Knesset Conference: Foreign Government Funding for NGO Political Activity in Israel


Prof. Steinberg’s statement [Hebrew]

Prof. Marc Cogen’s statement

Summaries of other remarks from the event

Media coverage of the conference

On December 1, 2009, NGO Monitor participated in a Knesset conference, held under the auspices of Minister Michael Eitan and MK Zeev Elkin, on Foreign Government Funding for NGO Political Activity in Israel.

Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) play an important role in shaping government policy and public opinion on many core issues in Israel. They receive tens of millions of shekels per year from foreign governments, as well as from bodies such as the EU, to finance their activities. Details as to the extent and nature of this funding have recently been documented in a research report [Hebrew] published jointly by NGO Monitor and the Institute for Zionist Strategies. The conference will deal with the political, diplomatic and legal issues raised by this phenomenon, as well as with legislative proposals put forward in response.

In addition to NGO Monitor President Prof. Gerald Steinberg, speakers included: Minister Michael Eitan (Likud), Minister Yuli Edelstein (Likud), MK Zeev Elkin (Likud), MK Avraham Michaeli (Shas), MK Otniel Schneller (Kadima), MK Tzipi Hotovely (Likud), MK Michael Ben Ari (Ichud Leumi), Israel Harel (Institute for Zionist Strategies), Prof. Abraham Diskin (Hebrew University), Prof. Marc Cogen (University of Ghent, Belgium) Prof. Moshe Koppel (Bar Ilan University), Dr. Jan Sokolovsky (ICJLaw), Ambassador  Alan Baker, and Prof. Avi Bell (Bar Ilan University, University of San Diego).

Representatives from a number of Israeli NGOs were invited to speak, but they refused to participate. A public letter from these groups and a position paper from NIF-Israel were distributed to conference attendees.

Professor Steinberg’s Knesset Statement

European governments provide large amounts of money to a number of Israeli political non-governmental organizations (NGOs) every year. As Israeli citizens, we do not know how much money is involved – it is at least tens of millions of euros – or the names of all the organizations that receive these funds. In most cases, we are also not informed of European government funding behind rallies in support of one policy or in protest to another. The same is true for academic conferences on human rights, occupation, or international law; large advertisements on the front page of a Friday newspaper (at the cost of tens of thousands of shekels); when the High Court pronounces on a case regarding the location of the separation barrier or security checks at the airport; submissions to the United Nations committees condemning Israeli responses to terror; and in many other crucial issues that affect our lives and the policies of our democratically elected government.

The nature and scale of this manipulation is unprecedented in relations between democratic countries – in no other case does one government (or groups of governments) use taxpayer money to support opposition groups in another democratic country. And there is no precedent for allowing these groups to use foreign government money to influence and manipulate the civil societies, political discourse, legal process and foreign policies. Imagine the French response of an American government program that secretly gave one billion dollars to anti-abortion campaigners in Paris, or to promote human rights in Corsica. Or the Spanish response to funds from foreign governments that promote Basque issues.

Although these funds are provided under the heading of support for “civil society,” this definition makes no sense when the process is controlled by entirely external governments. Organizations such as Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, B’Tselem, Mossawa, the Alternative Information Center, and HaMoked – to name five– cannot claim to be rooted in Israeli civil society when they are funded by the Swedish government, both directly and indirectly through a church organization called Diakonia. And this process is repeated by another 20 governments (including Norway and Switzerland), as well as the EU.

For Israelis, the impact is both internal and external. Internally, the large sums of money provided by foreign governments to a very small group, in order give these unelected individuals a major advantage in selling their views, is inconsistent with Zionism and Jewish sovereignty. Indeed, this foreign manipulation of politics and civil society is inherently colonial and imperial – its message is that foreign officials know what is best for Israelis.

Externally, officials who run these ostensible “civil society” organizations speak in United Nations sessions on human rights, as well as in churches and university campuses around the world, condemning Israel for racism, ethnic cleansing, genocide, discrimination, war crimes, and other such accusations. Many lead the BDS campaigns – boycotts, divestment and sanctions – based on the Durban NGO Forum strategy of isolating Israel.  The Alternative Information Center, which is funded by Sweden, among others, denounces cooperation between Israeli and the Palestinian Authority as “normalization.” In a June 2008 conference, co-founder Michael Warschawski asserted that “one has to unequivocally reject the very idea (and existence) of a Jewish state, whatever will be its borders.”  What possible excuse is there for the use of European taxpayer funds for this political warfare being waged against Israel? A very small group of Israelis are seen to give them legitimacy, but fail to add a warning – these views have almost no support within the Israeli civil society, and paid for by European governments.

Our primary goal in this Knesset conference is to provide the democratically elected representatives of Israel and the general public with information on the nature and scale of foreign government funding for political NGOs. This comprehensive report is the first detailed and fully documented research on this topic, but it is by no means complete. Often ignoring their own transparency norms, European governments do not publish all of the information on funding for Israeli political organizations. We expect this practice to end immediately, so that Israelis will at least know who and what is being funded, and how these decisions are made, in a comprehensive manner. How does the European Union decide to fund 20 out of the tens of applications it receives under Partnerships for Peace, the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights, the Anna Lindh Foundation, the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network, and similar frameworks? If European officials are embarrassed by such revelations, they should certainly not be engaged in these policies, and if they have nothing to hide, why are our requests for this information denied time after time, forcing us to turn to the European Union court process?

In recent years, NGO Monitor’s research has traced European funding for the politicized activities of many Israeli NGOs. Ir Amim, which receives 67% of its budget from foreign governments, advocates and campaigns for the Palestinian narrative on Jerusalem, and directs these campaigns at influencing non-Israeli journalists, diplomats and opinion makers. It produced a film series, Jerusalem Moments, that has been described as “an exercise in the bludgeoning documentation of Palestinian victimhood and of allegedly mindless Israeli cruelty and aggression,” and a “skewed misportrayal.”

