The Jerusalem-based watchdog organization NGO Monitor has issued a report alleging that Belgium taxpayer funds are being used to finance ‘anti- Israel’ NGOs, including lawsuits against Israeli officials.
According to the newly released NGO Monitor report on Belgium, the Federal Public Service, an intermediary governmental agency in Belgium, provided payments in 2010 to “political advocacy NGOs that claim a human rights mandate, such as Yesh Din, Public Committee against Torture in Israel (PCATI), and Combatants for Peace (CFP).”
“The transfer of over 800,000 euros in the past three years from Belgian taxpayers to opposition groups, under the façade of promoting peace and human rights, adds to the resentment of many Israelis, including Knesset members.
Many criticize this as manipulative and anti-democratic,” Prof. Gerald Steinberg, the president of NGO Monitor, told the Jerusalem Post.
NGO Monitor charged that Yesh Din – Volunteers for Human Rights used funds to initiate litigation against Israeli officials because of alleged human rights abuses.
The use of foreign money to influence Israel’s political and judicial systems has been the source of a heated debate in the Knesset, including bills designed to promote transparency among foreign funding of NGOs in Israel.
Asked about Belgium’s role in financing Israeli NGOs, Michel Malherbe, a spokesman for the Belgium Foreign Ministry, told the Post, “Belgium does not fund NGOs. We fund specific activities and examine the track record of the execution organization on a number of criteria. Respect for human rights is a major one.
“The project executed by Yesh Din does not include legal action against Israeli officials. It does include filing petitions based on the Israeli Freedom of Information Act.”
According to Yesh Din’s website, the NGO “is an Israeli human rights organization working to achieve long-term structural improvement in the human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
We are an independent nongovernmental organization, supported by donations from individuals and institutional donors.”
In an e-mail to the Post on Saturday, Hila Aloni, a representative from Yesh Din, denied that the organization files law suits against Israeli officials.
“As a human rights organization, Yesh Din promotes accountability by the Israeli government, and demands it to do its job of proper law enforcement in the occupied territories, according to both Israeli and international law.
We do not file suits against Israeli officials, but assist Palestinians to petition the Israeli justice system to challenge allegedly illegal or unjust actions taken by Israeli authorities. All of our financial information is completely public and transparent, unlike pro-occupation organizations that do not reveal their funding sources,” Aloni wrote.
For Yesh Din, “A sum of 80,000 EUR has been approved by the Belgians this year, although the money hasn’t been received yet,” she added.
According to the Belgium Foreign Ministry spokesman, the Federal Public Service in 2009-2010 provided about 850,000 euros to Israeli and Palestinian NGOs, “of which 600,000 was in occupied Palestinian territory (450,000 medical work).”
He added that the following year, the FPS gave about 450,000 euros in public monies for activities in the Palestinian Territories and Israel.
Steinberg told the Post that “Foreign Minister [Steven] Vanackere’s support for the Israeli NGO transparency law is important, as is the publication of information on Belgium government funding for political advocacy NGOs in Israel.
This information is necessary for an informed debate on the morality and impact of this funding. In contrast, Belgian transparency is incomplete, with an absence of information on grants to Palestinian and European political groups.”
The Belgium Foreign Ministry spokesman responded: “We believe our transparency is complete and goes beyond the Belgian legal requirements. Israel legal requirements provide for transparency for funding from public sources. Transparency should apply to all types of funding, also private funding. We do not know what NGO Monitor means when it speaks about ‘Palestinian and European political groups.’ “Belgium also finances organizations including Peace Now, Palestinian Medical Relief Society and the Parents Circle.