EU Funding of Israeli NGOs: More than for all the rest of the Middle East

EU Funding of Israeli NGOs: More than for all the rest of the Middle East

Following up on the post Tuesday concerning controversial Israeli proposals to limit or tax foreign government funding to “political’ Non-Governmental Organisations in Israel, a Jerusalem Post editorial on the subject has an interesting fact that may help explain why some Israelis are so concerned about the issue:

…European governments spend more on left-wing NGOs operating in Israel – between $75 million and $100m. a year – than their total contributions to nonprofit human rights groups in other Middle East countries, according to NGO Monitor.

We hope the Europeans will begin to realize that their money would be best put to use not in Israel, the region’s only true democracy, but in places such as Syria, Yemen, Egypt and elsewhere where human rights are regularly and egregiously trampled.

That’s right. The EU spends more on financing far left Israelis to condemn the policies of their own governments – something they can do quite adequately as part of the normal public debate in Israel – that they do on encouraging human right groups across the whole rest of the Middle East. And let’s remember, this is the region in the world where such rights are most conspicuously lacking, according to objective measures, such as those compiled by “Freedom House.”

The Post also notes, correctly, that human rights groups can and do play a role in Israeli democracy, and in helping Israel’s security forces aspire to maintain the highest moral standards even while engaging in difficult, morally fraught, but often necessary operations and activities. But its also worth remembering that if you pay individuals already inclined to be highly critical of their society large amounts of money to find human right abuses, there is a great likelihood that they will, one way or another, find something to criticise. Therefore, the mere existence of criticism or allegations from such groups tells one very little until the allegations, the evidence for them, and especially the interpretation of human rights provisions being applied are examined closely.

(I emphasise the last because I so frequently see allegations of “human right abuses” from Western NGOs based on interpretations of human rights treaty provisions which are completely divorced from the original purpose or language of the actual provisions, but which instead represent what some activist or NGO think the law should be.)

The point is that this degree of funding of Israeli NGOs – compared to those in countries with much worse records – is clearly not about human rights but about attempting to influence policy. It would be comparable to China funding the Greens party in Australia, or Moscow’s financial support for communist parties in the West during the Cold War. Such foreign political interference is regulated in most countries, so it is hardly surprising that Israel is seeking to do the same.

Tzvi Fleischer