Analysis of EU-Funded Projects on Israeli Civil Society to I’lam Center
Freedom Protection Council Project
In 2016, the European Union (EU), via the European Neighbourhood and Partnership funding Instrument (ENI), provided the Israeli NGO Il’am Arab Center for Media Freedom Development and Research a total of €365,803 (2017-2019) for “The Creation of the Freedom Protection Council: Ensuring democratic space for Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) in Israel.” As indicated by this title and noted explicitly by the EU, “The overall objective of this action is to ensure active engagement of Civil Society Organisations by countering systemic barriers that limit their participation in policymaking processes.”1 The EU database lists the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute as a partner, and Van Leer refers to the role of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel in formulating this agenda.
Political lobbying as a central facet of this project is made explicit in a “strategic action plan” (Hebrew), which bears the EU’s logo on every page, published by I’lam.2 The plan calls for what amounts to opposition political activity: extensive lobbying efforts in the Knesset and multiple media campaigns. I’lam and its partners will “act in the Knesset and public sphere in order to form public and political coalitions whose aim will be to prevent legislation that harms freedoms and advances [legislation] that promotes them.”
The “[Freedom Protection] Council’s flagship demand” is expressed in lobbying efforts aimed at uniting MKs “who identify with the activities of the [left wing] organizations” in order to “initiate counter-legislation” aimed at fighting the right’s attempt to “aggressively promote its worldview, regardless of ideological or national minority groups.”
In addition, the contextual background of Il’am plan is highly politicized and derogatory, intimating throughout that Israel is not and never was a democratic country. Historically, the State of Israel was established “on the ruins of the Palestinian people, which was the demographic majority in the geographic region where [Israel] was founded.” For decades, the authors assert that Israel has maintained for decades a “sophisticated system of control consisting of a policy of segregation, dependence, and supervision.”
Today, they allege, Israel is “rapidly deteriorating away from basic democratic and liberal values,” due to a “Messianic-nationalist right” government, which pursues a “majoritarian approach” that is “not fundamental to democracy.”
Notably, EU officials have reportedly echoed this rhetoric, including in discussions with Israeli politicians 3
In response to media inquiries about this project, the EU claimed that it “finances independent projects and NGOs, and these do not work for the EU. The claim that EU funded projects operate as lobbying bodies for it is unfounded.”4 The strategic document, among other aspects, suggests otherwise.
Strategic Capacity Project:
In 2016 the EU also awarded a total of €488,098 (2016-2019) to I’lam, Oxford Research Group (ORG), PalThink for Strategic Studies, and Madar Palestinian Forum for Israeli Studies Association for “Building Strategic Capacity: Empowering Civil, Political and Emerging Constituencies in Palestine and Israel.”5
According to the EU, the project is meant to promote “Palestinian-Palestinian and Palestinian-Israeli strategic dialogue through the work of its three autonomous and interlinked groups: the Palestine Strategy Group (PSG), the Palestinian Citizens of Israel Group (PCIG) and the Israeli Strategic Forum (ISF). It aims at impacting decision-making processes by providing knowledge-based strategy-oriented outputs (policy papers and strategy documents) and stimulating a wider debate among young intellectual on all sides of the divide.”6
These grantees are highly politicized organizations whose activities suggest they are not focused on dialogue, or on facilitating the core EU objective of peace based on dialogue and a two-state framework.
A 2016 I’lam report funded by ORG and Norway, “Future scenarios: Palestinian Arabs in the State of Israel,” discusses what they claim as the “unequal balance of power between Palestinian Arabs in Israel and the Jewish population, a result of historical domination and political persecution.” According to the report, many have chosen to boycott the State of Israel “because there is no legitimacy to the Israeli entity established after the Nakba” (emphasis added). The report further warns individuals not to “fall into the trap of Zionist hegemony or to tolerate the pretentious racial thought dominant in Israel today.”7
In 2015, ORG’s Palestine Strategy Group published a strategy report that supports “resistance in all its forms including the growing global movement for boycott sanctions and divestment.”8 In many of its projects related to the conflict, ORG promotes politicized rejectionist agendas.
Similarly, in discussing the project, PalThink held a conference in 2018 entitled “Opportunities, Tools, and Scenarios to influence Israeli Society” in which Mr. Atoine Shalhat, a researcher for Madar, argues that “Judaism is the only religion that does not adopt a missionary approach unlike other religions. As a result, the main goal from the annexation project is to evacuate the Palestinian people, and replace them with Jewish (sic).”