Other NGOs have used European support to oppose the Jewish character of the State: Adalah’s 2007 “Democratic Constitution” – based on the vision of “a one-state solution” – attempts to limit immigration of Jews for “humanitarian reasons” only; Mada al-Carmel’s “Haifa Declaration,” which has the European Union logo on it, calls for a “change in the definition of the State of Israel from a Jewish state” and accuses Israel of “exploiting” the Holocaust “at the expense of the Palestinian people.” And, the Coalition of Women for Peace operates the “Who Profits?” divestment website, a project that tracks Israeli and international corporations that allegedly “are directly involved in the occupation.” Who Profits? led the anti-Israel divestment campaign in Norway, and is involved with a similar project in the UK.

Based on these central impacts, as reflected in the Goldstone indictment of Israel, our recommendation is that procedures be created that require full transparency for all foreign government funding provided to Israeli non-state actors and NGOs.  Such funding information should be made readily available on the internet by both the donor and recipient at the time of the transfer of funds, and not one or two years later, in an obscure report that, in some, (but not) all cases, can be found in the files of the Rasham Amutot [Registry of Non-profits].

On this basis, Israeli leaders and officials, and perhaps our European counterparts, will be able to consider how best to respond to these issues and questions. We also believe that through such transparency, the European government officials responsible for the attempt to manipulate Israeli policies through civil society facades will realize that this is not appropriate or wise.

In some of the response in the Israeli media, I expect that we will read strong denunciations from NGO officials of this conference, of NGO Monitor’s research, and of the demands for transparency. Like Judge Richard Goldstone in his comments on Breaking the Silence, they will make false allegations of efforts to block free speech. Others will complain of a “right wing agenda”, as all of the political organizations that receive European government funding are on the Left (in most cases, far Left) of the spectrum.

This is a false claim, as free speech is not the issue. Officials of opposition groups like Yesh Din, Breaking the Silence, and so many other examples, are and will be continue to present their views, both in Israel and outside. Our concern is the artificial amplification based on European government money that greatly amplifies the voices of these fringe groups. Israeli citizens have the right to know that European government funds allow groups like B’tselem to operate an office in Washington to lobby against the policies of the elected government, and pay for the speaking tours of Breaking the Silence around the world to promote the allegations of war crimes. Israelis also have the right to know about the dozens of cases brought by European government funded NGOs before the Israeli courts, turning them into “repeat players” that greatly distort the legal process. Making this funding information widely available will not inhibit free speech, but rather the opposite.

Others ask “Why stop at funding provided by foreign governments – why not legislate transparency for all foreign sources of support for political groups, including philanthropies, like the Ford Foundation, and Jewish donors, such as the New Israel Fund, Sheldon Adelson and Irving Moskowitz?” Perhaps this should also be considered in a separate discussion, but with the realization that Diaspora involvement in Israeli affairs extends across the political spectrum, in contrast to the European government funding. The loss of sovereignty and manipulation is unique when foreign government funding is involved.

All of these issues are important, and the Knesset, as the main embodiment of Israeli sovereignty and democracy, is the appropriate venue for this public discussion of efforts to manipulate this democracy. If the NGO Monitor report on foreign government funding of political NGOs and this conference starts this vital national debate, we will have done our job.

