On May 6, 2014, the Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law Secretariat posted an April Newsletter on its website. The newsletter provides an account of the Secretariat’s “Launch Event” from March, attended by officials from the Swedish, Dutch, Danish, and Swiss governments – the donor consortium that funds the Secretariat. The Secretariat’s primary goal is funding Israeli and Palestinian NGOs, and also in attendance were representatives from the Israeli NGOs Adalah, B’Tselem, Bimkom, Breaking the Silence, Gisha, HaMoked, Physicians for Human Rights-Israel (PHR-I), Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI), and Yesh Din.

According to the newsletter, in his welcoming remarks, Secretariat Manager Mustafa Mari “thanked the Secretariat team, donors and partner CSOs for their work while highlighting the difficulties faced by the Palestinian people and the need for supporting the human rights and international humanitarian law CSO sector, while reminding the audience of the apartheid-like realities that duty-bearers must address” (emphasis added). Notably, the press release (March 30, 2014) about the event omitted the last phrase about “apartheid-like realities.”

The demonizing language used by a leading Secretariat official raises fundamental questions: about its capacity to operate in a responsible, objective, and unbiased manner that reflects well on the donor governments; about whether donor countries are implementing effective oversight regarding their funding program. The newsletter does not indicate whether the government officials objected to the offensive remarks, or whether the Israeli NGOs in the room responded in any way.

The newsletter also draws attention to the ambiguous role of the donor countries in the context of the Secretariat. On one hand, the Secretariat website implies that the four donor governments control the organization, responsible for all decision making and fully engaged with the project. On the other hand, the newsletter contains a disclaimer that “The views expressed here do not necessarily represent those of the Secretariat’s donors,” suggesting that the Secretariat is an independent entity with a limited relationship with the donor governments.

It is not surprising that a funding mechanism run by an individual who uses “apartheid” rhetoric to demonize Israel supports groups that also exploit the false “apartheid” analogy, engage in legal warfare against Israeli officials and companies that do business with Israel, and promote BDS (boycott, divestment, and sanctions) campaigns. However, it is unlikely that this is what the governments of Sweden, Netherlands, Denmark, and Switzerland intended for a program ostensibly devoted to human rights and international law.