This analysis has been updated to reflect changes made by WDR to its Faktencheck.
On June 8, 2017, Westdeutscher Rundfunk (WDR), a public broadcaster in Germany, announced that it would not air a documentary on antisemitism in Europe, alleging that it did not meet journalistic standards. A central theme of the film is antisemitism from non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that claim a human rights mandate and the European government funding that enables them.
Following intense public pressure, WDR relented and broadcast the film on June 21 and 22. However, in a widely criticized move, WDR created, without consulting the producers, a series of fact-checks (“Faktencheck”) to accompany the film, pointing to what it called “errors and inaccuracies.” (In this context, WDR posted defamatory claims about NGO Monitor; see NGO Monitor’s letter demanding a correction.)
As the following analysis shows, some of the “Faktencheck” themselves contain inaccuracies, while others paint partial and misleading portraits of the issues. This may reflect laziness and/or limited research capabilities on the part of WDR, since most of the relevant details are readily available in the public domain. It is also likely that WDR simply repeated claims made by NGOs, ironically without fact-checking them. In addition, WDR failed to contact NGO Monitor (despite corresponding with us the week before) to obtain comprehensive research on the various issues for which we were the source.
Beyond the professional failure – given the singular, unprecedented, and highly unconventional decision to air the film with side commentary by the broadcaster, we cannot rule out the possibility that discriminatory motives are also at play.
Topic: Number of Israeli and Palestinian NGOs
Faktencheck Claim:1 “The film does not provide evidence that the ‘density of NGOs on the ground’ is ‘viewed as disproportionate’…There is no binding documentation on the activities of NGOs worldwide. However, an umbrella organization of the NGOs, the World Association of Non-Governmental Organizations (WANGO) has published a list. In this, 61 NGOs are listed for Occupied Palestinian Territory and 1272 NGOs are listed in Israel.”
Analysis: According to the Israeli Registrar of Non-Profits, there are more than 40,000 registered NGOs in Israel. As for December 2016, 351 of them listed “Promoting Human Rights” among its declared aims. (NGO Monitor’s website highlights 40 of these groups, which are primarily involved in political campaigns and receive foreign government funding.)
Moreover, reporting on the number of NGOs operating in the West Bank. Gaza, and East Jerusalem must take into account the lack of Palestinian transparency. NGO Monitor focuses on almost 60 NGOs registered in Ramallah and Gaza, but there are many more.
According to the “International Center for Non-Profit Law,” in 2015 there were 2,793 NGOs registered under the “The NGOs Department of the Ministry of the Interior” in Ramallah. Even as early as in 2008, an official USAID document listed 1,200 NGOs registered primarily in Ramallah and East Jerusalem.
The umbrella organization Palestinian NGO Network (PNGO) alone includes 66 Palestinian NGOs involved in political campaigns against Israel.
In contrast, WDR cites a source – WANGO – which does not have any country chapters in the region and shows no evidence of competence regarding Israeli and Palestinian NGOs.
Faktencheck Claims: “An institutional, organizational or financial support of the boycott or apartheid week by EAPPI cannot be proved from the accessible sources” and “the allegations against EAPPI cannot be substantiated.”
- EAPPI-Germany is a signatory to the November 2014 “A European call for the suspension of the EU-Israel Association Agreement.”
- In 2016, EAPPI activists participated in Apartheid Week events in Pretoria, South Africa and in 2017 at Nelson Mandela University in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. BDS South Africa’s website also stated that a leading EAPPI activist participated in South Africa’s 2017 Apartheid Week events.
- EAPPI’s core publication, “Faith under Occupation” (2012), contains a list of recommendations titled “50 Ways to Action for Peace and Justice,” which includes strengthening the “network working on sanctions and suspension of US aid to Israel” and joining the “campaigns for economic boycotts…join or initiate a campaign for cultural and academic boycott” (emphasis added).