Prof. Steinberg’s Knesset Statement – Hebrew

פרופ’ ג’ראלד שטיינברג – נאום בכנסת

תודה לשר איתן ולחבר-הכנסת אלקין שארגנו את הכנס הציבורי הזה, אשר עוסק בנושא מאוד מרכזי לחיים הפוליטיים בישראל. דהיינו, ממשלות אירופיות אשר מספקות סכומי כסף גדולים בכל שנה למספר ארגונים לא ממשלתיים פוליטיים.
כאזרחי ישראל, אנו לא משערים מהי כמות הכסף שזורמת בתהליך זה – מדובר בעשרות מיליוני יורו לפחות – ואנו לא מכירים את שמות כל ארגוני האופוזיציה שמקבלים את הכספים הללו.
במרבית המקרים, אנו גם לא מודעים למימון הממשלתי האירופי שעומד מאחורי ההפגנות שתומכות במדיניות כזאת או אחרת. אותו הדבר נכון גם לגבי מודעות בעיתונים; עשרות עתירות בבית המשפט העליון; תצהירים שמוגשים לועדות האו”ם ואשר מגנים את ישראל; וגם בסוגיות מכריעות רבות אחרות.
האופי וההיקף של מניפולציה זו הינם חסרי-תקדים ביחסים שבין מדינות דמוקרטית – אין שום מקרה ידוע אחר, בו מסגרות ממשלתיות מנצלות את כספי משלם המיסים כדי לתמוך בקבוצות אופוזיציה של מדינה דמוקרטית אחרת.
תארו את התגובה של ממשלת צרפת לתוכנית אמריקאית אשר תעביר באופן חשאי מיליארד דולר לקמפיינים נגד הפלות בפריז.
ומה תהיה תגובת ספרד לכספי ממשלות זרות שמקדמות את הבדלנות הבאסקית? למרות שמענקים אלו ניתנים תחת הכותרת של “סיוע לחברה האזרחית”, הגדרה זו הופכת ללא-הגיונית כאשר התהליך נשלט במלואו על ידי ממשלות זרות.
ארגונים כמו רופאים למען זכויות האדם, בצלם, והמוקד להגנת הפרט אינם יכולים לטעון שהם צומחים מתוך החברה האזרחית בזמן שהם נהנים ממימון של הממשלה השוודית.
תהליך כזה מתבצע באותו האופן על ידי 20 ממשלות (ביניהן נורווגיה ושוויץ), כמו גם בידי האיחוד האירופי עצמו.
עבור אזרחי ישראל, ההשפעה של פעילות זו היא גם פנימית וגם חיצונית.
כלפי פנים, כמות סכומי הכספים שמספקות הממשלות הזרות לקבוצת ארגונים ואנשים (שלא נבחרו בתהליך דמוקרטי), מעניקה להם יתרון עצום בהפצת האידיאולוגיה הפרטית שלהם.
זהו יתרון שלא מתיישב עם הדמוקרטיה, הציונות או עם הריבונות היהודית בארץ.
אכן כך, המניפולציה הזרה של הפוליטיקה והחברה האזרחית בישראל היא קולוניאלית ואימפריאליסטית – המסר הוא שהגורמים הזרים יודעים מה הכי טוב עבור מדינת ישראל.
כלפי חוץ, האנשים אשר מנהלים את ארגוני ה”חברה האזרחית”, נואמים בפני ישיבות האו”ם על זכויות האדם, וגם בכנסיות ובקמפוסים בעולם, שם הם מגָנים את ישראל בטענות שהמדינה היא גזענית, מבצעת “טיהור אתני”, “ג’נוסייד”, אפלייה, ופשעי מלחמה.
ארגונים רבים מובילים את קמפיין החרם נגד ישראל (BDS) – אשר מבוסס על אסטרטגיית ועידת דרבן, משנת 2001.
איזה תירוץ מצדיק את השימוש של כספי משלם המיסים האירופי לכיסוי המלחמה הפוליטית שמנוהלת נגד ישראל? מטרתנו המרכזית בכנס זה, היא לספק את המידע לציבור הרחב ולנבחריו – על גודל המימון הממשלתי הזר לארגונים פוליטיים בישראל, והשימוש שהארגונים עושים בו.
אנו מציגים את דו”ח המחקר המקיף הראשון שמתעד את הנתונים בנושא זה, אולם פרטים רבים עדיין חסרים. ממשלות אירופיות, תוך התעלמות מחוקי השקיפות שלהם עצמם, אינן מפרסמות את כל המידע על המימון שניתן לארגונים פוליטיים בישראל.
אנו מצפים שנוהג זה יתוקן, כך שישראלים יוכלו לפחות לדעת, באופן ברור, מי או מה זוכים למימון, וכיצד החלטות אלו נלקחות.
מהו האופן שבו ממשלות אירופה מחליטות לממן קומץ קטן של בקשות מתוך עשרות שהוא מקבל במסגרת תוכניות שונות? אם הבכירים האירופים מתביישים מגילויים אלו, עליהם לחדול ממימוש מדיניות כזאת, ואם אין להם שום דבר להסתיר, מדוע הבקשות שהוגשו כדי להשיג מידע זה נדחות פעם אחר פעם? אני מחזיק ביד פרוטוקולים של ישיבה של מוסדות האיחוד מ-99′ שמחליטה על מימון לארגונים ישראליים כמו ארגון “ארבע אמהות”, בהיקף 250,000 אירו, ושלום עכשיו עבור פרוייקט שעוסק “בהעברת מצביעים מסורתיים של הליכוד למחנה השלום”.
מדוע האיחוד מסתיר מסמכים כאלה מאז שנת 1999, בטענה שמדובר בחומר “סודי ביותר”? האם אין לציבור זכות לדעת? בעזרת המסמכים האלה, היינו יכולים להבין את תהליך קבלת ההחלטות שאפשר ל”עיר עמים”, לקבל שני שליש מתקציבו בשנת 2007 מממשלות אירופיות.
זהו ארגון שמנהל קמפיינים לטובת הנרטיב הפלסטיני על ירושלים, ומכוון את התעמולה הזאת על מנת להשפיע על עיתונאים, דיפלומטים, ומקבלי החלטות.
הבוקר פורסם בעיתון “הארץ” שהאיחוד האירופי תומך בהכרזת ירושלים כבירת פלסטין – אולי יש קשר בין המימון לעיר עמים והכותרת.
אם הם מתנגדים למדיניות ישראל בירושלים או בכל נושא אחר, על הממשלות האירופיות להגיד זאת באופן ישיר וברור, ולא דרך מימון לקבוצות אופוזיציה ישראליות.
כמו כן, אירופה מממנת קמפיין לשנות את הגדרת מדינת ישראל כמדינת הלאום של העם היהודי: ה”חוקה הדמוקרטית” של עדאלה משנת 2007 מבקשת להגביל את העלייה היהודית, ולבטל את סמלי העם היהודי במדינה; “הצהרת חיפה” של מרכז מדה אלכרמל (Mada Al-Carmel), אשר נושאת את סמל האיחוד האירופי, קוראת ל”שינוי בהגדרה של מדינת ישראל ממדינה יהודית” למדינה אזרחית, ומאשימה את ישראל ב”ניצול” של השואה “על חשבון העם הפלסטיני”.
קואליציית הנשים למען השלום מפעילה את האתר “מי מרוויח מהכיבוש?” שהוביל את קמפיין החרם האנטי-ישראלי בנורווגיה, והוא פועל באופן דומה גם בבריטניה.
המימון האירופי גם תומך בהליכים משפטיים נגד קציני צה”ל ומאפשר לארגונים להפעיל את ה”סמכות האוניברסאלית” המשפטית במדינות שונות בחו”ל.
המסקנה העיקרית של המחקר מדגישה את החשיבות של שקיפות מלאה לכל המימון הממשלתי הזר.
מידע זה צריך להיות זמין ברשת האינטרנט. יתרה מכך, יש לפרסמו כבר בזמן התרומה, ולא שנה או שנתיים מאוחר יותר, בדו”ח מעורפל שבחלק מהמקרים בלבד ניתן למצוא בתיקי רשם העמותות.
דין חברות בע”מ כמו יוזמת ז’נבה, מחסום WATCH או שוברים שתיקה, צריך להיות כדין העמותות. על בסיס זה, מנהיגי ישראל, ואולי גם מקביליהם באירופה, יוכלו לשקול ולחשוב על הדרך הראויה ביותר להתמודד עם הסוגיה.
אני מאמין שבאמצעות שקיפות, הממשלות האירופיות שמנצלות את מסווה החברה האזרחית יגיעו להבנה שמעשה זה אינו נכון ואפילו לא חכם. בחלק מהתגובות לכנס ולמחקר, אנו שומעים גינויים נגד המלצותינו ונגד הדרישות לשקיפות, מטעם אלו שממומנים על ידי אירופה.
אחרים מתלוננים על “אג’נדה ימנית” ואפילו דוחים ביקורת ציבורית תחת הסיסמא המוטעית של “מקארתיניזם”. לצערנו הרב, נציגי הארגונים שונים כמו “בצלם”, “הקרן החדשה לישראל”, ו”עדאלה”, סירבו להשתתף בדיון הציבורי החשוב הזה. במקום להתייחס למהות ולהצדיק את התופעה, הם מנסים לתקוף את המחקר, ולהשתיק את הביקורת.
אף אחד לא טוען שהמחקר אינו נכון או לא מדויק. חופש הביטוי הוא לא הנושא, ואידיאולוגיה שמייצגת את הקוטב הימני או השמאלי, בכלל לא רלוונטית.
בכירים בקבוצות אופוזיציה ימשיכו להציג את השקפותיהם, בישראל ומחוצה לה.
אבל אנו דואגים מהדחיפה שמקבלים הארגונים, ואשר מבוססת על כספן של הממשלות האירופיות, שמגבירה את השפעתן של קבוצות שוליים אלו.
כל הנושאים הללו חשובים, והכנסת, כמייצג של הריבונות והדמוקרטיה הישראלית, הינה הפורום הנכון לדיון ציבורי. אם פרסום הדו”ח הזה, והכנס היום, יפתחו בדיון לאומי זה – הדמוקרטיה וחופש הביטוי רק ירוויחו.

