[Opinion] An Irresponsible Civil Society Harms Israel
To the long list of hot-button topics embroiling the Jewish state, from Iran to terrorism, the spillover from Syria and the prospects for peace, we can now add one more: irresponsible nongovernmental organizations that use underhanded tactics in the name of human rights.
NGOs that claim to promote peace and human rights are big business in Israel, with dozens of groups competing for money and headlines. One group, Breaking the Silence, or BTS, with a 2014 income of $1 million, may not be the country’s largest, but it’s been making the biggest waves.
With about 10 activists on staff, BTS publishes anonymous and unverifiable testimonies from Israeli soldiers who claim to have witnessed Israeli forces committing war crimes. Representatives of BTS travel the world repeating these stories, appearing in parliaments and before United Nations bodies, university campuses and in the media.
To audiences with no experience in combat with terror groups, the emotional claims of these soldiers can easily appear authentic. Many of the details in these accounts are unreliable or are later proved false. But the accusations go unquestioned, and the political damage is significant.
The bigger problem is that groups like BTS get most of their money, up to tens of millions of dollars, from European governments, including Sweden and Switzerland, either directly or indirectly. The European Union, for instance, is reported as BTS’s largest single donor of 2015. BTS is also one of about 20 similar groups that were built by the powerful U.S.-based New Israel Fund.
These well-financed organizations have enraged Israelis and have triggered counterattacks and legislative proposals to outlaw, tax or limit NGOs involved in impugning Israel…
For the majority of Israelis, the role of NGOs in Israel is an important debate to have. These organizations’ invective, their propaganda campaigns and their attacks on Israel, with the assistance of foreign governments, will escalate further. Legislation on “foreign agent” restrictions may soon come to pass. European-funded campaigns attacking the country’s moral standing and exploiting the language of human rights is taking the country across too many red lines. The dangers of being turned into a pariah state through these international campaigns outweigh the costs of stigmatizing NGOs and limiting their travel.