund programs and activities which harm Jews and the state demonstrates Israeli sovereignty and national self-respect.
The author is a PhD historian, writer and journalist.