Professor Marc Cogen’s Knesset Statement

Funding of Political Activities in Israel by Foreign States: Preliminary remarks from the viewpoint of international law

Professor Cogen teaches International Law at Ghent University, Belgium

I.    General
International law regulates the conduct of states and determines the limits of state power on many issues. The subject of this conference touches on a mix of various elements of international law directly related to the state: the principle of national sovereignty and independence, the principle of non-interference in another state, the principle of equality of states, and state responsibility.

Since political activities enter the domain of competition for power, international law limits the state’s jurisdiction to its own territory and its citizens. Extra-territorial effects of national jurisdiction are an exception and always problematic since they can easily lead to conflicts with other states and harm friendly inter-state relations. Extraterritorial effects of national jurisdiction always require special justification in the particular circumstances of each case. This is established case law.

Political activities in Israel, or in any other country, are regulated by the domestic laws of the country concerned. In general one may say that individual freedoms (or human rights) and democracy are the most common concepts used in judging the domestic laws. Political rights are rights of the citizens of the country, whereas foreign citizens only enjoy political rights in the sphere of freedom of association and freedom of expression. Foreign nationals do not have voting rights in another state as a matter of principle and foreign governments may not influence the outcome of national elections.

The conference of today deals with non-governmental organizations or individuals or companies, either Israeli or foreign, which operate in Israel and whose activities are fully or partially financed by other states or by international organizations such as the European Union.

II.    A national legal framework for NGOs is required
Non-governmental organizations or private associations can interfere in the domestic policies of the state. As a matter of fact private associations have a wide range of activities from political parties to labour organizations, cultural foundations, human rights associations or environmental groups. They are seen as part of participative democracy because it allows citizens to engage in public life and express opinions on authorities and their policies. NGOs can operate on an informal basis or as a legal entity.

However, NGOs or private associations and their political activities become problematic when another state is financing and sometimes directing the NGO. Foreign participation or intervention is additionally guided by the internationally accepted rules that foreign individuals have to respect the laws of the host country and that foreign governments have the duty not to interfere in the domestic affairs of another state. Foreign states and foreign governments may express their viewpoints vis-à-vis another state according to the instruments provided and established by international law: declaration of the government, diplomatic notes or protests, voting in international organizations and conferences, or the signing of a treaty. Financing of political activities in another state is prohibited by the basic principles of international law: sovereign equality of states, the domestic jurisdiction principle, and state responsibility for internationally wrongful acts.

Funding of political activities of NGOs by foreign states is clearly a violation of international law, but any state is recommended to establish clear rules on this matter in order to avoid confusion and legal uncertainties, for example under the cover of projects of a non-political nature but with political intentions. The idea that political activities only relate to ‘elections and political parties’ is too narrow in current state practice. Foreign governments can interfere politically by many channels such as funding media outlets, newspapers or magazines, NGO actions intended to destroy the image and international reputation of another state, or activities to influence public opinion in the host country. A state, which funds political activities of NGOs in another state, acts as political adversary by proxy.

In 2007 member states in the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe have adopted a ‘Recommendation on the legal status of non-governmental organisations in Europe’ – CM/Rec(2007)14. The recommendation was based on

“…the essential contribution made by non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to the development and realisation of democracy and human rights, in particular through the promotion of public awareness, participation in public life and securing the transparency and accountability of public authorities…”

It is obvious that the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe was mainly dealing with domestic NGOs whereas they did not consider aspects and implications related to possible interference by foreign states via NGOs and their funding. Consequently, Article 50 of the recommendation is extremely liberal and declares that:

“NGOs should be free to solicit and receive funding – cash or in-kind donations – not only from public bodies in their own state but also from institutional or individual donors, another state or multilateral agencies, subject only to the laws generally applicable to customs, foreign exchange and money laundering and those on the funding of elections and political parties.”

The recommendation is only a first step in a long process of establishing the rules governing NGOs, and this process is ongoing in the whole world; it is not a straightforward event but a trial-and-error process.

The USA, China, Russia and Europe are actively developing laws on the regulation of NGOs. When Russia adopted its NGO law in January 2006, requiring NGOs to register with the state and introducing scrutiny of their financing, the Duma discussion revealed that the Russian parliament regarded foreign-funded NGOs as a ‘fifth column’ for outside political intervention in Russia. And the then President Putin declared the day after the bill’s approval that:

“The continuing financing of political activity from abroad should be in the state’s field of vision, especially if this financing is carried out through the state channels of other countries. This is problematical if the organisations concerned are in fact, used as a tool of the foreign policy of other states.”

