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Prepared Statement for European Parliament session on the Situation of NGOs and Civil Society in Israel

Summary

 

Click here for video of the session

I want to thank the committee for inviting me to address this important forum. Before my remarks, I wish to note that I have no connection to nor receive any funding from the Israeli or any other government, and do not speak on behalf of anyone, other than myself and NGO Monitor, which is an independent Israeli civil society organization.

I am here to discuss the policies of and the role played by the European Union (EU) in funding numerous Palestinian, Israeli, and other non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and “civil society” organizations (CSOs). The EU provides large sums of taxpayer funds for political advocacy through programs such as Partnership for Peace, the European Instrument for Human Rights and Democracy (EIDHR), EMHRN, and the Anna Lindh Foundation.

The declared intentions are positive, but when the details of this funding are examined, many problems emerge. Projects supported by the EU systematically ignore Palestinian attacks, while condemning Israeli responses, with blanket accusations of “racism,” violations of “all international human laws and rules,” “never ending colonial and expansionist desires,”1  sexual attacks against Arab women,2 and similar incendiary allegations. EU projects fund Palestinian-led conferences to plan the “Extra-judicial Executions and Prosecution of Israelis Suspected of Committing War Crimes,”3 with proceedings broadcast on Al Jazeera clearly showing the banner thanking the European Union.4 You can understand how this is seen in Israel, and how it effects relations between Israelis and the European Union.

These are not isolated exceptions. NGO Monitor’s systematic research during the past eight years, analyzed through the models of conflict management and negotiation, demonstrates that, in practice, much of this EU funding does not match the intentions.5 No evidence has been produced showing that these programs have contributed to a stable and lasting two-state solution. Instead, the evidence demonstrates that many of the recipients fuel the conflict, increase the already formidable barriers to compromise and mutual acceptance between Israelis and Palestinians, and empower divisive groups and individuals.

EU-funded political advocacy organizations lead the campaign embodying the “third generation” of warfare against Israel. These NGOs are key participants in BDS (boycott, divestment, and sanctions), “lawfare,” and demonization campaigns, based on the 2001 Durban NGO Forum in which 1,500 NGOs adopted the strategy of “complete and total isolation of Israel as an apartheid state … the imposition of mandatory and comprehensive sanctions and embargoes, the full cessation of all links (diplomatic, economic, social, aid, military cooperation and training) between all states and Israel.”6

Consistent and blatant NGO biases and double standards are also undermining the moral foundations of universal human rights, through cynical double standards, false or unverifiable allegations, and distorted versions of international law. In sharp contrast to the central role of EU-funded NGOs in promoting the Goldstone Report that falsely indicted Israel for alleged “war crimes,”7 we found few instances in which EU-funded human rights organizations spoke out clearly against abuses by Palestinians. Neither have EU-funded groups advanced the human rights of Israelis.

Instead, behind the façade of civil society – which, in a democracy such as Israel’s, grows out of that society – the EU and its member states are seen as giving public funds to a small group of opposition groups in an effort to manipulate the political process. In violation of the principle that democracies do not attempt to manipulate or interfere with the internal political processes in other democracies, anonymous European officials in charge of NGO allocations seek to exploit a minority group of Israelis to impose EU-favored policies on the wider Israel public. (While Europe provides funds that give these NGOs influence in Israeli society, the EU and its member states share none of the costs when misguided peace efforts fail, leading to mass terror and many Israeli deaths.)

Furthermore, the EU’s extreme secrecy with respect to funding and evaluation processes for these political NGOs, in violation of due process and transparency, increases this damage. No EU official has offered legitimate reasons for such extreme secrecy with respect to funding for civil society organizations. If the extensive EU funding provided to Israeli and Palestinian political advocacy groups is justifiable, the process and protocols would be published.

In response to this secrecy, the elected representatives of the Israeli public are debating legislation to provide the missing transparency. The very loud officials of favored Israeli NGOs and their friends fiercely oppose this transparency and publication of the protocols and evaluations involved in the European Commission’s funding process, suggesting that a fear that this will lead to reduced funds and power.

To further understand the central issues related to EU funding for political NGOs, I will now provide detailed analysis of these points, in the time allotted to me, and with caution that far more discussion is required in order to understand the complexities.

