In July 2007, NGO Monitor published a detailed report on the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung’s (FES) activities related to the Arab-Israeli conflict. The report concluded that, while many of FES’s activities are consistent with its stated mandate to “work towards contributing to the attainment of a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians”, other projects involve funding or partnering with politicized NGOs which focus their activities on ideological attacks against Israel, rather than on peace, good governance and development.

Following the publication of the FES report, Jörg Haller, a journalist and German citizen, wrote to the FES requesting an official response to NGO Monitor’s findings (NGO Monitor received no reply to its own requests for a response from FES or from its Jerusalem, Herziliyah and Ramallah offices). A formal reply to Mr. Haller came from Dr. Andrä Gärber, Director of the Middle East and North Africa division, Department of International Development Cooperation, FES.

(The correspondence, in German, with English translation, can be viewed here).

Summary of NGO Monitor’s points in response to FES

  • NGO Monitor welcomes FES’s termination of its partnership with SHAML, a radical anti-Israel NGO which supports boycotts, divestment and the ‘right of return’.
  • FES fails to respond to NGO Monitor’s criticism of its partnership with the Health Development Information and Policy Institute (HDIP), which promotes externally focused attacks on Israel rather than internal development of democratic norms.
  • FES offers a wholly inadequate response to NGO Monitor’s finding that Ian Guest – the head of the Advocacy Project, an organization with a prevalent anti-Israel political agenda and ideological emphasis – was an entirely inappropriate choice to conduct an objective FES report on the humanitarian situation in the West Bank. 
  • FES fails to respond to NGO Monitor’s criticism of its partnership with the radical NGO Mossawa, a group which has emerged as one of the main Israeli Arab NGOs involved in the political demonization of Israel.
  • FES fails to explain how its involvement with the NGO Gisha is consistent with FES’s stated mandate: Gisha, as NGO Monitor’s report notes, in its publications uses “apartheid” rhetoric and significantly downplays the context of terror while offering sweeping condemnations of Israeli actions to defend against attack.
  • The response ignores NGO Monitor criticism of FES funding and participation in a joint conference in Beirut in 2004, organized in conjunction with Hezbollah’s "research department," which featured speakers from Hezbollah and Hamas
  • NGO Monitor expects public acknowledgement of the inappropriateness of such activity, and calls for greater transparency and clear criteria, to avoid repeat funding for groups such as SHAML.

Partnerships and the funding of NGOs such as SHAML, HDIP, MOSSAWA, and Gisha,  whose anti-Israel agenda clearly violates FES’s stated mandate, demands a different type of response entirely. NGO Monitor urges Dr. Andrä Gärber, Director of FES’s Middle East and North Africa division, as well as FES’s chairman, Anke Fuchs, to end funding of these NGOs and to implement guidelines to prevent such inappropriate funding and partnerships in the future.

NGO Monitor’s Detailed Reply

In her response on behalf of FES, Dr. Gärber begins by stating that FES works with both Israeli and Palestinian groups in a variety of partnerships and therefore, “it is not justified at all to reproach the FES for one-sidedness.” However, at issue are a number of specific partnerships with groups whose activities violate FES’s stated mandate through their anti-Israel ideology and agenda. FES’ defense that it works with groups ‘on both sides’ is an inadequate response. Additionally, the fact that certain partner NGOs may be engaged in benign community projects alongside their main anti-Israel activities, does not alter the fact that money is fungible; FES funding frees up money to be used on other projects, and provides the legitimacy of an established European donor agency.

As FES’s website notes, the FES “is set-up as an operational foundation,” which, due to its by-laws, is “unable to fund external projects without direct participation of the Foundation.” FES, in their response to NGO Monitor’s report, addresses this participation in 6 sections. In the interest of clarity, we will reply here section by section, with FES’s response given first, in bold italics.

1. Palestinian Diaspora and Refugee Center (SHAML)
“The mentioned project "Cine Club" aimed at making possible a discussion on the Palestinian refugee problem and to show options for a solution of this problem on the basis of the resolution 194 of the General Assembly of the United Nations as well as on the background of the Israeli-Palestinian end status negotiations. Furthermore, the discussion was not restricted to dealing exclusively with the Palestinian refugee problem, but was looking for comparisons with other regions and countries in order to search for pragmatic alternatives and to make clear that the Palestinian refugee problem is not unique. The demonstration of different positions is an inherent part of the work of the FES, as only through the exchange of partly controversial opinions can a fruitful discussion arise as well as a solution acceptable for all sides can be found. The cooperation between FES Jerusalem and SHAML was terminated with the conclusion of this specific project in early 2006.”

NGO Monitor welcomes FES’s termination of its relationship with SHAML, an NGO which promulgates a one-sided anti-Israel view, promotes Palestinian claims of a "right of return" (which constitute a major barrier to the realization of a two-state solution), and is a signatory of the call for "a comprehensive academic boycott of Apartheid Israel". SHAML’s position rejects the very legitimacy of Israel’s existence, which disqualifies it from FES’s goal of "fruitful discussion …[so that] a solution acceptable for all sides can be found."

2. Health Development Information and Policy Institute (HDIP)

“FES Jerusalem has successfully cooperated with HDIP for the last years. The NGO was founded by Dr. Mustafa Barghouthie and directed by him for a long time, and it is based on Dr. Barghouties’s ideas such as democracy, pluralism and equality of opportunity. Dr. Barghoutie, as a doctor and human rights activist, stands for a nonviolent solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and always looks for ways to mediate between the factions, which are mired in a struggle for power within Palestinian politics. The cooperation between FES Jerusalem and HDIP emphasizes promoting democracy among young people.”

