“Understanding” and “explaining” Palestinian terrorism/Israel’s NGO problem
Feb 12, 2016
Update from AIJAC
February 12, 2016
Number 02/16 #03
This Update leads with some discussion of the moral and political problem with the tendency of some, including, recently, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, to attempt to explain and “understand” why Palestinians resort to terrorism even as one condemns the specific acts. It also contains a long, important discussion of the debate in Israel over proposed new transparency regulations for the many Israel-based Non-Governmental Organisations which gain most of their funding from European governments.
We lead with a thoughtful comment on efforts to be “fair-minded” and understand the motives for terrorism penned by academic moral philosopher Prof. Andrew Pessin. Pessin argues that ‘”fair-mindedness” may seem laudable – and often is – but is simply not appropriate in condemning a terrorist attack – on the Charlie Hebdo attacks in France, or in terror against Israel. Once such acts are condemned, adding a “but” seeming to explain why the attack was somewhat understandable, means that what listeners take away is the condemnation of the victim – and rather than discussing “discipline, punishment, disincentives for the wrong action, incentives toward alternate actions” in response to terrorism, you are essentially saying the terrorism should be rewarded and incentivised. For his complete argument, put much better than in this short summary, CLICK HERE.
Next, noted Israeli counter-terrorism expert Dr. Ely Karmon discusses how this” I condemn it, but” approach has incentivised a program of Palestinian terrorism since at least 1968 – one that has played a major role in preventing Israeli-Palestinian peace. And he stresses that this has been at considerable cost to the world at large, with most contemporary terrorism linked to the Palestinian model – not only as an inspiration and example, but also through direct training and other organisational links that affect not only the Japanese Red Army, the Basque ETA and Hezbollah, but al-Qaeda. Karmon details both the history of the long Palestinian terror campaign and how it linked into later terror by other groups. To read it all, CLICK HERE.
Finally, Prof. Gerald Steinberg, academic and head of the group NGO Monitor, looks at the current debate in Israel about a proposed law to force NGOs who gain most of their funding from foreign governments to disclose this fact. After discussing some recent embarrassing revelations about some of these NGOs, he goes on to provide evidence that the NGO problem is part of a deliberate and virtually unprecedented policy by European states to use nominally Israeli NGOs to attempt to change Israel policy toward the Palestinians. He is critical of the efforts by NGOs and their allies to portray the proposed law, whose effect he says would be largely symbolic, as McCarthyism or censorship, and also has some discussion of the problematic role of the US-based charity the New Israel Fund, which he blames for much of this. For Steinberg’s detailied brief on the subject, CLICK HERE.
Readers may also be interested in:
- Aaron Kalman of Steinberg’s NGO Monitor takes on a report on Australia’s ABC about the proposed NGO law.
- The Jerusalem Post on Ban Ki-Moon’s comments on terrorism. Meanwhile, Palestinian media outlets are already citing the Secretary-General’s comments as justifying terror attacks.
- An analysis of why Moon may have chosen to take this particular tack at this time, when he has never made any similar comments about other terror attacks.
- A look at the larger moral relativism of the UN on Israeli-Palestinian issues from Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld and Jamie Ber. Plus, Anne Bayefsky of Human Rights Voices on the UN’s larger problem dealing with both terrorism and Islamist extremism.
- Israeli security reporter Ron Ben Yishai on the evolving Palestinian wave of terrorism and how Israeli is coping with it, and what more can be done.
- For those who haven’t read about it, Israeli Opposition Leader Yitzhak Herzog earlier this week got his Labor party to approve a new peace policy predicated on the reality recognised by most Israelis that a two-state peace is simply not achievable in the short term.
- Sharyn Mittelman on signs of growing investment in the Israel start-up scene by both Australian and Asian companies.
