On Wednesday, February 27, a Haaretz headline provocatively declared, “EU consuls recommend imposing sanctions on Israeli settlements.”
The story centered on a leaked internal European Union document, written by diplomats stationed in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. The non-binding policy paper recommends that the EU consider economic sanctions against Israel in response to settlement activity and is highly critical of Israeli policy in east Jerusalem. The report, which obscures the differences of opinion among member states, claims to speak for the entire EU.
Understandably, Israeli government officials were upset with the harsh criticisms made outside of diplomatic channels. In fact, the Israeli government was not consulted with regard to the report.
By the end of Wednesday, another key element of the story emerged. As reported in The Jerusalem Post, the Israeli NGO Breaking the Silence, which is known primarily for its false allegations of Israeli “war crimes” and was awarded 166,538 euros from the EU for 2012-2013, was behind the leak.
This raises fundamental and disturbing questions about European diplomacy: How was it that an Israeli NGO had access to an internal EU report, one that was not shared with the Israeli government? Why would the EU conduct its diplomacy with non-elected, non-democratic Israeli NGOs, instead of with the Israeli government? The leak, via Breaking the Silence, highlights what seems to be a secret and inappropriate relationship between European funders and their NGO grantees.
Was the report given deliberately to Breaking the Silence on the condition, or at least the assumption, that the NGO would leak it to the media? Are it, and other NGOs considered “insiders” within the backrooms of European embassies and missions, and did other NGOs also receive copies of the report? Although the EU regretted the leak, it did not regret the multiple violations of diplomatic norms.
In fact, this is not the first instance of such a leak. Since 2010, six similar documents from the offices of EU representatives in Israel and the Palestinian Authority – dealing with the central, complex and sensitive issues of Israeli policy in Jerusalem, “Area C,” the status of IsraeliArab citizens, and the allegations of settler violence – have been leaked to the Israeli and international media.
The leaks have occurred with such frequency and consistency that this appears to be standard operating procedure for the EU. It is not clear, however, whether the leaks are approved by senior EU diplomats, or whether they are attempts by junior EU officials to subvert policy with which they do not agree.
As with the previous leaked documents, the claims and conclusions of the latest report are based on the non-verified statements and prejudicial opinions of NGOs that themselves receive much of their funding from the EU and member states. This “echo chamber,” whereby the EU and European governments fund NGOs and then repeat their false, inaccurate, or misleading allegations in determining foreign policy, produces damaging and ill-informed policies, while exacerbating conflict between the EU and Israeli democratic polity.
For instance, the EU’s position on Jerusalem, particularly its condemnation of Israeli archaeological activity around the Old City, originated with highly politicized groups such as Emek Shaveh, whose European funders include Norway, and Ir Amim, funded by the EU, Sweden and Norway.
Additionally, the EU policy paper obtained by Breaking the Silence was unmistakably and directly influenced by an October 2012 report, endorsed by 22 European (and European-government funded) NGOs, titled, “Trading Away Peace.” In this report, the NGOs adopt a BDS (boycotts, divestment, sanctions) agenda, calling on the EU and national governments to wage political warfare through various forms of economic sanctions on Israel.
The policy recommendations in the leaked report mirror those of the 22 NGOs, from the specifics of the suggested economic sanctions, to promoting guidelines for European tour operators, to the “increased monitoring of settler violence” and having EU member states examine the possibility of “denying entry to known violent settlers.”
With this report, as in the past, European officials failed to consult a broader range of sources from a wide spectrum of political positions and with different forms of expertise. This violation of the principles of good governance results in poor policy. Relying on distorted and one-sided NGOs, the EU documents make policy recommendations that, if implemented, make conflict and violence more likely, by reinforcing the narrative of exclusive Palestinian victimization.
In the next few weeks, the EU will reportedly embark on a new Israeli-Palestinian peace initiative. However, the latest EU-NGO leak threatens to undermine such efforts. The anti-diplomacy inherent in the EU’s secretive cooperation with highly politicized NGOs, behind the back of the Israeli government, will further erode the EU’s credibility within Israel.
If the EU truly wants to be a serious player in promoting peace, stability and compromise, then it must put an end to the non-transparent and damaging relationships with NGO grantees and commit to the basic tenets of good diplomacy and responsible governance.
Naftali Balanson is the managing editor and Ariella Kimmel the communications associate for NGO Monitor, a Jerusalem-based research institute.