This response does address the specific findings of NGO Monitor’s report. As we note, HDIP campaigns for a comprehensive boycott against Israel and refers to Israeli’s security barrier as an “apartheid wall.”  In its publications and via its website, the “Palestine Monitor,” HDIP publishes radical anti-Israel political material accusing Israel of "ethnic cleansing." Rather than promoting internal development of democratic norms, such activities channel Palestinians towards externally focused attacks on Israel. 

3. NGO Monitor analysis of the FES research report, "Defending Human Rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory – Challenges and Opportunities"

“The discussion paper (Green Paper) composed by Ian Guest with the name ‘Defending Human Rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory – Challenges and Opportunities’ was ordered by the FES Jerusalem in order to get an overview on the work of the Palestinian and international human right organizations in the West Bank and the Gaza strip and to consider the results for the future work of the FES. FES Jerusalem is not responsible for all statements of the study. However, FES shares the recommendations of the study. The author, Ian Guest, is visiting professor at the well-known Georgetown University, in Washington D.C., and he teaches human rights in the international relations at the School of Foreign Service there. The emphasis of the study was on the functioning of the different NGO’s, and results and future prospects to optimize their work.”

Once again, FES fails to respond to the specific claims of NGO Monitor’s report. As we note, Iain Guest is the founder and Executive Director of The Advocacy Project, a Washington, DC-based NGO with a prevalent anti-Israel political agenda and ideological emphasis. As such, he is an entirely inappropriate choice to write a balanced report on human rights in the Palestinian Territories. As NGO Monitor notes in its analysis, Guest’s report relies on discussions with members of a number of anti-Israel NGOs, including with Shawan Jabarin, the General Director of al-Haq, who was convicted by Israeli courts for his involvement with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) group. And among Guest’s recommendations, which FES "shares," is the suggestion to "develop[e] alliances with community-based defenders” (p.10), including radical NGOs such al-Haq. The report is highly politicized, placing blame for the humanitarian situation on Israel while severely downplaying the responsibility of Palestinian terrorist groups.

The FES response fails to address these important criticisms, relying on the sole fact that Guest teaches at Georgetown University as a defense for its involvement with a researcher of such questionable credibility.

4. Center on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE)

“Here, the reference to FES is not clear at all. Neither FES Jerusalem nor FES Herziliya have a working cooperation with this organization.”

FES does not deny that it has funded COHRE projects in the past.  But NGO Monitor’s report should have been clearer. The specific activities of COHRE which NGO Monitor’s report notes, including its work with radical anti-Israel NGO BADIL in promoting boycotts against Israel and accusing it of “ethnic cleansing,” were not advanced with FES cooperation. Nevertheless, as with all NGOs, the money that COHRE receives from donors is fungible, and it remains the responsibility of FES to live up to its stated mandate and to refuse to cooperate with a group active in promoting a radical anti-Israel narrative.

5. Mossawa

“The Israeli NGO ‘The Mossawa Center’ aims at improving the social, economic and political status of the Arabic Israelis. Mossawa has mainly specialized in advising other NGOs as well as local administrations and Knesset members. Mossawa has been one of the partner organizations of FES Israel for the last few years and is among the established NGOs in Israel. In cooperation with FES-Israel, Mossawa has carried out the project "Capacity Building in Advocacy for Arab Local Councils and NGOs" for many years. In 2006, Mossawa representatives gave advice to the Minister of Education Yuli Tamir as well as to the members of the Office of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.”

Mossawa, (as NGO Monitor has documented ) has emerged as one of the main Israeli Arab NGOs involved in the political demonization of Israel using blanket charges of racism , and has actively campaigned against the Citizenship law . Its reports to UN committees often remove or minimize the context of terrorism to condemn Israeli security measures and promote legal arguments to undermine the State.  FES’ project sponsors Mossawa for "capacity building in advocacy," yet Mossawa’s advocacy focus is on undermining the legitimacy of Israel’s existence, rather empowering Arab citizens towards genuine dialogue.

6. Gisha

“The basis of the engagement of this NGO, founded in 2005, is International Law and Israeli Legislation. Among the members of the Management of ‘Gisha’ are different professors of the Tel Aviv University and the Hebrew University. The emphasis Gisha’s work is on the free moving space of the inhabitants of the Gaza strip after the unilateral Israeli withdrawal in the summer of 2005. A crucial summary of the local situation is also to be found in a brochure published in January 2007. This publication, also mentioned by ‘NGO Monitor,’ was the first cooperation between FES Israel and ‘Gisha’.

NGO Monitor welcomes further details on FES’s relationship with Gisha. Again, however, we note that the product of FES’s involvement to date was a highly flawed report, "Disengaged Occupiers," which repeatedly uses “apartheid” rhetoric, fails to mention the ongoing terrorist barrage of Kassam rockets when discussing the situation in Gaza, and in general downplays the context of terror in offering a sweeping condemnation of Israeli actions to defend against attack.  

NGO Monitor welcomes this dialogue with FES, but urges Dr. Gärber to recognize that many NGOs supported by her organization promote political viewpoints that contradict the funding aims of FES.  Grants to these organizations should be severed, and clear and transparent criteria must be established, to avoid repeating mistakes identified in the NGO Monitor report.