JNS.org There are too many recent examples to work with. The hacking to death of rabbis at prayer. The Charlie Hebdo, Hyper Cacher, and November 2015 Paris massacres. The knifing of pregnant women, and of a mother of six in front of her children. Each of these attacks draws a decent amount of condemnation and outrage. But then you immediately start hearing something else as well. Im not talking about the comments of those who support these murders; thats for another conversation. Im talking about those people who, in the interest of being fair-minded, start trying to explain and make sense of these murders.
When it comes to attacks against Israel and Jews, it goes something like this: I dont approve of it, but I understand it. The frustration and despair felt by the Palestinians, the occupation, the settlements, the loss of hope. Here, for example, is United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Jan. 26 discussing this years wave of Palestinian attacks on Israeli Jews, in which several dozen Jews have been murdered: It is human nature to react to occupation Palestinian frustration is growing under the weight of a half century of occupation and the paralysis of the peace process Security measures alone will not stop the violence. They cannot address the profound sense of alienation and despair driving some Palestinians.
So does the chief of the UN condone or endorse such attacks? Of course not: Stabbings, vehicle attacks, and shootings by Palestinians targeting Israeli civilians all of which I condemn and clashes between Palestinians and Israeli security forces, have continued to claim lives, Ban said.
Leave aside for a moment whether Bans explanations are even correct. I want to point to a deeper issue.
Being fair-minded is not always appropriate.
Fair-mindedness comes from a good place. We want to understand others, empathize with them, and grasp the perspective of the other side, etc. When a situation is complicated, then it should be approached with nuance and care. I think all of that is just fantastic, and we should embrace it unequivocally in certain contexts: when we are doing scholarly work, for example, and when we are having conversations and debates with others who share our appreciation for those same values.
Nuance is often good but not when it dangerously obscures what is black and white.
Take the Charlie Hebdo case. Many people could agree (myself included) that Charlie Hebdos satirical cartoons were in bad taste, offensive, understandably appalling to some or many Muslims, even wrong in some very strong sense yet many people also agree that these facts did not make the cartoonists deserving of cold-blooded execution. The latter is black and white. Those attacks were wrong, outrageously so, period. Any subsequent effort to explain and understand cannot but sound like an effort to justify. Yes those murders were wrong, but .
There is no but. Acts like these force you to make a choice: either right or wrong, period. Explanation and understanding are good, but they must precede your moral evaluation. Once youve reached your moral conclusion they must be put away, lest they become conflated with justification. For all the explanation and understanding in the world cannot turn a wrong action into a right one.
Confusing explanation and justification in this way has enormously problematic consequences.
Think about what follows when Ban Ki-moon does precisely this: I condemn these Palestinian attacks, but . He says he condemns, but all the rest of his words, in explaining, support those attacks. What everyone takes away from his remarks is that whats really wrong is not the Palestinian murdering but the Israeli occupation, the security measures, and so on. The only conclusion that can then be reached is that the more Palestinians murder Jews, the more the Jews must concede to the Palestinians in their very difficult and long-lasting conflict.
But this is entirely backward.
Normally we think that when people do wrong acts, we should not accommodate them. But Bans fair-minded remarks suggest the opposite: that the more Palestinians do these wrong acts, the more we should accommodate them.
Once youve decided an action is wrong, you must act appropriately. Dont merely say you condemn but take concrete steps such as these: call for discipline, punishment, disincentives for the wrong action, incentives toward alternate actions, and so on.
Im not saying there is no place for explanation. Nor am I defending the occupation here, or any particular Israeli practices. That is for another conversation.
They become justification.
And if you are truly fair-minded, including toward the Jewish victims of these attacks, then you should not be justifying them.
Andrew Pessin is a professor of philosophy at Connecticut College, and the author of several philosophy books for the general reader and a novel. For more information, visit www.andrewpessin.com.
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In his remarks to the Security Council on the situation in the Middle East, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon recently condemned stabbings, vehicle attacks, and shootings by Palestinians targeting Israeli civilians. He even condemned the continuing rocket fire into Israel from militant groups in Gaza.