1) Advocacy NGOs – another obstacle to peace

More than ten years of EU funding via the Partnership for Peace (PfP), European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR), and other programs, involving tens of millions of euros, has resulted in few significant achievements. Without independent professional evaluations of EU allocations for NGOs – if such documents exist – conclusions about the impacts are tentative, but it is clear that the wider mutual distrust and hostility between Israelis and Palestinians has not declined. Instead, detailed analysis demonstrates that much of the EU funding for these NGOs has been counterproductive to the peace process.

A number of EIDHR and PfP recipients, as well as EMHRN member organizations, are very active in the BDS and lawfare campaigns that target Israel, or deny the right of self-determination for the Jewish nation via “one-state solutions.” These NGOs include PCHR (the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, based in Gaza), ARIJ (Applied Research Institute Jerusalem), the Coalition of Women for Peace, Adalah, HRA (Arab Human Rights Association), Mada al-Carmel, and ICAHD (Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions).8

ARIJ, a powerful Palestinian advocacy group that receives a large portion of its budget from European governments, including 15% from the EU, has been funded for many years through grants from PfP for a project headlined “Monitoring actions and transformations in the Palestinian Territory to develop policies and strategies for conflict management”9 (€874,000 from 2004-2011, and an unknown amount from 2000-2004).  Since no independent evaluations of ARIJ’s impact have been published by the EU, the results of this massive funding, and its contribution to advancing peace and tolerance, are far from clear.

In contrast, ARIJ’s website refers to this EU-funded project as “Monitoring Israeli Colonizing Activities in the Palestinian West Bank & Gaza.” Phase III of the project is clearly designed to promote the Palestinian political war by “disseminating information on Israeli colonization by monitoring Israeli colonization activities.”10

In contrast to the language of tolerance and compromise, ARIJ uses the rhetoric of conflict in the EU-funded monitoring project, with allegations of Israeli “denial of all international human laws and rules,” and refers to “racism acts.”11 In another example, ARIJ charges that “Israel is seeking to loot as much as possible of the Palestinian lands to fulfill its never ending colonial and expansionist desires.”12

Similarly, PCHR is a direct recipient of EIDHR funding, and has also received EC money as a partner of Oxfam NOVIB (a process that is usually undocumented), through the project entitled “Awareness Raising and Lobbying against the Death Penalty in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (EC Internal No. 98779).” This organization is a major pillar of the “lawfare” tactic, which is part of the wider Durban strategy of political warfare against Israel. In April 2006, PCHR organized a conference in Malaga, Spain, in conjunction with the Al-Quds Malaga Association, entitled “Bringing Cases Against War Criminals: Universal Jurisdiction.”13 The aim of the conference was “to establish and develop contacts which could be used to enhance and strengthen future universal jurisdiction activities.” In 2008, PCHR held a coordinating conference in Cairo on “Extra-judicial Executions and Prosecution of Israelis Suspected of Committing War Crimes.”14 The proceedings were broadcast on Al Jazeera, with a backdrop consisting of a large sign, “Impunity and the Prosecution of Israeli War Criminals,” and an acknowledgment to the EU and Oxfam/NOVIB. One session was devoted to case strategy regarding PCHR’s criminal suit in Spain against seven Israeli officials. Another session presented ways to have Israelis prosecuted at the International Criminal Court.

EU-funded NGOs are also centrally involved in the campaigns based on false allegations of Israeli “war crimes,” particularly with respect to the responses to rocket attacks from Gaza. The leaders of an organization known as ICAHD promote the “one state solution,” thus fuelling the conflict. ICAHD is also one of the NGO sponsors of the Free Gaza flotilla,15 which, as recent events made clear, works closely with Hamas in seeking confrontation with Israel. The tragic results of these violent activities are all too visible. The EU has funded ICAHD since at least the 1999 PfP allocations. (In 2009, PfP funding for ICAHD ended, but EU funding continued via EIDHR – without explanation, and highlighting the secrecy in this process.)

Mada al-Carmel and two other NGOs (Women Against Violence, which is also funded by the EU, and the Arab Forum for Sexuality, Education and Health) organized an event headlined “My Land, Space, Body and Sexuality: Palestinians in the Shadow of the Wall.” Publicity included a poster portraying an Israeli soldier reaching suggestively toward a Palestinian woman, alongside the caption: “Her husband needs a permit to touch her. The occupation penetrates her life everyday!”16 This poster falsely suggested that Israeli soldiers sexually assault Palestinian women, and reflected another dimension of incitement.