We hear the same concerns of hidden foreign government intervention in India. For example, the 2005 Indian law on NGOs was adopted to prevent non-profit making organizations from diverting income in profit-making accounts. But another good reason was to prevent foreign money being used to influence Indian domestic policy.

The Russian NGO Law is heavily criticized by human rights groups and is scrutinized by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE). But it is important to note that the Council of Europe refrained from condemning the existence of a regulatory law with regard to NGOs. Only on minor aspects did the Council of Europe make some critical comments on the Russian NGO Law.

Notwithstanding the overall positive image of NGOs as exponents of civil society, more and more states are adopting specific laws for the regulation of NGOs, in order to avoid abuse, to deny cover for illegal activities or to protect state institutions. The 9/11 attack has speeded up regulatory laws all over the world in order to detect and punish the financing of terrorist activities under the cover of humanitarian NGOs or civil activities.

The debate concerning the Russian NGO law reveals a consensus that a legal framework for NGO activities is a necessity and many states are in the process of  developing a best state practice on this issue. Case law will further refine and interpret newly adopted laws on NGOs when we learn more about the NGO impact on domestic political events. Clearly, in the absence of any meaningful treaty, national sovereignty and domestic jurisdiction allows every state to adopt its specific laws.

III.    Concluding remarks
Estimates teach us that about 60% of NGO funds come from state subsidies, the remainder from private donations. NGOs are politically affiliated in many cases, even when their statute declares that they are independent or non-partisan. Their political affiliation crosses into the domain of foreign relations if NGOs operate in another country or when their activities are funded by foreign governments.

Regulation and supervision of NGOs is a legislative necessity today, a task that can only be done on a country-by-country basis. This conference deals with foreign government funding, including international organizations, which is one of the most important aspects. From an international viewpoint, the main motives for regulating foreign government funding is the preservation of good relations between states or the prevention of manipulation of third parties (NGOs) by foreign  governments or international organizations.

I recommend to consider the following principles in any legislative act regulating the topic of this conference:

  1. No foreign government funding or funding by international organizations is allowed in domestic NGO’s, either directly or by means of third parties, except on the basis of a special agreement with the foreign state/international organization and under additional requirements of control and verification.
  2. Foreign NGOs require registration and a set of administrative and accountability rules; it is recommended that these rules are similar to the rules governing domestic NGOs although minor changes are acceptable due to specific circumstances.
  3. National security measures can be ordered by the government in case of abuse of rights and/or deliberate distribution of false or male fide information intended to damage the image and reputation of the state or the institutions of the state.

Draft of proposed law

[Prepared by Minister Michael Eitan and Prof. Moshe Koppel (Bar Ilan University)]

1.    In this law:
“Foreign Governmental Entity” – As defined in article 36a (a) in the Amutot Law, 1980;
“Financial Support of a Foreign Governmental Entity” – Support which is transferred directly or indirectly by order of a foreign governmental entity or someone acting on its behalf, or support which is received from a corporation at least one-third of whose funding originated in foreign governmental entities;
“Political Activity” – An activity which is intended to influence public opinion in Israel or any governmental body in Israel, regarding any aspect of internal affairs or foreign affairs of the State of Israel.
“One Supported by a Foreign Governmental Entity” (hereinafter: “Recipient”) – A person who receives financial support from a Foreign Governmental Entity for the purpose of funding political activity in Israel, except for a diplomatic or consular representative of a foreign state who enjoys diplomatic immunity.
“Recipient’s Central Activists” – An individual who determines, or is a member of the body which determines, the nature of the Recipient’s activities, including a director, an executive board member,  a partner, except for a restricted partner, an active manager, and an authorized signatory.

2.    The Registrar of Political Parties shall serve as the Registrar of those Supported by Foreign Entities (hereinafter: “The Registrar”).
3.    A person may not receive financial support of a foreign governmental entity for funding political activity in Israel unless he has previously registered with the Registrar. For this purpose, any support received by a person funding or engaging in political activity is considered prima facie support for funding political activity.
4.    The registration application should note the goals of the applicant, name, address, I.D. number or passport number of any Recipient’s Main Activists.
5.    Every week, the Registrar shall publish on the Ministry of Justice website the list of registered Recipients.

Filing reports
6.    Immediately upon receiving Financial Support of a Foreign Governmental Entity, the Recipient will submit a signed financial report, to the Registrar, which will detail: (a) The Recipient’s identity; (b) the amount of the donation; (c) the goals of the donation and its purpose; (d) commitments given to the Foreign Governmental Entity by the Recipient, whether oral or written, direct or indirect, if any.
7.    (a) If the Recipient or anyone who acts on his behalf has a website, the information in article 6 shall be prominently posted thereon; (b) This information shall also be published on the website of the Ministry of Justice, and any other manner that the Registrar finds suitable.
8.    (a) Every year the Recipient shall submit a balance and accounts of revenues and expenditures as a Recipient for that tax year, which will include full details per the list which appears in article 36 of the Amutot Law, 1980 and in the second addendum therein; (b) Every year the Recipient shall submit a verbal report which will include details of the issues mentioned in the third addendum to the Amutot Law, 1980.

9.    (a) The Recipient or whoever acts on his behalf shall note his status as a Recipient in any document, including electronic documents, which has any connection to Political Activity; (b) The Recipient or whoever acts on his behalf who orally presents in a discussion or meeting which contains Political Activity shall note his status as a Recipient at the beginning of his remarks, if the topic of the debate or the meeting is connected to the goals for which the support was received.

Corporation which is a Recipient
10.    (a) Registration as a Recipient does not absolve the Recipient of obligations under any other law;
(b) A corporation which is a Recipient will not be considered a Public Institution in the sense of article 9 (2) of the Tax Order.