But in unusually strong language he ascribed these acts to growing Palestinian frustration and grievances under the weight of a half century of occupation and the paralysis of the peace process. He also stated that progress towards peace requires a freeze of Israels settlement enterprise.
The Secretary-General repeated his statements in a January 31 New York Times op-ed after being rebuked by Israeli PM Netanyahu.
This author is extremely critical of Israels settlement policies and its negative consequences on the relations between the two peoples but also of the role of the international community and more specifically the United Nations in the present situation.
On a deeper historical level, the UN Secretary-General does not mention or does not understand the half century frustration of the Israeli people, who sincerely hoped to achieve peace with the Palestinians: the decision by Arab states not to recognize and negotiate with Israel until the blessed decision of President Sadat of Egypt to make peace in 1977; the waves of Palestinian terrorism inside Israel and through its borders sponsored by most of the Arab regimes.
Moreover, at the time as today it was not politically correct to state the truth: by attacking Israelis and Jews all over the world and sometimes American and Western interests, the Palestinians, not the jihadists, have been the pioneers of the global terrorism that now threatens the international community and many of the UN members.
The Palestinians succeeded in executing their nefarious plans with the active support of the Syrian, Iraqi and Libyan regimes and the fear of their victims in the West or elsewhere of reacting forcefully.
A short non-comprehensive list: The first hijacking of a civilian airplane, El Al in 1968; the hijacking and the bombing of 4 airplanes in 1970 in Jordan and Cairo (Pan Am, TWA, Swissair and BOAC) and the attempts of suicide air attacks by the PFLP, preparing the scenario of 9/11; the first attack on the Munich Olympics in 1972 (think of the billions of dollars invested since that tragic event in the security of the Olympic Games everywhere on the globe!); the first use of anti-aerial missiles against civil aviation (Rome 1971), barometer bombs in airplanes already in 1970 (Swiss Air flight 330 all 47 passengers killed, and Austrian Airlines, without loss of life) and liquid bombs (Chianti nitroglycerine bombs); the first attacks against synagogues, Jewish schools and Israeli embassies (from Brussels to Bangkok); and attacks against Western and American interests (1977, the PFLP hijacked Lufthansa flight LH181, etc.).
Most of the perpetrators of these attacks, including youngsters 14-15 years old (like the Palestinians of today) sent from Lebanon or Jordan, were quickly released by most of the countries involved, even when their own citizens were the victims. No Arab sponsor that gave refuge to all these terrorists has ever been bothered.
The Palestinian organizations have set the example for terrorists from the Lebanese Hezbollah, German radical leftists or and Tamil Tigers. Before al-Qaeda set up its training camps in Afghanistan, Palestinians were training, in Lebanon, a long list of terrorist organizations, including the Japanese Red Army, the Armenian ASALA, the Argentinian Montoneros, and the Basque ETA.
Some Palestinian terrorist groups preferred to be mercenaries in the service of Iraqi, Syrian or Libyan intelligence agencies targeting Western interests or other Arab countries. These include Fatah Revolutionary Council/Abu Nidal (ANO), Arab Nationalist Youth for the Liberation of Palestine (ANYLP), The Arab Liberation Front (ALF), Al Saiqa.
Imad Mughniyeh, Hezbollahs international operations head and Chief of Staff of its military forces, was Americas most wanted international terrorist, key planner of the bombing of a US marine barracks and French paratroopers in Beirut in 1983, which killed more than 330 people. Mughniyeh began his career in the Palestinian Fatah movement at an early age, remained its member until 1984 and finished it when his car was bombed in Damascus in 2008.
One of the pillars of Al-Qaeda, its ideologue and strategist of jihad was Palestinian Islamic scholar Abdullah Azzam. He created the Mujahideen Services Bureau in Afghanistan, the foundation of international recruits for Al-Qaeda, many of whom held high positions in Al-Qaedas command structure. His teachings about jihad had a huge impact on generations of fighters including on Osama bin Laden himself and his ideas inspire foreign fighters to this day.