These and similar activities, led by EC-funded NGOs, do not promote peace, but rather work against compromise and exacerbate distrust and hostility between Israelis and Palestinians. (The excuse that EU funding is provided to projects, not organizations, is not convincing. In many cases, such as PCHR, the projects directly funded by the EU contribute to the conflict. In the other cases, since money is fungible, and a number of controversial Israeli opposition NGOs – Ir Amim, on the explosive issue of Jerusalem; Breaking the Silence; HaMoked; the Public Committee Against Torture (PCATI); Gisha; Bimkom and others –  receive over half and in some cases, 70 or 80 percent of their funding from the EU and its member states, the responsibility of the funders for the activities is not deniable.)

2) Manipulating democracy under the façade of “civil society”

In addition, large-scale EU and European government funding to Israeli NGOs from a very narrow sector has angered many Israelis who view it as a form of manipulation and neo-colonialism. In sharp contrast to its neighbors, Israel is a democratic society, and citizens, both as individuals and members of NGOs, engage in intense debates on the issues of war and peace; occupation, settlements, and security; human rights, humanitarian aid, and Gilad Shalit. For Israelis, these issues are vital to the core questions of national survival.

Israelis are also aware that these opposition groups enjoy a major and unfair advantage in these debates, and in the marketplace of ideas, through massive funding provided by the EU, and European governments. Groups supported by the EU have a clear advantage in terms of the funds and personnel necessary to hold frequent press events, create media visibility for their leaders, organize rallies and marches, advertise in the main newspapers, lobby the Knesset, petition the courts, and hold politicized academic events. Given the high percentage of their budgets provided by Europe, it is understandable that many Israelis view these organizations as European and as representing European interests.17

Earlier EU funding via Peace Now aimed at convincing Israeli Jews from Russia to change their political views (“This activity would focus on a social group that traditionally has anti-peace views and votes Likud…. The other components of the project would be an outreach to Immigrants from the Former Soviet Union”) is clearly manipulative, and had no impact.18

The same is true for a new Partnership for Peace (PfP) project designed to persuade Israeli journalists to take favorable positions on the controversial Saudi/Arab League Peace plan. The Israeli media reports that the EU is providing close to 6,000 euro per participant for 60 Israeli journalists to attend seminars, meetings, and two eight-day retreats with other participants in Turkey. The NGOs funded by the EU to set the agenda for these meetings, Neve Shalom and Conflict Resolution and Reconciliation (CCRR), are themselves part of the problem. CCRR, a Palestinian NGO, calls for the boycott of Israeli academics or Israeli academic institutions that support “the occupation” (“for more than 50 years,” i.e., since 1948).19 However, due to the lack of transparency in the EU, there is no information to explain this strange and counterproductive framework.

Through this NGO funding process, the European Union also selects the leaders of Israeli civil society – particularly in the Israeli-Arab sector. The radicalization of these organizations and the increasing friction between the Arab/Palestinian and Jewish sectors coincides, to a significant degree, with the funding received by Adalah, Mada al-Carmel, and other groups. Haneen Zoubi, an Israeli-Arab citizen who was elected to the Knesset in 2009 and was a prominent activist aboard the recent IHH/ISM Free Gaza flotilla, received substantial visibility through her role as head of the NGO known as I’lam, which received over €900,000 from the EU’s EIDHR and gender frameworks. While the selection and elevation of particular individuals among the Israeli-Arab minority may not be part of the EU’s official NGO funding policy, this is clearly the result.

The role of EU funding in adding to the tensions among Israeli citizens can also be attributed to the misportrayal of societal divisions in Israel as a problem of “civil” or “minority” rights. These terms, which are used to justify support to groups like Mada al-Carmel, Adalah, and Mossawa, mask tensions that are a central component of the intense ethno-national and religious conflict, rather than a priori discrimination. These EU-funded organizations use the language of discrimination and civil rights, but their agendas reflect hostility to Israel as a Jewish state. The “Haifa Declaration” (Mada Al-Carmel 2007) calls for a “change in the definition of the State of Israel from a Jewish state” and accuses Israel of “exploiting” the Holocaust “at the expense of the Palestinian people.”20 At an “academic conference” entitled “Has the Two-State Solution Collapsed?” several participants advocated for a “one-state solution.” Nadim Rouhana, who heads Mada al-Carmel, claimed that “a solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict that relies on partition cannot be a just one. The partition resolution was based on the appropriation of part of Palestine, exceptionally granting it to the Zionist movement.”21 Mada al-Carmel organized a conference in January 2010 where Hussein Abu Hussein, chair of the board of Ittijah (of which Mada al-Carmel is a member) said, “Israel is a racist state, and a racist state cannot guarantee or create a culture of justice. It creates a racist and aggressive culture.”22

