Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) comprise a wide range of groups that are neither businesses nor government entities – although many receive significant funding from governments. In the context of the Middle East and other conflict areas, and in particular those associated with BDS, NGOs often claim to champion human rights values, democracy, and humanitarian aid. However, as non-democratic, unaccountable actors, NGO officials are not elected and represent a narrow sliver of like-minded ideologues. The façade of being a “grassroots” or “civil society” organization masks the significant funding they receive, and the major influence they wield.
Large, well-known NGOs have massive budgets and are closely linked to the United Nations and Western governments. These groups exploit human rights values and utilize their international reputations to conduct expensive and high-profile campaigns.
Fringe NGOs promote extremely radical views and largely operate outside the margins of political discourse. Due to small budgets and low profiles, these groups engage in cheap theatrics and inflammatory rhetoric to achieve minimal PR gains. These “groups” often comprise only a handful of activists, creating the illusion of a movement or popular agenda.
Not all church groups pursue anti-Israel agendas and BDS. However, there is a strong, well-financed network of churches that lead BDS campaigns, with an emphasis on divestment. The leaders of these groups, often members of the clergy, selectively use the rhetoric of religious and moral authority to condemn Israel in sermons, essays, press releases, reports, and other publications. Palestinians are portrayed as the weaker and suffering party that must be defended against injustice. In some instances, however, it is clear that anti-Israel sentiments are used to mask antisemitic attitudes.
The vast majority of unions have a tangential connection, at best, to the Arab-Israeli conflict. Yet, they are some of the most vocal supporters for and participants in BDS activities against Israel. Some are driven by Marxist and post-colonial ideologies, while others are usurped by a small number of activists with anti-Israel agendas. The façade of solidarity with Palestinian workers masks wholly negative campaigns that only harm Palestinian and Israelis alike. Positive campaigns to assist Palestinians are not the priority.