On October 17, the “Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists & Democrats” in the European Parliament participated in a seminar in Brussels entitled “Beduin in the Naqab/Negev: Dreams and Nightmare.”
During the event, a poster which read “Stop Prawer-Begin Plan, no ethnic cleansing of Palestinian Beduin” was prominently displayed.
Key Israeli officials such as Doron Almog, the director of the directorate for economic and community development of the Negev Beduin in the Prime Minister’s Office, did not receive permission to participate, despite repeated requests. Clearly, the display of bias and exclusion of Israeli policy makers prevented members of the European Parliament from making informed decisions regarding Beduin citizens in the Negev. The so-called seminar, based entirely on biased presentations that excluded key facts, is another example of the damage caused by political advocacy NGOs and the European governments that fund them.
Land claims, unrecognized Beduin villages, and the complicated relationship between the State of Israel and the Beduin population in the Negev have concerned Israeli governments for decades. Over the past few years, the complexities gained new urgency, leading to the Goldberg Commission for the Regulation of the Beduin Settlements in the Negev (year), the Prawer report (year), and legislation based on these recommendations, introduced by then-minister Benny Begin, which passed the first reading in June 2013.
In parallel, international frameworks, such as EU and UN, became involved with this issue. As in the case of the “seminar” in Brussels, such events are often led by political NGOs with a big axe to grind. In this and many other platforms, members of the NGO network exploit the complexity of the Beduin to promote the broader process of anti-Israel demonization.
Giving the Beduin population a voice in Israel is important, but the behavior of these NGOs drowns out this voice, as well as substantive discussions.
In contrast to the inherent complexity, NGOs present the issues in a one-sided, simplistic way, based on unreliable sources and total distortion of the Israeli legal system.
Some NGOs also employ demonizing rhetoric, falsely attacking serious approaches as “apartheid,” “a process of disinheritance” and “discrimination” against the Beduin.
Criticizing is legitimate when the goal is bringing about change and improving the current situation, but externally-directed NGO activities are designed only to attack Israel, not resolve the Beduin dilemmas.
The Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality (NCF) is a leader in this warfare, regularly sending representatives to UN committees on the subject of “Indigenous People,” “Elimination of Racial Discrimination,” etc.
In those frameworks (and many others) NCF calls for “urgent intervention by the international community” and claims Israel’s policy is “discriminative” and violates many of the Beduins’ rights, including the right for an “adequate standard of living,” while using “forceful proletarization” as part of the “disinheritance policy.”
As is often the case with NGO campaigns, the funders bear responsibility as enablers. NCF is supported by the New Israel Fund, and received funding from the Swiss Foreign Affairs office in 2011.
Another NGO, Adalah, funded by the NIF, the European Union, Switzerland, the Ford Foundation, Welfare Association and other foundations, mainly active in the European sphere, testified with the NCF before the EU Parliament subcommittee on human rights, claiming that the “Begin Plan” “represents two principles: Apartheid and Military Rule.”
The NGOs also arrange carefully designed political “tours” to the unrecognized villages for foreign diplomats and tell about “the rights of the unrecognized villages in the Naqab, including the policy of the displacement of population and house demolitions” and the way in which “Arab Beduin [are] deliberately prevented from all basic services and infrastructure.”
In addition, NGOs lobby vigorously before foreign governments to influence their policies toward Israel on this issue. Most of the organizations receive a large amount of foreign funding, transferred without transparency from countries and international foundations for development and advancement needs, which in practice they use for campaigns aimed at demonizing Israel as a human rights violator.
In sharp contrast, these are clearly internal Israeli issues – foreign political pressure is no substitute for the democratic process.
Additionally, the NGOs have expropriated the language used in anti-Israel campaigns in the context of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict for the Beduin issue; these NGOs are working hard to misleadingly connect this internal Israeli issue with the broader Palestinian narrative.
The conclusion of the S&D seminar was pre-determined: it presented a biased, one-sided case, excluded differing opinions and prevented a productive and rational discussion on the subject. Instead of trying to understand Israeli decision making regarding the Negev Beduin, the event became an anti-Israel hate festival.
For the European Parliament and other institutions, the need to end exclusive reliance on biased political NGOs on this and other important issues should be apparent.
The author is a senior researcher at NGO Monitor and the author of a new report, “NGOs and the Negev Beduin Conflict in the Context of Political Warfare”