3) Undermining the moral foundations of universal human rights, through double standards, false allegations, and distorted international law

Many political advocacy NGOs, many of which are funded by the EU, distort international law to issue one-sided condemnations of Israel. At the same time, they belie their claim to be working for universal human rights by giving very little attention to the rights of Israelis, or of Palestinians under threat from Hamas. While EU-funded NGOs have issued hundreds of reports condemning Israel, they have shown very little concern for the rights of the children from Sderot who have spent their childhood under bombardment from Gaza. These NGOs and their EU funders also show far more concern about the availability of jam and chocolate for Gaza than about freedom for Gilad Shalit, now held incommunicado for four years. This is shameful.

An example of NGO distortions of international law can be seen in their allegations regarding Nizar Rayan, a senior Hamas commander involved in the planning and execution of numerous mass terror attacks. He was killed during the Gaza war after refusing to evacuate himself and his family members from his home – which was also a Hamas weapons storage compound – despite repeated Israeli warnings.23

European government-funded PCHR called Rayan’s death a “heinous crime” and insisted that its “perpetrators and their military and political leaders must be prosecuted.”24 Without any basis in international law, the NGO continues to list him as a civilian in its casualty statistics from the war.25

B’Tselem also condemned the strike, calling it a “grave breach of international humanitarian law,”26 and Adalah (also funded by the EU) referred to the case as an example of an “indiscriminate” and “disproportionate” bombing, claiming it was a “war crime” and that “those who make such decisions and execute them bear personal criminal responsibility.”27 This is another absurd NGO effort to exploit international law. The Israeli strike was clearly directed at a legitimate military objective, and therefore was not indiscriminate.

Similar distortions are apparent in NGO campaigns labeling the Israeli blockade on Gaza, following the kidnapping of Gilad Shalit and then the Hamas coup, as “collective punishment.” Following the “Free Gaza Flotilla” violence, NGOs including the Arab Cultural Forum, Gaza Community Mental Health Programme (GCMHP), Palestinian NGO Network (PNGO), Al Mezan, International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH), and ICAHD issued one-sided condemnations of Israel28 while neglecting Shalit, whose kidnapping in 2006 and four years of captivity are gross violations of human rights and international law.

The double standards and political bias repeatedly demonstrated in the declarations of the EU’s EMHRN and Anna Lindh Foundation on Israeli issues further erode the universality and moral foundations of human rights norms. In both cases, all of the Israeli NGO members either represent the Arab minority or fringe opposition groups from the Jewish sector, whose views generally coincide with those of the Palestinian NGO members.29 There are no voices that reflect the views and positions of the wider Jewish citizens of Israel, resulting in highly politicized agendas that add further to the double standards.

For example, under the banner of the Anna Lindh Foundation, the ICAHD organization is the Israeli partner in a summer camp.30 ICAHD promotes a highly politicized narrative of the conflict, accusing Israel of apartheid, ethnic cleansing, state terrorism, and “bloody and sadistic actions in Gaza.” ICAHD also partners with radical NGOs to promote BDS and campaigns against a two-state solution.31 This indoctrination is the opposite of the Anna Lindh Foundation’s mandate of “improv[ing] mutual respect between cultures.”32

Babelmed is another EU-funded program33 that stands in contrast with such noble claims. This on-line Euro-Med culture magazine, highlighted the “My Land, My Space” campaign involving EU-funded Mada al-Carmel.34 Gianluca Solera, Network Coordinator of Anna Lindh Euro-Med Foundation for the Dialogue between Cultures, published an article in Babelmed that included highly offensive language:35

[Israel’s] Neurones [sic] have been worn out so much that even the god Yahweh has aged too much to think and cannot free himself from the role of god of the armies. Operation “Cast Lead” was launched at the end of a Shabbat, Saturday afternoon 27 December. I can imagine those aged generals and young pilots praying to their god before giving the order to attack or getting into their fighter planes. A lost generation has been created, without universal ideals, and hence extremely dangerous. The adolescents of Jihad kill out of desperation, the boys of Tsahal out of idolatry.

