Anne Herzberg, NGO Monior Legal Advisor, Interviewed on "Today with Pat Kenny" on Irish National Radio


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Pat Kenny [00:33]: Good morning and welcome! Today a pro-Israeli group called “NGO Monitor” has a go at Trocaire; in a few moments they’ll air their differences here….

After coming under fierce international pressure, Israel has eased its blockade of Gaza, but it’s resisting attempts of an international inquiry into a deadly raid on the ship trying to break the blockade of Gaza. As you remember, nine pro-Palestinian activists died when Israeli soldiers stormed the ship. Now, a group called “NGO Monitor,” represented by Anne Herzberg, will appear before the Oireachtas Joint Committee on European Affairs today. The pro-Israeli group monitors the work of non-governmental organizations, and has accused organizations such as Trocaire of bias and double standards. We’re joined by Anne Herzberg, and by Eamonn Meehan, deputy director of Trocaire. Good morning to you both.
First of all, you might tell us about NGO Monitor – who you are, and who your sponsors are.

Anne Herzberg [01:58]: NGO Monitor is based in Jerusalem. We were founded about seven years ago to monitor the activities of human rights and humanitarian NGOs in the Arab-Israeli conflict. After the 2001 World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa, we noticed that NGOs that had been increasingly accumulating power on the world stage were actually not sticking to their mandates of advocating for universal human rights. And therefore we wanted to take a closer look at exactly what are these organizations doing, and perhaps, are these organizations even in keeping with promoting peace and easing the conflict.

PK [02:34]: I described you as a pro-Israeli group. Is that fair, as a description.

AH [02:37]: I would say in general, that’s a fair description. We don’t have a lot of resources, but we are starting to look at conflict areas around the world, and we’ve looked a little bit into Colombia, Sri Lanka, Africa, and we hope to expand our activities into other areas.

PK [03:04]: Alright. So they want to get your view on what’s going on. Now, will you specify what your problem is with Irish NGOs, but particularly with Trocaire?

AH [03:13]: Well, one thing that should be stressed is a lot of the NGOs, humanitarian organizations, including Trocaire, receive tens of millions of euros each year from European governments, from the EU, even [from] the Irish government. And in many cases, the activities of these organizations are not in keeping with the policies of the government [whose] funding they’re receiving. So for instance, I have a letter here that I received from the secretary of Irish Aid…

PK [03:42]: It [Irish Aid] is part of our Department of Foreign Affairs.

AH [03:43]: Yes. [Trocaire] receives twenty to thirty million euro a year from the Department, and he says in the letter that they [Irish Aid] do not support campaigns for trade sanctions or boycotts against Israel. Yet when we examine the activities of Trocaire, a lot of the organizations that they work with – and even their own campaigns – actually seem to be in contrast to those policies.

PK [04:06]: Do you have examples of that?

AH [04:09]: For instance, just in the past six months, Trocaire has advocated to keep Israel out of the OECD, it’s advocated suspending the EU-Israel Association agreement; it’s partners with organizations such as Badil [and] the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, that are part of the national boycott movement against Israel – which doesn’t call for a two state solution, but this movement actually calls for the eradication of Israel. They consider all of Israel to be occupied, not just territory beyond the Green Line.


AH [09:00]: I would take issue with that. Number one, I don’t believe Trocaire is advocating to block EU association agreements with other countries. Right now, the EU has association agreements with Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, and Egypt, and they’re actually looking to enter into one with Syria. And I have not seen any efforts on Trocaire’s behalf to block those agreements, especially in cases [of] those countries where the human rights situation is much, much worse than it is in the Arab-Israeli conflict. Secondly, I would take issue with characterizing some of the organizations, like Palestinian Center for Human Rights, as a human rights organization. While it calls itself a human rights organization, I believe it actually exploits the rhetoric of human rights. For instance, it calls attacks on Israeli civilians as “resistance.” It does not speak out against attacks on Israelis. It has not said anything about the rights of Gilad Shalit, who has been held incommunicado this week for over four years, after he was kidnapped from Israeli soil. And I don’t believe Trocaire has actually done much on his rights either.
What we see with a lot of these organizations [is that] they take a very one-sided view to the conflict. They reduce the narrative to a very simplistic picture where Palestinians are the sole victims, they’re incapable of having agency for their actions, and Israel is the supreme violator, the worst violator in the world. The picture is a lot more complicated than these organizations make it out to be.

PK [13:40]: What’s your response to that, Eammon? I mean, people are oppressed by Hamas as well.