Azzam argued for taking the jihad back to Palestine, and was instrumental in the formation of Hamas by supporting it politically, financially and logistically and providing military training in Pakistan. The first generation of the military wing of Hamas Izz al-Din Qassam Brigades was trained by him. Hamas leaders even sent him a draft copy of its charter in 1987 for review.
Hamas is the Islamist organization which derailed the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians by staging, together with the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), the campaigns of suicide terrorism immediately after the signing of the Oslo agreement, all along the 1990s and then during the second bloody intifada, which alienated the Israeli public opinion from the peace process and strengthen those circles in Israeli society who supported the building of settlements.
The 2005 Israeli unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, leaving behind a rich educational and agricultural infrastructure, did not bring peace and development for the local population but rather immediate campaigns of rocket attacks against Israeli territory, the militarization of Gaza under the Hamas elected government and finally the military coup against the legitimate Palestinian Authority and its actual split into two enemy entities.
Ban Ki-moon in his article asks Israeli authorities to unequivocally support the Palestinian Authority and Palestinian institutions and make significant shifts in policies toward the West Bank and Gaza. True, he also tells the Palestinians that change will require of them consistently and firmly denouncing terrorism and taking preventive action to end attacks on Israelis, including an immediate stop to Gaza tunnel construction. But there is no real denunciation by him of the intense incitement by the PA authorities at the highest level and the Hamas government in support of the violence in the West Bank.
Interestingly, Hamas its nefarious terrorism and violence and its dedication to Israels destruction is not mentioned by name even once in the Secretary-Generals statements.
It is time the UN and the international community recognize the Palestinians key role in their present predicament but also the weight of a half century of Israeli peoples frustration and lack of confidence in the Palestinians and their representatives acceptance of a historic compromise for a two state solution.
Ely Karmon, PhD, is Senior Research Scholar at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT) and the Institute for Policy and Strategy (IPS) at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) in Herzliya, Israel.
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One of the biggest controversies in Israel today is over the role of foreign-funded NGOs in influencing the countrys domestic politics. As always, you need to follow the money.
The Tower, February 2016
Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are very big business in Israel. Various NGOsmost of them from the Left and claiming to promote human rights and democracyare very active in the Knesset, in filing lawsuits with the Supreme Court that seek to overturn government policies, and in the media. They receive hundreds of millions of shekels from large foundations and foreign governmentsprimarily European. While the activities of these NGOs are criticized by the Israeli Right, much of the mainstream Israeli media supports them. As a result, the halo effect that protects these NGOs from independent investigation is particularly strong.
But that halo was shattered recently when the popular Israeli television news program Uvda featured a hidden-camera expose of a little-known peace group known as Taayush, led by activist Ezra Nawi. The footage showed Nawi, along with Nasser Nawaja, a Palestinian employee of the NGO BTselem, plotting against an Arab who was negotiating to sell private land in the West Bank to Jews. They were trying to lure the Palestinian into a trap where he would be captured by the Palestinian Authoritys security services. As Nawi coldly noted in the video, under PA law, the sale of Palestinian land to Israelis is punishable by death.
The broadcast became headline news and the fallout continued for weeks. Nawi was arrested at Ben-Gurion Airport when he tried to flee the country. A few days later, a follow-up program aired more hidden-camera footage, this time showing Nawi with officials from two other prominent human rights NGOsBreaking the Silence (BtS) and Rabbis for Human Rights (RHR). Both groups were shown giving money to Nawi, who then handed out checks to Palestinians, apparently for taking part in violent demonstrations. RHR claimed that Nawi was paid for providing transportation services. BtS denounced everyone involved in the program as Stasi, a reference to the notorious East German intelligence service.