EMHRN also reflects political distortion of human rights and morality as part of anti-Israeli demonization. Most of its statements on the conflict include calls for action against Israel, and one-sided condemnations of Israeli responses to terrorism. EMHRN provides a platform for and promotes the views of its member NGOs, which include highly politicized Palestinian NGOs such as PCHR, Al Mezan, and Al Haq, as well as Israeli opposition NGOs Adalah, B’Tselem, and PCATI.

The centrality of political lobbying in EMHRN is illustrated by repeated calls for the suspension of the EU-Israel Association Agreement. In August 2005, EMHRN issued a highly biased report entitled “Israel’s Human Rights Behaviour, 2004-2005,” which condemned Israel’s construction of its security barrier and its security policies in the West Bank and Gaza, but failed to mention the Palestinian terrorism that caused these measures. At an EMHRN training seminar in 2007, participants discussed why the EU has not yet imposed sanctions on Israel. The consensus was that “sanctions would most likely only be effective if the US were to join in.”36

Following the Free Gaza flotilla incident, EMHRN issued a statement (May 31, 2010) which claimed that Israel “acted illegally by violently and unjustifiably targeting civilians” and asserted that Israel’s blockade constitutes “the collective punishment of 1.5 million Palestinians.”37

All of the actions under the banner of the European Union contribute to the perception that human rights and moral principles are simply another form of political warfare, to be used by organizations that target Israel, and exclude views that present the Israeli perspective. The result is highly damaging in terms of the moral standing of these principles.

4) Secret funding and evaluation processes, in violation of the EU’s own transparency claims

As noted, there is no transparency or accountability regarding EU funding of these political advocacy organizations, and there is no way to determine whether due process was followed, leaving many questions: Who performs the evaluations of NGOs for the EU, and do these individuals have political or other interests that could cloud their judgment? Are the evaluators connected, directly or indirectly, to the NGO recipients, or their political and ideological biases? The pattern of funding over the past decade, in terms of the small number of repeat recipients, many of which are fringe opposition groups in Israel, indicates possible violations of due process.

The leaked minutes from 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 suggests that these are valid concerns.38 The total refusal of the European Union to release the documents relevant to the decision making process in this extremely important area means that these suspicions regarding EU funding for NGOs will grow.

5) Knesset NGO transparency legislation

As noted, the EU’s extensive secrecy regarding funding for political NGOs that lead the demonization campaigns has created a backlash among Israelis. In this atmosphere, members of the democratically elected Knesset have proposed legislation to demand transparency in NGO funding from foreign governments. As noted, the favored NGOs and their supporters oppose this transparency, fearing its impact. The proposed legislation will require timely and detailed reporting, giving the Israeli public more awareness of the scope of foreign government funding. Condemnations of this legislation as threatening free speech referred to some minor amendments that were removed. Rather than simply repeating these false NGO claims, MEPs would be better served by asking their Israeli counterparts in different parties, including Social Welfare Minister Isaac Herzog (Labor) and Coalition Chair MK Zeev Elkin (Likud) for the details of the legislation.

The attempt by certain European officials to delegitimize this internal Israeli debate in order to justify EU policies is seen by Israelis as further interference in our internal affairs, or, to put it simply, “chutzpah.” The UN’s “Declaration on Principles of International Law Concerning Friendly Relations and Co-operation among States” (UNGA, 1970) and “Declaration on the Inadmissibility of Intervention and Interference in the Internal Affairs of States” (1981) recognize the wider concepts of democratic non-interference, as does the US Foreign Agents Registration Act.

In closing, I will draw your attention to two positive programs, funded under the latest PfP grants, that are in many ways the models that the EU should be following to promote peace and cooperation. Projects such as “Save a Child’s Heart” and “Playing for Peace – Strengthening Community Relations through Football,” run by grantee organizations that do not engage in harsh political advocacy, fulfill the stated goals of the PfP framework, and are outstanding examples of the positive impact of European Union assistance.

But, as I have shown, these are rare exceptions in terms of EU-funded civil society programs. Most of the money is used to preach to Israelis who have lived through decades of hatred, violence, and terror, and the results are counterproductive. The EU has an obligation to its own constituents, and to the Israelis and Palestinians whose lives are impacted by these policies, to conduct a fully transparent, impartial, and professional inquiry into and re-evaluation of funding policies and processes for highly politicized NGOs.