Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) exercise a great deal of political power, without being subject to the checks and balances of democracy or media scrutiny. The organization that I founded, NGO Monitor, is an attempt to provide at least some substantive and independent analysis and counter to the growing impact, particularly regarding Israel.
The need for informed and serious criticism became apparent during the 2001 Forum of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) that took place in Durban, South Africa. This forum, held under the banner of the UN Human Rights Commission, brought in 5,000 delegates from over 1,500 NGOs, ostensibly to celebrate the end of apartheid. In fact, this high-profile event was turned into the opening attack in a dirty political war targeting Israel “as an apartheid state,” and using weapons such as boycotts, demonization and lawfare.
In this ongoing conflict, journalists play a central role in marketing the NGO “reports” and condemnations accusing Israel of war crimes and violations of human rights. In the media, NGO officials that attack Israel are automatically given the role of experts on the complexities of urban warfare and international law, without examination of their credentials, which are usually non-existent. For example, the Jerusalem bureau of The New York Times often quotes politically biased NGO officials with no expertise on urban warfare, thereby furthering the Durban agenda of Israel bashing.
In democracies, journalists enjoy a privileged position as the embodiment of a free press, enabling them to criticize powerful actors, and to help the public make informed decisions. But when the media itself promotes the unchecked power of political groups such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty, and suppresses criticism of these NGOs, democracy is ill-served.