The report was particularly explosive because Nawi had been an iconic hero to the far-Left in Israel and beyonda gay Sephardi peace activist and pacifist who embodied Western orientalist myths. Prominent leftists like Noam Chomsky and Naomi Klein described him as one of Israels most courageous human rights activists. David Shulman, who writes highly critical articles on Israel in The New York Review of Books and happens to be a member of Taayush, referred to Nawi as an Israeli Gandhi. In 2009, after Nawi was convicted of assault following a demonstration, he became the focus of an international campaign, including a sympathetic portrayal in Time magazine. The fiercely anti-Zionist Jewish Voice for Peace claimed to have collected 20,000 signatures on a petition to save him from jail. But in 37 minutes, the Channel 2 program destroyed Nawis image.
In a wider context, the timing of the reports was damaging to the entire NGO establishment in Israel. It came in the middle of an intense controversy over the role of Israeli NGOs in the worldwide campaign to demonize Israel through the use of terms such as apartheid, the rise of the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement, and the use of lawfare to charge Israeli officials with war crimes and other supposed transgressions of international law.
Prior to the Uvda broadcasts, BtS and its patrons were the particular focus of growing anger among many Israelis on the Right, center, and even the center-Left. This anger followed a major jump in the visibility of BtS, which reflected the groups million- dollar budget. BtS events in churches, universities, and national parliaments around the world featured anonymous testimony that alleged systematic immorality by IDF soldiers, with no corroborating evidence.
In response, hundreds of IDF reserve officers petitioned the Minister of Defense, demanding that BtS activists be barred from speaking on military bases. In parallel, relatives of terror victims and fallen soldiers demanded that Education Minister Naftali Bennett prohibit BtS from speaking to high school students. NGOs like BTselem were also criticized. On Israels popular Saturday night satire program Gav Hauma, host Lior Schleien did a ten-minute routine based on the issue, primarily lampooning BtS and related NGOs.
Clearly, Uvdas revelations amplified a larger controversy surrounding Israels NGO establishment. Conspiracy to murder was a smoking gun, which even the Israeli center-Left understood to be entirely incompatible with any principles of human rights. Since then, terms like hypocrisy and duplicity have been used with greater frequency, and not only by right-wing critics.
This backlash was a long time in coming. Over the years, political NGOs in Israel have accrued a great deal of power, without the checks and balances provided by the democratic process. This power was often used to oppose the policies of the elected Israeli government, primarily through activism outside of Israel. NGO activists often employed terms such as apartheid and accused Israeli leaders of war crimes, systematic violations of international law, and the suppression of human rights.
It is important to understand that such activities are part of a much larger international campaign against Israel. The infamous NGO Forum at the UNs 2001 World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa, in which 1,500 groups participated, produced a detailed strategy for demonizing Israel based on the anti-apartheid model. This marked the beginning of the BDS movement and various lawfare campaigns. Although most Israeli NGOs did not attend the Durban forum, many became closely involved in these efforts.
As the participation of NGOs in BDS and other campaigns became more visible, criticism in Israel increased, particularly with the publication of the UNs defamatory and now-discredited Goldstone report on Operation Cast Lead in 2009. The report was based on hundreds of NGO allegations, including from BTselem and BtS, many of which were shown to be false or unverifiable. These allegations, which now had the UNs imprimatur, were cited in attempts to arrest Israelis as alleged war criminals, including former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and a large number of military officers.
In response, politicians on the Right of the Israeli political spectrum introduced legislation to limit NGOs ability to influence Israeli policy. Information on the scale of funding for these groups was published by my organization NGO Monitor, demonstrating the process through which the European Union and individual states were using these NGOs as instruments of their own policies.
This activity is unique in relations between democracies. If Europe sought to similarly influence American policies, politics, and society, it would involve the annual transfer of billions of dollars to American NGOs focusing on controversial issues, such as abortion, gun control, race, or immigration. Even a small-scale campaign on such issues funded by foreign governments would draw immediate and widespread American opposition.