- A quick Google search demonstrates that dozens of EAPPI activists support BDS, such as a South African EAPPI activist who participated in EAPPI’s program twice. This particular activist advocated for targeting the Israeli banking system, calling for “SWIFT [international banking network] sanctions against Israel.” Another EAPPI activist “called for a complete boycott on products and services from Israel” at a public event in London.
- In July 2012, Vivian Wineman, President of the UK Jewish Board of Deputies, referred to EAPPI as “inflammatory and partisan…its graduates return with simplistic and radical perspectives. Members of Jewish communities across the country have suffered harassment and abuse at EAPPI meetings.”
- One of EAPPI’s regional “key partners” is “The Jerusalem Inter Church Centre, headed by Mr. Yusef Daher… providing guidance and coordination with the local churches.” Yusef Daher calls for BDS (boycott, divestment, and sanctions) campaigns against Israel and participated in a BDS conference in Stockholm on June 7, 2010. At the conference Daher stated, “We supported BDS we believed in the result that BDS can make and actually we… said that a full system of sanctions should have implemented on Israel long time ago…this is where we call our brothers and sisters to go for boycott. First personally and individually, and then convincing the churches and the churches to convince their governments…” Daher was also a speaker at a 2015 BDS event titled “ISRAEL: A Palestinian Christian Perspective.”
Topic: Brot für die Welt Funding
Faktencheck Claim: Brot für die Welt (Bread for the World, BfW) provided a quote to WDR, stating, “For Bread for the World any promotion ends with the denial of Israel’s right to exist, calling for the boycott of goods from Israel, or promotion of antisemitism.”
- Contrary to its claims, BfW has funded a number of NGOs that lead BDS campaigns against Israel. According to submissions to the Israeli Registrar for Non-Profits, Coalition of Women for Peace (CWP) and Who Profits received NIS 565,930 from BfW in 2012-2016.3 As of June 21, there is no publically available information regarding 2017 funding.
- CWP: On July 12, 2015, CWP reaffirmed its “support [for] the call for cultural and economic boycott, divestment and international sanctions to increase pressure on Israel from the international community.” CWP has initiated BDS campaigns against major Israeli banks and the pharmaceutical industry, Elbit and G4S security companies, Ahava cosmetics, and Agrexco produce.
- Who Profits: Who Profits initiates international BDS campaigns, targeting Israeli and foreign banks, security companies, civil infrastructure facilities, and private companies. Who Profits further identifies companies for other BDS activists to target.
- In addition, BfW has itself promoted an antisemitic document relating to the conflict: In a brochure promoting “fair tourism in Israel and Palestine taking into account international law,” BfW dedicates an entire section (p. 10-13) to the Kairos Palestine document, described by the groups as “an appeal meant for Palestine internally, as well as world-wide, in order to draw attention to the situation of Christians in Palestine. The initiators ask for support for their vision of a society ‘based on love, trust and justice.’”
In fact, the Kairos Palestine document echoes supersessionist, or replacement theology, language, referring to the Torah without Christian revelation as a “dead letter.” As noted by the Central Conference of American Rabbis, this delegitmizes “the Jewish people’s continuing Covenant with God.”
The document further denies the Jewish historical connection to Israel in theological terms, calls to mobilize churches worldwide in the call for BDS, and characterizes terrorist acts of “armed resistance” as “Palestinian legal resistance.”
Topic: European Government Funding to NGOs
Faktencheck Claim: “The film estimates the annual financial support of these NGOs by the EU, European governments, European churches, and EU-funded UN organizations to be €100 million. These figures are provided by NGO Monitor, which, according to their point of view, are anti-Israel NGOs, and cannot be regarded as neutral from our point of view. This information was inserted into the film without counter-examination. It was only possible to check the data on a random basis. According to the NGO Monitor database on quarterly reports, there were documented payments to 34 NGOs worth NIS 235,969,047 from 2012 to 2016, corresponding to approximately €59,505,400.”