Obligation to clarify sources of income
11.    (a) A person shall make best efforts to clarify whether financial support he receives or that he is supposed to receive is from a Foreign Governmental Entity; (b) All the provisions in this law shall apply to a one who knew or should have known that the support is from a Foreign Governmental Entity.

Personal responsibility
12.    If a group violated any provisions of this law, a central Activist at the time when the violation was committed shall also be implicated in the violation, unless he can prove that the violation occurred without his knowledge and that he has taken all reasonable measures to ensure that this law be respected.

13.    (a) One who receives Financial Support of a Foreign Governmental Entity in violation of the provisions specified in article 3, shall be sentenced to one year in prison. The court may also decide, according to article 63(A) of the Penalty Law, 1977, to impose a fine on the convicted person, of up to four times the value of the illegal support.
(b) A person who submits a declaration pursuant to article 6 that is false relating to asubstantive issue, shall be sentenced to three years in prison.


14.    The Minister of Justice is authorized to adopt regulations to enforce this law.

Summary of remarks at Knesset conference
Translations, summaries, and edits by NGO Monitor*

* This is not an official transcript.

Prof. Gerald Steinberg – President of NGO Monitor

Prof. Steinberg gave an overview of the research on foreign funding from the EU and European governments to Israeli NGOs.

  • “If the report is inaccurate or incorrect, I call on the NGOs to come forward and point out those inaccuracies – but they should not just be pointing out the things that they do not like.”
  • “European governments provide large amounts of money to a number of Israeli political non-governmental organizations (NGOs) every year. As Israeli citizens, we do not know how much money is involved – it is at least tens of millions of Euros.”
  • “The nature and scale of this manipulation is unprecedented in relations between democratic countries.”
  • “Organizations such as Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, B’Tselem, Mossawa, the Alternative Information Center, and HaMoked – to name five– cannot claim to be rooted in Israeli civil society when they are funded by the Swedish government.”
  • “Free speech is not the issue. Officials of opposition groups like Yesh Din, Breaking the Silence, and so many other examples, are and will be continue to present their views, both in Israel and outside. Our concern is the artificial amplification based on European government money that greatly amplifies the voices of these fringe groups.”

Minister Michael Eitan – Minister of Improvement of Government Service

Minister Eitan discussed the importance of full transparency in preserving democracy, so the public can make informed decisions about what policies and ideas to support. He also expressed his regret that the NGOs refused to attend the meeting, despite the best efforts to include their perspectives and provide an open platform.

  • “We are not prohibiting involvement, but it has to be transparent to the public, that Israel’s interests stand at the center. This is particularly important in Israel which is in an existential struggle; democracy is important to Israel, and we want to preserve its democracy.”
  • “It was crucial that organizations with different orientations participate. There was an attempt to push for this, to hear the debate and evaluate things along with those who don’t see this [conference] positively.” [NGOs] talk about open discussion and debate. I’m not convinced that their ability to come and present their position was distorted, to defend it and attack others. They had an open platform here, but chose not to come.”

MK Zeev Elkin – Chair of the Likud Parliamentary Group

MK Elkin addressed the need to pay attention to developments in the third sector, especially concerning foreign government funding. The Israeli public and the state have a right to know about this involvement. Elkin suggested that NGOs refused to attend in order to avoid transparency.

  • “In modern times, the third sector has immense importance, and what happens there demands attention. The pressing of the agendas affects opinion among the Israeli public, and the standing of Israel in international affairs. It is worth looking at the influence of these groups on the Goldstone Report.”
  • “The public and the state have a right to know. It is clear from [NGO Monitor and IZS’s] report that it’s possible to gather data, but there are data that are not open and do not get reviewed. Sometimes [NGO] reports were not submitted and things are obscure. The purpose of this conference is to remove the opacity (lit. ‘disperse the fog,’) and to establish a mechanism to make this happen.”
  • “The groups that chose not to come demonstrate that they are not interested in transparency. It motivates [me] to work towards transparency. What is their interest in hiding? And whose agenda does that group serve?”

Minister Yuli Edelstein – Minister of Information and Diaspora

According to Minister Edelstein, freedom of expression, association, and thought are not at stake in this conference, and the proposed legislation will guarantee that Israel continues to be an open country. However, the concept of direct foreign funding is problematic, and cannot be ignored.

  •  “We are not talking about tax breaks that go to [private] foreign donors who give to these groups or others. [We’re not talking about] limiting bodies, including those with a clear political agenda. Every individual has a right…to advance his interests in his country or another.”
  • “The phenomenon we are dealing with is direct donations from foreign governments to organizations that advance a clear agenda in Israel.”
  •  “Is this appropriate? There is a problem. In the past, this issue arose with new immigrants. In a 1999 [EU] protocol, there was money budgeted so that new [Russian] immigrants who didn’t understand democracy would be brought over to the ‘right side’ of the political map.”
  • “I hope that the deliberations will result in legislative action, not just summaries. For this topic, legislation is an appropriate solution.”

Ambassador Alan Baker – former Israeli ambassador to Canada

Ambassador Baker introduced the first panel.

  • “There is no doubt that the work of NGOs in the state and internationally is critical.”
  •  “The question is: where is the fine line between realizing democracy, and undermining and damaging democracy?”
  • “With all the good intentions of NGOs…to what extent do they allow themselves, using foreign government funding, to promote the agenda of another country and hurt Israel’s democracy?”

MK Avraham Michaeli – Chair of the Shas Parliamentary Group

MK Michaeli noted that the decision of foreign governments to fund specific organizations does not necessarily stem from how they are perceived by the Israeli public. In fact, NGOs are given disproportionate attention in the media and in Europe, and this affects the perception of Israel.