The Israeli debate flared again after the 2014 Gaza war, when the cycle of NGO attacks and UN reports was more or less repeated. Then, in November 2015, the European Union issued an interpretive note to its import guidelines, which recommended that member states require labels on products from the occupied territories (meaning the West Bank, eastern Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights). This gesture, known as BDS lite, had been pushed for many years by an NGO network that is very active in Brussels, such as a 2012 report headlined Trading Away Peace, sponsored by 22 major groups, many of which receive funds from the EU and individual states. As Steven J. Rosen wrote in The Tower in January, these NGOs work closely with the complex bureaucracy of the EU and its member statesthe officials known colloquially as the Eurocrats. It focuses on incremental measures rather than advocating a complete boycott of Israel, and it has proven far more successful than its radical counterpart.
These events put the NGO issue back at the top of the Israeli agenda and, at the end of 2015, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked announced a new effort, focused primarily on foreign funding of NGO campaigns. If approved, the legislationaccording to the published draftwould require NGOs receiving more than 50 percent of their budgets from foreign governments to disclose it in their publications, letters to government officials, and protocols of Knesset statements.
It should be clear that the impact of these measures would be largely symbolic. In Israel, however, this symbolism is highly significant, reflecting the importance attached to national sovereignty and self-determination, which are central to Zionist ideology. Many Israelis resent efforts by foreign and particularly European governments to manipulate Israeli civil society and politics. NGO activists believed that under the guise of transparency, the foreign agent label would inherently limit the power and legitimacy of their organizations.
For these reasons, Shakeds initiative triggered a flood of headlines in the Israeli media and numerous urgent Knesset sessions, some in support and many in fierce opposition. NGO officials and their allies attacked Shaked and supporters of the legislation as McCarthyites and fascists intent on destroying democracy. In op-eds and public statements, NGOs and their supporters compared the proposed law to measures taken in Turkey and Putins Russia.
Shaked, of course, hit back. Rejecting the analogy with Russia and Turkey, she argued that the proposed legislation was entirely compatible with democratic principles. In particular, she compared her proposal to the U.S. Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), adopted by Congress in 1938. FARAs objective was to provide information on efforts by foreign governments to influence the U.S. Congress. According to Shaked, her law is less stringent than those imposed by the United States upon similar types of activity under the Foreign Agents Registration Act.
This claim opened up another front, and the comparison was widely rejected and denounced by the NGO officials and a U.S. State Department spokesman. Then, in a highly unusual statement, U.S. Ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro rejected the FARA analogy. He claimed that, unlike the Israeli proposal, which deals only with NGOs, U.S. law imposes no limits, restrictions, or transparency requirements on the receipt of foreign funding by NGOs operating in the United States, other than those generally applicable to all Americans. As a result, it does not create the chilling effect on NGO activities that we are concerned about in reviewing the draft Israeli NGO law. But Shapiros retort avoided the most important pointin Israel, the threat is not from German spies or Soviet agents, but from foreign-funded organizations that use the language of human rights to demonize the Jewish state. Shakeds comparison to FARA was not meant to be literalit was used as an analogy regarding foreign state interference.
In addition, Shapiro claimed that, unlike the Israeli situation, FARA applies to U.S. entities who engage in certain specified activities at the order, request, or under the direction or control, of a foreign principal. In other words, there is a difference between FARA and the NGO law because Israeli NGOs are not required to act according to the policies of their donors. But the evidence often shows close links between the agendas of Israeli NGOs and the policy goals and interests of their patrons. As noted above, these NGOs perform specific services for foreign governments, providing legitimacy for their opposition to Israeli government policies. For example, reports written by Israeli NGOs funded by European governments are regularly quoted in EU policy statements on issues such as the status of Jerusalem and the West Bank.
In this sense, Israels proposed NGO law is similar in spirit and purpose to the rules adopted last year in the U.S. House of Representatives, which requires witnesses who testify before a committee in a nongovernmental capacity to disclose the amount and country of origin of any payment or contract related to the subject matter of the hearing originating with a foreign government. These regulations were adopted following an article in The New York Times that revealed countries like Qatar and Norway were donating millions of dollars to American think tanks like the Brookings Institution. The reports these groups produced were then used to lobby for the policies of their government financiers. The new regulations clearly intended to prevent foreign governments from secretive and undue influence over democratic processes. No Washington Post editorial to date has compared Congress to Putins Russia.
