EU opens official investigation into allegations of funding to terror-linked NGOs
As Israeli government frameworks reveal more information on the connections between European funded Palestinian NGOs and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) terrorist group, European government bodies have launched investigations into this funding.
The latest Israeli revelations and European investigation began with a May 2021 Israel Security Agency announcement that it had uncovered a network of NGOs that diverted humanitarian assistance from European governments to the PFLP. 1
Since then, Israeli authorities have taken steps against four Palestinian NGOs with reported ties to the PFLP – Health Work Committees (HWC), Union of Agricultural Work Committees (UWAC), Defense for Children International – Palestine (DCI-P), and Bisan Center for Research and Development (Bisan) – including searches at NGO offices, closure orders, and arrest of NGO officials. All four have been implementing partners on European-funded projects, including €29 million from the European Commission in 2011-2021.2
In Europe, in August 2021, Belgian media reported3 that the Anti-Fraud Service (OLAF) had opened a preliminary terror financing investigation into European Commission support for PFLP-linked Palestinian organizations. (In November 2020, NGO Monitor filed a complaint with OLAF regarding EU funding to terror-linked NGOs.)
The EU’s lengthy and non-transparent investigation
In December 2019, the ISA revealed the arrest of members in a 50-person PFLP West Bank terror network, allegedly responsible for an August 2019 bombing that murdered an Israeli teenager, Rina Shnerb. Among those arrested were several senior employees of European government-funded NGOs, including financial officers.
Following an questions raised by MEPs in the wake of the murder, at a May 19, 2020 session of the European Parliament Committee on Foreign Affairs (AFET), Commissioner for Neighborhood and Enlargement Olivér Várhelyi stated that he had instructed the heads of the EU delegations to Israel and the West Bank/ Gaza to “look deep[ly]” into allegations that some EU funds go to terror-linked or terror-supporting NGOs, declaring that such funding “will not be tolerated.” As of October 2021, no information about this internal review has been made public.
In parallel, on June 9, 2020, the office of the President of the European Commission confirmed in correspondence with NGO Monitor that terror related offences by senior employees or officials by EU NGO grantees would constitute a breach of contractual obligations by clarifying that “these [safeguards] rules make the participation of entities, individuals or groups affiliated linked or supporting terrorist organisations incompatible with any EU funding” (emphasis added).
As a direct result of these developments, the European Parliament declared, in an April 2021 vote on its annual budgetary report, that EU funds cannot be allocated or linked to any cause or form of terrorism and/or religious and political radicalization. In addition, for the first time, the Parliament called on the European Commission to ensure that EU funds to disqualified grantees are proactively recovered, and recipients involved in terrorism are excluded from any future EU funding.
Other European government investigations
In June 2021, Belgium Minister of Development Cooperation and Major Cities Policy Meryame Kitir declared that Belgium was conducting an internal investigation into its funding to Palestinian NGOs, following an Israeli announcement that European aid transferred to Palestinian NGOs had been diverted to the PFLP. However, ignoring the extensively documented terror connections between Belgian grantees and the PFLP terror group, in July 2021, Kitir announced her rejection of demands for an independent investigation into the suspected aid diversion.
On July 20, 2020, the Dutch government announced that it was suspending funding to the Union of Agricultural Work Committees (UAWC) over its PFLP ties. During a parliamentary debate, Foreign Minister Stef Blok and Development Minister Sigrid Kaag acknowledged that an internal government audit had concluded that Dutch funds were used to pay the salaries of two senior UAWC employees accused of involvement in the bombing attack in which Rina Shnerb was murdered. In May 2021, Minister Kaag told parliament that an independent investigation of Dutch funding to UAWC would be concluded in December 2021.
- According to Israeli authorities: “Popular Front organizations (PFLP-affiliated NGOs) deceived assistance organizations in Europe using various methods – reporting fictitious projects, transferring false documents, forging and inflating invoices, diverting tenders, forging bank documents and signatures, reporting inflated salaries, etc. The considerable financing that was received was transferred – inter alia – to payments for the families of Popular Front ‘martyrs’, salaries for militants, recruiting new members, advancing and strengthening terrorist activity, funding Popular Front militants in Jerusalem and the dissemination of Popular Front messages and ideology” (emphasis added).
- In 2011-2021, the European Commission provided approximately €29 million for projects including HWC (€1.27 million), UAWC (€22 million), DCI-P (€4.1 million), and Bisan (€1.65 million). For more information, see NGO Monitor’s report “EU Funding to Terror-Linked Palestinian NGOs Since 2011.”
- It appears that the information was provided on July 14, 2021, by the Belgian Minister of Development Cooperation and Major Cities Policy, during a foreign affairs committee meeting.