  • “If we ask the organizations to be transparent on all sides, and we establish a platform that touches on their agenda, and they don’t show up – that demonstrates a weakness in their ideology.”
  • “There are people who have failed to change the political map in Israel, and therefore they go to foreign governments in an attempt to change it from the outside.”
  • “The public has to decide…Israel does respect minorities. The anti-democratic approach is to say that the minority should dominate the majority view.”

Israel Harel – Head of the Institute for Zionist Strategies

Harel spoke about the way in which foreign funding erodes Israeli sovereignty, and prevents the democratically elected Israeli government from pursuing its rightful course.

  •  “These organizations have a built-in interest to exist. If there is an absence of financing from foreign governments, the organizations will cease to exist. So, they serve the interests of the governments. The result is the Goldstone Report. The governments will continue to support these organizations if there aren’t voices against it.”
  • “There is a sense that we are always apologizing, but we have to respond to these governments and the NGOs. They understand a culture which we do not. If there will be legislation and the appropriate voices make themselves heard, this will be the beginning of reform.”
  •  “In the research we see that it is only proper to intervene [in the affairs of another country] directly. [But], the EU decides what happens in Israel, and the NGOs paved the path for this.”

MK Tzippy Hotovely – Likud

  •  “Today there is much greater awareness of the fact that policies of organizations funded by foreign money go deep into Israeli politics. We need to have legislation like they have in the US [FARA]. This issue needs to be brought to the Knesset. At present, we are allowing foreign funding to control the Israeli psyche. We’re talking aboutlarge amounts of money. We’re internally hurting ourselves. Legislation is the only way to prevent outsiders from controlling the public consciousness in Israel.”

Gershon Baskin – CEO Israel-Palestine Center for Research and Information (IPCRI)

  • “I am the minority here. This discussion scares me. Not because it hurts the pockets of my organization; at present my organization is funded only by Japan. This discussion scares me because it is based on an organization and research that has appointed itself as a judge of other organizations and claims to know what is good for Israel.”
  •  “Organizations that criticize Israel are a blessing; Israel is proud to be a democracy. Do we want to be like Algeria and Syria?”
  • “I am all for transparency. There is a true need for all organizations to be transparent.”

Marc Cogen, Professor of International Law, Ghent University, Belgium

Prof. Cogen presented the perspective of international law, which codifies state sovereignty and determines proper mechanisms for one state to address the policies of another without “interfering.” He also described legislation in other countries, dealing with foreign funding for NGOs, and some of the debate that surrounded these proposals.

  • “NGOs or private associations and their political activities become problematic when another state is financing and sometimes directing the NGO.”
  • “Financing of political activities in another state is prohibited by the basic principles of international law.”
  •  Israel is not alone: “The USA, China, Russia and Europe are actively developing laws on the regulation of NGOs.”
  • “The debate concerning the Russian NGO law reveals a consensus that a legal framework for NGO activities is a necessity and many states are in the process of developing a best state practice on this issue. Case law will further refine and interpret newly adopted laws on NGO’s when we learn more about the NGO impact on domestic political events.”
  • “NGOs are politically affiliated in many cases, even when their statute declares that they are independent or non-partisan.”

Professor Moshe Koppel – Bar Ilan University, Israel Policy Center

Professor Koppel helped draft the proposed law, which was circulated at the conference.

  • “The goal of the law is only transparency. Why is the current law not enough? In the [current] law of non-profits there are four things missing: there are infringements (violations through third party), the period of required reporting is too late (can report monies up to two years after they have been received), the law only applies to “amutot” registered in Israel (most organizations are not registered amutot), and there is no requirement of proper disclosure.”
  • “The law defines direct and indirect financial support. Even if the money is indirect, but given by direction of a political entity, the law applies. The assumption is that if there is transparency, it will be more difficult for foreign governments to give money because there will be internal opposition.”

Prof. Abraham Diskin – Hebrew University, IDC Herzliya

Prof. Diskin dismissed the possibility of restricting foreign funding, or trying to make it dependent on Israeli government approval.

  • “The difficult question is defining what is “political.” In the end, only full transparency for all organizations can begin to address these problems.”
  • “On the issue of transparency, we need to remove the issue of political activities. The transparency needs to also apply to organizations that are not outwardly political, because an organization can camouflage its definition.”

Dr. Jan Sokolovsky
Dr. Sokolovsky spoke about the history of the U.S. Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), and compared it with current and proposed legislation.

Media coverage of the conference

Public letter from Israeli NGOs

(Translated by NGO Monitor)

November 30, 2009

Signed by: B’Tselem, Yesh Din, Breaking the Silence, Gisha, Adalah, ACRI, Bimkom, PHR-I, Ir Amim, HaMoked, and PCATI.

We, the above organizations, turn to you as the sponsors of this conference of the organization NGO Monitor and the “Institute for Zionist Strategy” that will take place at the Knesset on 1.12.09.

As you certainly know, those of us who were invited to this conference decided not to take part in it. As we are not usually accustomed to refusing these types of requests, we wanted to respond to you.

Firstly, we note that we see great importance in maintaining transparency in the public functioning of different bodies, among them registered Amutot. In our own conduct, we implement this principle in practice. As everyone knows, the organizations signed on this letter have been publicizing their goals, activity, and supporters for many years. All of the information on these issues is open to the public on the organizations’ website, at the Israeli Non-Profit registration office (Rasham Ha’Amutot), and in our public reports. We view the implementation of this transparency as part of our public role, and thus, as already stated, we have observed such practices for a long time – specifically, abiding by the terminology and spirit of the law on these issues.

But, a study of the publication that has been prepared in advance of the 1.12 conference, can leave one with the impression that there are those who seek to promote other goals under the title of “transparency”: that this conference whose leadership you have taken upon yourselves, is meant, first and foremost, to create de-legitimization of human rights and social change organizations in Israel, whose world-view does not fit those of the conference’s organizers. Regretfully, this de-legitimization is part of a wider phenomenon which we have recently been exposed to. It has been expressed through several proclamations, law proposals, reports and conferences, which are joined by high-ranking politicians and public service officials.