Shakeds proposed law also promotes much-needed transparency on the part of Israeli NGOs. In most cases, the decision-making processes for foreign grants are highly secretive, and there is little if any parliamentary review or public discussion in Israel or the donor countries. The names of the people involved, their expertise and professional qualifications, potential conflicts of interest, and other aspects are hidden from the public. Similarly, any evaluations made at the end of a grant period are unavailable, even through freedom of information requests. This secrecy, which is incompatible with transparency norms in democratic societies, protects the small group of officials, such as the EUs Christian Berger, who are reportedly behind the use of Israeli NGOs to promote European objectives.
These efforts are of long standing. Large-scale European government funding of Israeli NGOs began in the late 1990s, facilitated by the Euro-Mediterranean (Euro-Med) framework inaugurated in 1995 at the EUs Barcelona conference. The two primary, if unstated, objectives of the Euro-Med program were 1) to develop economic programs in North Africa to prevent large-scale migration to Europe (a complete failure), and 2) to compete with the U.S. in the realm of Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations. To reach the second goal, the EU created a funding mechanism initially known as the People to People program, which later became the Partnership for Peace (PfP) framework, with annual budgets of between 5 and 10 million euros. Funding was provided to between 20 and 40 NGOs.
For many years, all PfP grant details to NGOs were secret, and the only information came from a leaked summary of a 1999 meeting of the Ad hoc selection committee for People to People/Permanent Status Issues projects in support of the Middle East peace process, budget line B7-4100, European Commission, Directorate General External Relations. Among other causes, the committee allocated 400,000 euros to the Israeli leftist group Peace Now with the objective of convincing Israeli Jews from Russia to change their political views. 250,000 euros (each) were allocated to The Four Mothers Movement to Leave Lebanon in Peace, and to a fringe NGO calling itself the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD) for a joint Israeli-Palestinian public awareness campaign and concrete action against the practice of land expropriation and house demolitions by the Israeli army in the West Bank. In his travels around the world, Jeff Halper, the head of ICAHD, frequently refers to Israel as an apartheid state.
These revelations did not lead to any action, either in Israel or Europe, and the practice continued and expanded, far from public scrutiny or debate. In 2004, during a meeting in Jerusalem with a delegation from the European Parliament, I cited the leaked protocols regarding PfP funding. The EU ambassador to Israel at the time, Gianne Carlo Chevelard, jumped to his feet and tried to block the discussion.
At the same time, another EU frameworkthe European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR)also began to disburse millions of euros to Israeli and Palestinian NGOs, including grants to groups that were also PfP recipients. Here too, the decision-making process was entirely secret, and a highly disproportionate percentage of the funds went to the politicized Israeli NGO network. In justifying the lack of transparency, EU officials referred to dangers to public security without providing any details.
These and other EU mechanisms, as well as parallel frameworks in individual countries, funneled large sums to Israeli NGOs whose activities include BDS, promoting the one-state solution in which Israel itself would be dissolved, anti-normalization with Israel campaigns, and clogging courts with war crimes cases.
The combination of the massive European funding of NGOs, the role of these groups in promoting political warfare against Israel, and the secrecy in which they are enveloped added to Israeli concerns and criticism. This increased further with the recent revelations that in August 2015, the EU provided BtS with another 250,000 euros, while a related framework, the European Endowment for Democracy, gave BTselem 30,000 euros explicitly for combating anti-democratic laws aiming to silence opposition. As in the past, the EU and the individual governments involved refused to discuss these Israeli concerns, further increasing support for the proposed NGO legislation.
Among the most prominent opponents of the NGO bill is the New Israel Fund (NIF), a powerful U.S.-based funding framework with an annual budget of $30 million, which provides seed money and ongoing support for many of the NGOs under discussion. The NIF has no official standing in Israel, is not registered as a non-profit, and the proposed law would not affect it. But European government funding is a very important amplifier for the NIFs work in Israel, which is increasingly political. Groups such as Breaking the Silence, BTselem, Rabbis for Human Rights, the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel, and many more are part of the NIF network and receive millions of dollars from Europe.
