Critical Remarks Regarding NGO Monitor’s Aim to Damage NGOs Promoting Human Rights and Democracy

I’lam, the Media Center for Arab Palestinians in Israel, is an officially and legally registered not-for-profit, non-governmental organization in the Register of Amutot in Israel. As such, I’lam abides to the legal By-Laws of Amuta (NGOs) in accordance with Israeli law. In addition, I’lam enjoys wide support from Israeli-Jewish journalists, researchers, and activists.

NGO Monitor is an NGO which describes itself as "promoting critical debate and accountability of Human Rights NGOs in the Arab-Israeli conflict". In a damaging document to be published on their website on June 15, they accuse I’lam of being a "Facade of Human Rights and Democratic Principles", because of the center’s alleged contribution to the "demonization of Israel" and its "anti-Israeli political agenda". They base this sensationalist and inflammatory conclusion on extracts of written material from I’lam’s website. Interestingly, NGO Monitor takes as evidence documents produced by third parties, which are posted on I’lam’s website as "Further Literature", and for the contents of which I’lam is not responsible. Moreover, in condemning I’lam’s statements, which clearly criticize the existing anti-democratic tendencies in the Israeli media system, which originate from government policies, legislative regulations, and the self-censorship practiced by media representatives, NGO Monitor concludes that I’lam relies on their "own limited and self-serving evidence". NGO Monitor could simply have made a telephone or e-mail inquiry asking for the information sources on which I’lam bases its data, which include highly recognized Israeli researchers, official media documents, official laws and regulations, as well as clear references to media articles and reports. We reaffirm our statement that the media in Israel fails to satisfy the fundamental responsibility of the media to disseminate balanced and accurate information, and to promote democratic values, civil society, and pluralism; further, we base this conclusion on clear statistical data and scientific researches.

We believe that NGO Monitor, itself an NGO, should start to "monitor" itself, as it lacks clear and scientific criteria for evaluating the work of other NGOs. NGO Monitor also lacks any kind of transparency and accountability regarding its own work. Its noble mission statement of "promoting critical debate and accountability" stands in sharp contrast to the actual aims of destroying, delegitimizing, and undermining the work of civil society organizations working on issues related to Palestinians in the Occupied Territories and Israel. NGO Monitor does not target NGOs working from a Jewish-Israeli perspective, even though accountability and accuracy should be applied equally to all NGOs regardless of their mission statements, perspectives, approaches, and working methods. It is very clear from its website and criticisms of the NGOs they target that NGO Monitor is alarmingly biased, destructive and blatantly racist. It is noteworthy that their staff does not include any women or Palestinians.

In addition, NGO Monitor acts alongside attempts from right-wing organizations, mainly in Europe and United States, to define any critical view of Israeli policies as "narrow, anti-Israeli ideological agenda designed to delegitimize Israel." This aim to polarize public debate as "pro-Israel" or "anti-Israeli / anti-Semitic" is dangerous, and does not contribute to the development of a constructive, plural, and critical debate between parties. Hence, it is clear that NGO Monitor pursues a politically and ideologically motivated agenda, something they criticize so harshly in other NGOs.

On this basis, funding provided by government organizations and private philanthropies, including the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and the Wechsler Family Foundation, needs to be reviewed.

Finally, I’lam would like to invite constructive criticism and comments from serious partners, to help to improve our work.

June 17, 2004


Note: On June 15, NGO Monitor published an analysis of I’LAM (I’LAM: The Facade of Human Rights and Democratic Principles) and this organization submitted a rebuttal. The following letter is NGO Monitor’s response.

In its response, I’LAM charges that NGO Monitor aims "to Damage NGOs Promoting Human Rights and Democracy", but this is unfounded. On the contrary, the role of NGO Monitor is not to damage such NGOs but to hold them accountable and to ensure that they do, in fact, carry out their missions to promote universal human rights and democracy.

I’LAM questions NGO Monitor’s evidence as taken from I’LAM’s website. While I’LAM claims that it is not responsible for the contents of documents produced by third parties in its "Further Literature" section, one of those documents is written by a board member of I’LAM and available through the I’LAM Center. In addition, the inflammatory article "Report from Jenin Refugee Camp: Even Flies Reveal What the Israeli Army Wants to Hide" bears little or no relevance to I’LAM’s media activities and serves only to perpetuate the myths surrounding Jenin in order to demonize Israel.

While we will refrain from making claims on the intricacies of the Israeli media infrastructure, NGO Monitor stands by its analysis that I’LAM has misrepresented the State of Israel as lacking a free and democratic press, in sharp contrast to neighboring Middle East states.

I’LAM also charges that NGO Monitor "lacks any kind of transparency or accountability regarding its own work". On the contrary, NGO Monitor’s analyses are based on detailed documentation that organizations such as I’LAM publish. NGO Monitor welcomes critical debate over the issues raised in its analyses. Through this, NGO Monitor does not seek to "destroy, delegitimize or undermine the work of civil society organizations", but to draw attention to instances where such organizations promote a highly politicized agenda through the rhetoric of human rights.

I’LAM’s attack on NGO Monitor, including such false allegations of "racism" are not a sufficient response and stand in sharp contrast to any attempt at a substantive refutation, and the reply does not contend that our analysis is incorrect. At the same time, we welcome I’LAM’s offer to "invite constructive criticism and comments from serious partners, to help improve our work." NGO Monitor provides just such a forum for I’LAM to respond. NGO Monitor hopes that this debate will indeed improve in the contribution of I’LAM and other organizations that claim to work for the betterment of civil society and universal human rights.

Simon Plosker
Managing Editor, NGO Monitor