Human Rights Watch’s press release “Israel: Withdraw Legislation Punishing Human Rights Activists” (July 25, 2010) presents a long list of complaints against the Israeli government, closely echoing the New Israel Fund (NIF) and NIF-funded political NGOs. HRW’s allegations of “silencing” critics, “threats” to Israel’s “vibrant” civil society, and the “harm” to Israel’s democracy are taken directly from statements by NIF, ACRI, B’Tselem’s Mitchell Plitnick, and other NIF-related activists. Appended to the ideological laundry list are Israeli NGOs’ grievances over Sheikh Jarrah in Jerusalem.
A major HRW complaint is directed at legislation to prevent support for anti-Israel boycotts. In the press release, HRW Mid-East and North Africa Director Sarah Leah Whitson asserts that “peacefully advocating for or against boycotts should not be punished.” Given her ongoing support for the Caterpillar boycott campaign (2004 – 2010), Whitson is reflecting her own agenda. In this framework, the “collective punishment” of Gaza residents is “unlawful,” but the collective punishment of Israelis and Israeli corporations via boycotts is a legitimate position. (Whitson also neglects to mention that the goal of the boycott movement is the elimination of the State of Israel.)
HRW’s opposition to the “NGO Funding Bill” concern proposed Knesset legislation that would demand complete transparency on foreign government funding to Israeli non-governmental organizations. While HRW acknowledges that the original version bill has been amended, rendering most criticism moot, HRW still finds fault with transparency.
HRW ignores the distinct problem of governments funding non-governmental organizations that are involved in political activities, and the potential for manipulation of Israel’s democratic processes. Here, too, HRW repeats Israeli NGO talking points, deriding the law because “Many right-wing and settlers groups… would be unaffected [by the law] as their money derives exclusively from private donors.” Indeed, the European Union and European governments exclusively fund a narrow segment of the Israeli political spectrum.
Perhaps part of the problem is HRW’s own lack of transparency about the foreign government funds it receives: If HRW were an Israeli NGO, the “NGO Funding Bill” would require the organization to disclose the support it receives from the Dutch government via Oxfam NOVIB ($987,818 in 2007-8, continued funding in 2009). HRW claims that “It accepts no government funds, directly or indirectly,” but the vast majority of Oxfam NOVIB’s funding is from the Netherlands. In summary, both HRW and NIF claim to promote “progressive” policies and democracy – except when it comes to the public’s right to know about their own agendas and interests.