In many ways, the NIF is an NGO-based shadow government. It was created in response to the 1977 Israeli elections, when right-wing leader Menachem Begin became prime minister, ending an era of left-wing domination. Over the years, the NIF has built a wide network of Israeli NGOs, empowering them to oppose government policies inside Israel and outside, including in the United Nations and foreign capitals. Two NIF-based NGOs have offices or branches in the U.S.Adalah and BTselem. The officials in charge of both U.S. offices wrote articles attacking the proposed NGO law.
As a result, the NIF has been very active in opposing all legislation related to NGO funding, fearing that it will hamper its ability to influence politics and policies. In 2009, they referred to a proposed law requiring recipients of foreign government funding to report it every three months as McCarthyism and anti-democratic. The law was passed in 2011 and the NGOs continue to receive grants with no visible harm to Israeli democracy.
Leaders of the NIF are playing a central role in the campaign against Shakeds proposal. Naomi Paiss, who is in charge of public relations for the NIF, wrote an op-ed published by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency headlined, Proposed Israeli NGO law is hypocritical attack on left. CEO Daniel Sokatch sent out numerous emails attacking the legislation, writing, The hardliners currently in power in Israel want to silence or sideline any Israelis who challenge their agenda of more settlements and an entrenched occupation.
Sokatch has proven particularly hysterical on this subject. When the offices of BTselem caught fire on January 11, 2016, Sokatch immediately wrote that arson seems to be the likely cause and charged that Ultranationalist groups are creating a climate where terrible things can happen. Government officials at the highest levels have not simply refused to condemn this incitement, they have joined the fray. The fire was caused by an electrical problem. And after a fringe-Right organization, Im Tirtzu, posted a video attacking NIF-linked officials as moles, the NIF countered with an attack video falsely portraying Im Tirtzu as responsible for assassinating Prime Minister Rabin twenty years ago.
The intense rhetoric of the NIF reflects their genuine concern that, by highlighting the massive European funding for its associated NGO network, the organization will lose standing and influence on the Israeli center and center-Left. From this perspective, the stakes are even higher than the question of foreign funding for NGOs. They and their patrons believe the NGO bill threatens a political structure they have built up over almost four decades.
For Israel itself, however, the stakes are even higher. In question is Israels right to reassert its national sovereignty in the face of foreign manipulation, demand transparency from unelected groups that campaign intensely against the policies of its elected government, and counter an international campaign of hate and defamation that potentially threatens Israels very existence.
Ironically, the NGOs and their patrons have made this controversy inevitable. They are answerable to no one but themselves, keep their own internal affairs completely secret in a manner they would condemn if the Israeli government did the same, and resort to hysterical and often slanderous rhetoric almost reflexively when anyone questions their activities or ideology. In the face of this, the rising anger and mistrust directed toward them is completely understandable.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the proposed NGO law is, contrary to the claims of many inside and outside Israel, entirely compatible with democratic norms. It does not restrict these groups freedom of speech or assembly in any way. Countries like the U.S. and India have similar laws that are observed without controversy. Comparable laws have been passed in Israel that have left NGOs and their activities undamaged. And there is no reason for organizations to fear simple transparency; in fact, if they support democracy and open government, they should welcome it.
The NGO wars will undoubtedly continue, as both the Israeli people and the NGOs escalate their rhetoric and entrench their stands. The sight of Ezra Nawi conspiring to murder a Palestinian was a hammer blow to the NGO network, but there may be more revelations coming, and the network will unquestionably keep fighting against its critics. But the debate should be based on the facts, not on wild and unjustifiable accusations of McCarthyism and government suppression. The NGO law would be an asset to Israeli democracy, and those groups that claim to care so much about precisely that should embrace it.