Analysis: On June 14, NGO Monitor sent WDR a detailed document with information on 2015 funding that originated with European taxpayers and/or UN agencies. The data demonstrates a total of €117,223,442 in known funding to such NGOs. WDR acknowledged receipt of the document, but did not inquire about further breakdowns or ask for more information.
To be sure, it took NGO Monitor researchers months to compile the information. This, of course, does not excuse WDR’s failure to ask for clarification and additional references.
Update: Since the publication of this analysis, WDR added a number of claims to the Faktencheck, further demonstrating its lack of research capacity and ongoing refusal to ask NGO Monitor for clarification. This Faktencheck confuses amounts reported by B’Tselem on a quarterly and annual basis, as well as what was reported by Brot for die Welt/EED. The discrepancies are the result of the different sources and the distinction between cash and accrual accounting. (We also note that the sum relating to Oxfam comes directly from its annual report; WDR fails to comprehend the full scope of the budgets for all of Oxfam International’s branches.)
(Funding to Israeli NGOs, which is represented by WDR’s search of our database of quarterly reports, is only a small proportion of European government financial support to NGOs active in the conflict.)
Topic: Prof. Gerald Steinberg and NGO Monitor
Faktencheck Claim: WDR claims that NGO Monitor “is not an independent organization” and is “closely linked” to the Institute for Zionist Strategies. WDR’s Faktencheck include an ambiguous sentence that appears to connect NGO Monitor with a political agenda of settling the West Bank – the syntax is unclear as to whether the agenda is said to belong to the Institute for Zionist Strategies alone, or to NGO Monitor as well.
NGO Monitor is completely independent of any government or private group. The claim that NGO Monitor is “closely linked” to the Institute for Zionist Strategies is based on seven words from an article in the Haaretz newspaper, relating to a board member and not an employee of NGO Monitor. It appears that this was added and greatly exaggerated by WDR in order to create a prejudicial impression about NGO Monitor research.
The claims regarding a pro-settlement agenda may refer to the Institute for Zionist Strategies; if so, this is guilt by association. If WDR was referring to NGO Monitor, this is false.
Most importantly, WDR failed to contact NGO Monitor to clarify any of its claims, even though it castigated the filmmakers for not contacting the NGOs mentioned in the documentary.
Topic: World Vision
Faktencheck Claim: “An investigation by the Australian government failed to provide any payments to Hamas….World Vision said that the budget for the Gaza projects was ‘only’ $22.5 million over the 10-year period that the accused employee was employed at World Vision…In the last two years before his arrest on June 15, 2016, he was responsible for projects in Gaza and could only decide on a maximum sum of US $15,000 US…”
- The Australian government, one of World Vision’s largest donors, suspended funding to projects in the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem following the arrest of World Vision’s Gaza manager, Mohammad El-Halabi, for allegedly funneling $50 million to Hamas. In addition, the Australian government undertook an internal review to determine what, if anything, it knew about the matter. In contrast to what was implied by some of the media coverage and WDR’s “Faktencheck,” the Australian government did not exonerate World Vision. Rather, as explained by Australian Ambassador to Israel Dave Sharma, “the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade conducted a review of its aid management and found nothing to indicate any awareness on our part of Mr El-Halabi’s alleged wrongdoing” (emphasis added). In other words, the Australian government did not take any position on the allegations regarding World Vision.
- Since the allegations first arose in August 2016, World Vision has repeatedly claimed that its total budget for Gaza over 10 years was less than the $50 million allegedly embezzled. Nevertheless, a series of articles in The Australian revealed that this claim is inconsistent with the organization’s own financial reporting. According to data published in World Vision Jerusalem-West Bank-Gaza’s annual reports, income for 2004-2015 was $133 million.
- All “claims” addressed in this report were translated from the original German by NGO Monitor.
- Not the figure of 398 mentioned in the film.
- Who Profits originated as a project of CWP “in response to the Palestinian Call for boycott, divestment, and sanction (BDS) on Israel”; it is now an independent daughter organization entirely dedicated to BDS efforts.