Trocaire Deputy Director Eamonn Meehan [13:45]: Absolutely. And there is no doubt about that. Last week, staff of Trocaire were told by UN agencies and by Palestinian human rights organizations that Hamas does oppress them, in many aspects of their lives. There is no doubt about that. And if you ask Palestinians in Gaza what they want, first of all, they want a reconciliation between opposing factions on the ground that would make their lives easier and that would enable a proper negotiation with Israel. That is what they are saying. That is what they want. And in our view, Hamas is not a government that will do justice for the Palestinians in the long term. But at the moment, the overwhelming issue is the impoverishment of the people of Gaza by the state of Israel. Seventy percent of that population, 1.4 million people, live on less than one dollar a day. And that, ultimately, is why Trocaire is there.

PK [14:45]: But is Trocaire pointing out – or can it, given the circumscribing of freedom of speech – are you saying to the people who are oppressed by their own government, “Listen guys, it’s not Israel [that’s] your only problem. Your own government is your only problem. And yet you elected them in the Gaza Territory”?

EM [15:04]: Well, they’re aware of that. They are aware of that. And the situation is complex.

PK [15:10]: You’re picking up the pieces, though, for that government – that failed government. An oppressive government. Aren’t you almost like a co-conspirator?

EM [15:19]: Not really. We’re pointing out the reality on the ground, we’re telling the story as it is. And it’s not as if we are the only organization telling the story.

PK [15:27]: But you know the way you are trying to pressure Israel to be kept out of the OECD, Israel to have their agreement with Europe suspended. Is there any question of going to Hamas and saying, “Listen, we’re out of here, unless you guys shape up”? Or is that the kind of conversation you cannot have with Hamas?

EM [15:45]: We haven’t spoken to them. We talk to UN agencies in Gaza, we talk to legitimate, independent Palestinian organizations, we talk to the Catholic Church in Gaza, and we get our views and our information from those sources. And as I’ve said, they don’t like Hamas.

PK [16:02]: No, but the example I would give is that when we were giving lots of money to Uganda, they were able to embark on a foreign war in the Congo, knowing that we were going to build the schools for them.

EM [16:12]: Well, I don’t think it’s the same.

PK [16:15]: But there are parallels. You know, as long as the agencies go in there and prop up, effectively, the Hamas government.

EM [16:22]: Well, I don’t believe that that is what is happening. Would you say the same of the United Nations, whose program there is, in scale, vastly greater than anything that we can do?

PK [16:31]: But isn’t there a very interesting principle here? That you allow an oppressive government to continue, you allow a government which is flinging rockets into Israel to continue to do that. You say, “We’ll stick it out here. We will feed the hungry” – which is a wonderful imperative to respond to, but at the same time, the second effect of that is to support a government which is oppressive.

EM [16:54]: Well, if we weren’t there doing our work, if the UN wasn’t there doing its work, I think Hamas would be even more oppressive, and the people of Gaza would be even more oppressed and would be starving. And that is not something that the international community can allow or would accept.

PK [17:10]: So Anne, today, when you go to this Committee on European Affairs, what do you want to happen? Do you want Irish Aid to stop giving money to Trocaire?

AH [17:16]: I think that Irish Aid shouldn’t stop giving the money, but they need to examine exactly what programs are being undertaken there, and are these programs effective. I haven’t seen too many internal audits, external audits, independent evaluations of whether or not these programs are actually helping the people there.

PK [17:32]: Well, Irish Aid, I’m told – speaking of oppression – are almost oppressive in their demand for crossing the T’s and dotting the I’s in terms of accounting for the money.

AH [17:41]: That’s one aspect of it, but I think the more important aspect is the substantive aspect. Not just “is the money not being misused” but “is the money being directed towards programs that are the most effective” and can actually help the people, and reduce incitement, and actually try to bring Palestinians and Israelis closer together rather than driving them apart.
And you actually raised a very good point: there’s a phenomenon now that a lot of academics are speaking about called the “weaponization of human rights.” In fact, the US Supreme Court this week issued a very important decision, where they considered, in some cases, humanitarian organizations [to be] giving material support to terror organizations in a lot of the work they do. This phenomenon has been seen in Colombia, in Turkey, and in Sri Lanka. It raises a very important debate.


PK [21:25]: Alright. Eammon Meehan, the deputy director of Trocaire, thank you very much. And Anne Herzberg of NGO Monitor, thank you also.