[Opinion] Israeli political NGOs and the transparency law
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Transparency regarding foreign government funding for non-governmental organizations is essential for ensuring the values of democracy and accountability.
Last week, NGO Monitor released a detailed report on submissions made by NGOs to the Israeli Registrar of Non-Profits in 2012, as mandated by the NGO Funding Transparency Law.
The law, which was passed in February 2011 and went into effect at the beginning of 2012, requires NGOs to file quarterly reports on support received from foreign government bodies.
The submissions show that, as of February 10, NIS 40,126,562 was provided to 32 NGOs from a number of foreign governments in 2012. Of this, NIS 25,881,545, 64 percent, went to 14 political NGOs involved in polarizing activity and political advocacy in the context of the Arab-Israeli conflict. These groups include B’Tselem, Adalah, Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, Gisha and Yesh Din.
Many political advocacy NGOs use foreign government funding to greatly inflate their impact within the Israeli democratic process, in a manner without parallel in any other democracy.
Groups such as B’Tselem or Association for Civil Rights in Israel are primarily political opposition groups, as distinct from human rights organizations.
These political NGOs are also active in promoting false allegations of “war crimes” and “racial discrimination,” which are uncritically repeated by the international media, European diplomats, and UN officials, as part of demonization campaigns. This was a central part of the discredited Goldstone report, and is repeated frequently.
On January 30, B’Tselem used its large budget to promote highly distorted and misleading allegations about the IDF’s use of non-lethal force to counter violent protests in the West Bank. The EU and the UN then parroted these accusations.
Israeli NGOs also benefit from the misleading label of “civil society” groups in order to advance the Durban Strategy based on delegitmization campaigns targeting Israel. As with the Goldstone report, the Israeli NGO network was central in the UN’s politicized report on settlements, released in January. In other examples, officials from Coalition of Women for Peace and the Israeli Coalition against House Demolitions travel the world promoting BDS (the boycott, divestment and sanctions) campaigns.
The release of our report had a number of important ramifications. First, it generated more transparency from NGOs funded by foreign governments. The most important aspect of the NGO Transparency Law is the obligation to report completely and in a prompt manner, in contrast to the standard delay of two or more years, by which time the damage in terms of false allegations and anti-Israel campaigns is already done.
Donations to Adalah had not appeared on the Registrar of Non-Profits website until this week, but now the Israeli public knows that this NGO received NIS 311,352 from foreign governments in the first quarter of 2012. Similarly, B’Tselem posted updated funding information on its website as a result of our report.
The massive funding of Israeli political groups through European government frameworks is unprecedented in relations between democracies, particularly when the funding decisions are made under tight secrecy.
Although the figures on the Registrar’s website are likely incomplete as it appears that not all foreign-funded NGOs submitted reports, this law has helped Israeli and European citizens in terms of the public’s right to know how their lives are affected by this form of external intervention. European officials will now be forced to justify what has largely been a failed and counterproductive policy of funding, often contrary to their own stated policy declarations in regard to the Middle East peace process.
Another result of our report was angry and uncivil backlash from some of the political advocacy NGOs. In a Jerusalem Post article on our research, “Groups spar with NGO Monitor over foreign funding” (February 5, 2013), B’Tselem’s spokesperson Sarit Michaeli lashed out at NGO Monitor, evidently without checking the facts. She referred to an alleged “gap of over NIS 2 million” between what B’Tselem reported and what our research showed, and claimed that “B’Tselem has published [funding information] on its website for years.”
Both these statements are misleading.
As expressly stated at the beginning of our report, the numbers therein reflect the total foreign government funding listed on the Registrar of Non-Profits website as of January 27, 2013. Therefore, submissions that appeared after that date were not included in our report. Since January 27, updates were made to the Registrar’s website showing further grants to B’Tselem in the amount of NIS 500,000. This shows that either Michaeli failed to carefully read NGO Monitor’s analysis and did not consult the Registrar website, or B’Tselem deliberately misled the Israeli public and the readers of the Jerusalem Post in order to smear NGO Monitor.
As to her second claim, until February 5, 2013, B’Tselem’s website only listed foreign government donations for 2011. On February 5, a few days after NGO Monitor’s report was published and after Michaeli made defamatory remarks about our research in the media, B’Tselem added the quarterly reports for 2012. (This can be verified based on the date of the webpage and the dates of the PDFs posted on it.) In response to our report, B’Tselem CEO Jessica Montell stated in a radio interview that foreign government funding is nothing to be ashamed of. Indeed, 72 percent of donations to B’Tselem in 2011 came from foreign government entities. But the defensive reactions and attempts to silence public debate suggest otherwise.
The new funding transparency law has broken through the secrecy of foreign government funding processes and advanced the Israeli public’s right to know. Transparency regarding government funding for NGOs transcends partisan ideology, it is essential for ensuring the values of democracy and accountability, and to opening the door to further dialogue.