Last week, the Israeli NGO Yesh Din released a report labeling Israel’s legal system “defective” and calling to “criminalize war crimes in Israeli law.” What news articles on the report omitted, however, was that the document was part of a 150,000 euro grant to Yesh Din provided by the EU.
The purpose of the “grant was to change Israeli policy vis-a-vis criminal accountability of Israeli security forces personnel in the occupied Palestinian territories, in such a way that acknowledges and takes into account the severity and the different nature of war crimes, as distinguished from regular, domestic crimes.”
On its face, the grant appears to be part of the EU’s longstanding lobbying efforts to get countries to join the International Criminal Court or at least to adopt the provisions of the Court’s Rome statute into their domestic legislation. The EU is highly invested in the ICC project.
European countries were the strongest advocates for the creation of the Court and almost all have signed on. Yet, to date, the ICC has not been particularly successful. The ICC’s annual budget is more than $100 million, but in the past decade, the court has only completed two trials (one ended in acquittal). Due to perceived bias and other problems, African ministers even threatened to vote on pulling out of the court at the latest meeting of the African Union.
In this context, the EU is desperate to garner support from additional countries that have not yet signed on to the ICC, and Israel is one of its targets.
However, if the EU’s goal indeed is to influence Israeli domestic policy, the choice of Yesh Din as a partner in carrying out this objective is bizarre and completely counterproductive.
YESH DIN is a radical NGO with little support from within Israeli society. According to one of its activists, the organization “was founded to use law as a tool to fight the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories.”
Over 70 percent of its budget is supplied by European governments directly, or indirectly via Christian organizations. (It also gets funding from the New Israel Fund and George Soros’s Open Society Institute.) The processes by which this funding, and other grants to Israeli NGOs, are allocated are not transparent.
In fact, the EU and the European Court of Justice are so afraid that this information might be revealed that they have continually tried to shield it from scrutiny under a nonconvincing rationale of “public security,” essentially equating such projects to top secret weapons or intelligence programs.
In its reports, activities and partnerships, Yesh Din attempts to portray Israel and its security forces as “war criminals” and unaccountable to the rule of law. Two of Yesh Din’s activists are attorneys Michael Sfard and Emily Schaffer, key players in the NGO “lawfare” movement which seeks to have Israeli officials arrested for war crimes abroad.
They have brought legal action in Canada against companies engaging in business over the Green Line claiming they are aiding and abetting war crimes. They have both appeared as witnesses for Russell Tribunal kangaroo court that sought to put Israel and its allies “on trial” in order to promote anti-Israel boycotts.
Sfard has even appeared as a paid expert witness on behalf of the PLO in a lawsuit brought in US Federal Court in Miami by a group of terror victims against Fatah’s Aksa Martyrs Brigades. The PLO was relying on a Yesh Din report and Sfard’s testimony to help avoid having to pay compensation and being held accountable for the crime.
IT IS more than strange then, that given these hostile activities, the EU would choose this organization as a partner to aid its campaign to impact Israeli domestic policy. Unfortunately, however, the Yesh Din example is not an isolated case.
Time and again, European governments and church groups disbursing government funds give millions of euros annually to marginal organizations that will have almost no impact on Israeli society at large. Common sense would dictate that if Europe’s goal is to actually change policy, it would be far better served by channeling funding to institutions or organizations that have more credibility to achieve the desired objectives.
Moreover, this funding phenomenon begs the question as to why Europe is even enlisting NGOs as its proxies, rather than engaging in direct diplomacy with the Israeli government.
Given this context, it is not surprising that EU-Israel relations are at their lowest point in many years.
It is time for the EU and other European countries to come clean about their true objectives with this funding, instead of hiding behind the cloaks of “international law,” “human rights,” “public security,” or other pretexts. If the NGO funding is indeed intended to influence positive change within Israel, then they need to select credible and trusted NGO partners that are capable of achieving the results, rather than organizations that engage in lawfare and other forms of political warfare.
The EU and European governments must openly and honestly explain to the Israeli public and their own taxpayers what motivates this funding in the Arab-Israeli conflict and why this money is being funneled to marginal NGOs. If they are unable to do so, then it probably isn’t such a good idea in the first place.
The author is the legal adviser of NGO Monitor and the author of NGO ‘Lawfare’: Exploitation of Courts in the Arab-Israeli Conflict.