This de-legitimization is not only a threat to human rights organization in Israel.  We can only repeat and clarify: those who seek to intimidate human rights organizations in Israel are, first and foremost, inflicting severe harm on the rules of democracy. This harm is targeting now those whose views may not be comfortable for some of us, but the damage is being manifested, and will be manifest in the future, upon the entire spectrum of views and stances. Thus, those who want to silence the voices which are not pleasant to their ears, are cutting down the branch upon which we all sit.

Civil critique of the government and activity to realize human rights are legitimate actions in a democratic regime, for each and every individual. Moreover, criticism and the possibility of expressing many opinions and views in the state are not just “legitimate”; they are essential to the existence of a true democratic state. The attempt to violate citizens’ freedom of expression, freedom of action, and freedom of association, as is being done, is in contrast to the most basic values of democracy.

It should be emphasized that these attempts of de-legitimization are first and foremost hurting the weakest societies, whose most basic human rights are/or are in danger of being violated – it may be those of refugees, labor immigrants or Palestinians from the Occupied Territories; or it may be new immigrants to Israel , weakened social-economic layers, or different groups in Israel – Arabs, Ethiopians, LSBG, women, single parents, patients and so on. Human rights organization are the voice for these populations and groups and act, together with them, to promote their rights in a place they cannot do so.

It should be emphasized that in contrast to the deceptive image which is being presented in the report that has been prepared for the conference, donations of foreign states are given to a great variety of organizations and activities in Israel (universities, medical projects, research projects etc.), while, unfortunately, the percentage of the funds allocated to human rights and social change organizations is a tiny amount of the total sum of these funds. It is not extraneous to note that the State of Israel itself is probably the leading beneficiary in Israel of funds from foreign states. Thus, the exclusive assault on the funding of rights organizations, can only be interpreted as an assault with a political agenda, whose concern is not transparency – but silencing. In any case, and in a great contrast to the claims of the report, support to organizations which promote the protection of human rights is legitimate and even desirable. This is support of the goals of strengthening Israeli democracy and advancing human rights which the Israeli government is responsible for, and which are universal, legitimate and known values.

Therefore, and since it is obvious that this is about a conference which is not concerned with transparency but with de-legitimization of human rights and social change organizations whose agenda is different from that of the organizers, we do not intend to participate in this conference. We are not “suspect organizations”; we are a central part of the civil infrastructure which promotes an essential democracy. We have been acting this way for many years, and we will continue to do so: to promote values, a vision, and the goals for which we exist.

We call on you to renounce these attempts of de-legitimization against human rights and social change organizations in Israel; to promote the existence of a pluralistic society, in which human rights and social change organizations have the essential role of implementing democracy and human rights; and to ensure the fortification of the status of rights organizations, and civil society organizations in general, which have an important role in a democratic state, as critics of the government and as representatives of the weakest societies.

New Israel Fund Position Paper, excerpts

(Translated by NGO Monitor)

Position Paper: The attack of NGO Monitor and IZS on Civil Society in Israel
New Israel Fund, November 2009

Background and Context
This conference is part of a political campaign whose purpose is to oppress and silence opinions that do not sit well with the viewpoint of the conference’s initiators.

The Test of Transparency
Allegedly, the goal of the report and conference is to increase transparency. The organizers claim that full exposure of the funding sources of civil society organizations is necessary for proper governance and pure motives. We, like all the other subjects of the report, fully support this view. [..]  We propose a convention, which could be developed into legislation, which will set strict standards of transparency for all non-profit organizations and Amutot.

The website of the organization will note the following details in a prominent place on the site:

  1. The organizations’ budget for former as well as the present financial years.
  2. Detailing of all donations and grants over 20,000 NIS which have been received in the last two years. [..]
  3. On the inside of the first page of every publication published by the organization will be a list of all donors/grant providers who donated over 100,000 NIS in the last two years.

Unclean Hands
We will be disappointed, but not surprised, if this proposal is rejected. This might be because financial transparency for all of civil society threatens the interests of the campaign’s organizers. Thus, because it would expose:

  1. The extent of the huge budgets transferred to right-wing ideological Amutot and those that engage in settlement activity. The comparison to the minimal budgets of the organizations which are being attacked in the report, will make its writers look ridiculous.
  2. The direct and indirect governmental funding to Amutot which engage in activities unrelated to the state, such as Od Yosef Chai Yeshiva in Yitzhar. [..]
  3. The link between financial, local and foreign interests, and Amutot which pretend to represent the good of the public.
  4. The link between right-wing organizations and extreme American Christians, some of which have a rich past of anti-Semitic proclamations.
  5. The fact that the American administration is funding settlement activity, sometimes in contrast to the declared policy of the government. This is done through tax exemptions, which are legally and administratively recognized as a governmental subsidy for all purposes and manners.

The organizations which the report attacks, and especially human rights organization, strictly maintain high standards in this field, both in their publications and internet websites.
We note that ironically, the organizations that published the said report do not excel in financial transparency. NGO Monitor’s website, other than mentioning the “founding funder,” notes only a name of a small and unknown American Amuta as a current funder, with no links to other details.

Civil and Political Damage
After removing the façade of transparency, we can examine the severe damages that will be inflicted on the State of Israel as a result of the repression of Israeli human rights organizations.

  1. The choice to design an offensive course which focuses on civil funding that originates from European allies is cynical, short-sighted, and irresponsible. [..] After Operation Cast Lead, public opinion in those states is not especially in favor of their governments’ connections to the State of Israel. Should this process succeed, it may increase the calls for a total boycott of aid to Israel.
  2. The initiators of the oppression campaign surely recognize the publicity advantage of presenting the State of Israel as a pluralistic Western democracy whose civil society benefits from freedom of action, in the framework of the law. This remains true, even though they unfortunately do not attribute great importance to this fact.  However, the existence of civil critique mechanisms from the inside is one of the last barriers that is preventing the total exposure of the State of Israel to international court proceedings.