Ship of fools

The 'Free Gaza' voyage demonstrates how EU governments are funding the politicized agendas of NGOs.

gaza boats 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
gaza boats 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
When the "Free Gaza" voyage belatedly reached its destination, the fanfare and world attention that its organizers craved was thankfully largely absent. Claims that they had "broken the blockade" were quickly refuted by the Israeli government, which well understood that the voyage had little to do with humanitarian aid and everything to do with publicity. This important lesson must be learned by others, including European governments which are among the donors to the Free Gaza organizers. There is no doubt that the Free Gaza crossing was nothing more than an expensive publicity stunt. Claims by its organizers of a "humanitarian mission" are refuted by simple logic. The activists estimated that the voyage cost in excess of $300,000, yet the only genuine humanitarian cargo consisted of several hundred hearing aids. Beyond the possibility that Free Gaza purchased history's most expensive hearing devices, one wonders how much genuine aid could have been purchased at this cost. More worrying, is the moral danger posed by the Free Gaza organization. Theirs is one of the clearest examples of a radical agenda masquerading as human rights. Free Gaza is a coalition of several groups, including the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), Israel Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD) and Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR). ISM has a shameful record of placing foreign nationals in danger through encouraging "direct action," most recently as a leading force in the violent protests against the security barrier at Ni'lin. In 2003, ISM's ideology was underscored when terrorists, originating from the UK, used ISM as a cover to attack the Mike's Place bar in Tel Aviv, murdering three people. As part of Free Gaza, ISM attempts to veil its extremism beneath the cause of humanitarian aid. Less notorious although no less pernicious are the activities of ICAHD. Manipulating the language of human rights to promote a similar ideological agenda, ICAHD refers to Israel as an "apartheid" state and promotes anti-Israel boycotts. ICAHD's director, Jeff Halper has been one of Free Gaza's leading spokesmen. WORRYINGLY, SEVERAL European governments are hoodwinked by the "humanitarian" agenda of radical NGOs, allocating them significant funds. The European Union, under its Partnership for Peace program, awarded ICAHD a two-year grant of 473,000 euros in 2005, comprising the majority of ICAHD's 2006 annual budget. Recently the Spanish government too deemed ICAHD a worthy recipient of its funds. Meanwhile, another Free Gaza member, PCHR, receives funding from the Danish, Norwegian and Irish governments. The EU and others argue that their funds are directed to specific projects, rather than organizations in their entirety. But, European government backing affords significant legitimacy to these NGOs and their politicized agendas, in which they too are implicated. The exploits of Free Gaza, Halper and his cohorts come with a European stamp of approval. European governments have, perhaps unwittingly, placed themselves in the midst of a stunt orchestrated by extreme groups and endorsed by Hamas. The Israeli government commendably recognized the agenda of the Free Gaza organizers and denied them the confrontation which they so desired. European governments must internalize this important lesson. NGOs are guilty of manipulating the rhetoric of human rights, betraying genuine humanitarian principles in the process. Yet the European governments, whose money legitimizes this practice, are also complicit. So long as they continue to support radical NGOs, charades such as Free Gaza will continue. The writer is communications director of NGO Monitor.