[Opinion] 'Breaking the Silence' Probe Fuels NGO Reporting Bid
The revelations that the Israeli political organization Breaking the Silence (BTS) was gathering sensitive or potentially classified information on the IDF caught many Israelis – including me, a long-time critic of this fringe NGO – off guard. Like others, I knew that the handful of activists in this group promote anonymous allegations of terrible war crimes. I also knew that this message was repeated in front of audiences around the world, at times to those who simply hate Israel and, more frequently, talking to people with little or no understanding of reality in the region… If nothing else, the revelations of gross misjudgment by BTS leaders should give these funders pause and lead to a review of their high-stakes decision-making processes.
The real problem with BTS is the money they have, provided by irresponsible donors, including European governments and the New Israel Fund (NIF). Together, these funders give over $1 million every year to a handful of radical activists under the official façade of promoting human rights and international law among Israelis. With this money, BTS holds events in churches, parliaments and universities, promoting specious allegations of Israeli “war crimes”.
For a significant part of the Israeli public, the powerful but undemocratic power of fringe groups like BTS, and the damage that they do in helping to demonize the Jewish state, has reached the boiling point. Responding to the unparalleled sums of money involved, and the secrecy that envelopes European funding processes for Israeli political NGOs, Justice Minister Shaked advanced legislation aimed at making these donations more transparent… Unlike other proposals, this one does not involve selective taxes or other penalties. It is a form of transparency, and shares elements with America’s Foreign Agents Registration Act and congressional requirements.
Israel cannot legislate for Europe, but it can regulate Israeli NGOs, and reassert the core principle that only Israeli citizens can decide our future. But legislation on NGOs, even for Israel, is inherently problematic – a much better solution would take the form of mutually acceptable funding guidelines – such as those proposed by NGO Monitor. These guidelines would create the due diligence, transparency and accountability that has been sorely lacking in the transfer of funds to political NGOs, and that has given irresponsible fringe groups such as Breaking the Silence the resources to cause major harm.