The Holes in Brian Lurie's Defense of NIF-Funded Political NGOs
On July 20, 2014, Brian Lurie, president of New Israel Fund (NIF), published an op-ed article in Ha’aretz (“Under fire, Israel must still stand up for human rights”), defending Israeli human rights organizations and their recent statements condemning IDF responses to terror attacks from Gaza.
There are points in the article that are incomplete and require further clarification:
1) The article presumes that Israeli human rights organizations operate responsibly as “an independent voice reporting on government activity” and that their reports credibly “implicate or criticize military behavior.”
However, the record clearly demonstrates that this is overly generous. NGO Monitor has systematically shown that some NIF-funded groups publish unsupported factual and legal claims. Despite lacking the competence to draw definitive conclusions, these political NGOs issue “unequivocal public statements” that are, at best, speculative. (For detailed examples relating to the current conflict, see “B’Tselem’s Expanding Credibility Gap” and “Analysis of NGO Agendas and Distortions on the Gaza Conflict.”) (In 2008-2013, NIF authorized grants worth $1,381,969 to B’Tselem.)
In a democracy, human rights NGOs have the right to make their opinions known, regardless of the falsehoods that they proclaim. However, when they fail to accord to the most basic standards of best practices in fact-finding and reporting, they most certainly should be “named and shamed.” And their funders and other supporters from the Diaspora need to consider constructive intervention when the activities deviate from the stated agendas.
2) Lurie denounces “international intercession” and foreign legal cases against Israeli officials (“lawfare”). However, in sharp contrast, two NIF grantees, Adalah ($1,673,634 in 2008-13) and Mossawa ($1,038,177 in 2008-13), signed a statement (“Palestinian Civil Society in Israel Demands Urgent Action on Gaza,” July 14, 2014) urging “the UN to initiate a fact-finding mission to investigate alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity.” In this statement, the NGOs volunteer themselves as available for “information, assistance, materials, or advice” – as they did with the Goldstone Commission (see below).
Adalah’s participation in this joint statement is disingenuous, as it also cynically sent a public letter to the Israeli Defense Minister, demanding “that the competent authorities order an independent investigation.”
We note that by the standards set in the article, neither group should be eligible for continued NIF support.
In this context, Lurie suggests that NIF-funded organizations are passive when they “receive coverage and attention across the globe.” However, generating international pressure against Israel is a central component of many Israeli NGOs’ agendas. Indeed, almost all their statements, reports, and press releases are issued in English, reflecting a main objective of influencing perceptions of Israeli among non-Israelis and in the international media. Breaking the Silence ($560,428 in 2008-13) – which frequently appears before European and American audience, published its “testimonies” into Swedish, Dutch, and German. A BTS leader published an op-ed last week in the Independent (UK) accusing Israel, in responding to the attacks from Gaza, of violating “moral red lines”.
3) Contrary to the impression given by Lurie, NIF-funded NGOs played a major role in the discredited Goldstone report (although some criticism was overstated). NGO Monitor’s detailed analysis definitively shows that NIF grantees: a) participated in a NGO “town hall meeting” in Geneva that set the agenda for the process; b) submitted a written statement ignoring Hamas crimes, but alleging “human rights violations for which Israel must be held accountable”; c) testified before the Goldstone comission and submitted multiple reports and other “evidence”; d) B’Tselem “provided assistance to the investigative staff of the Goldstone mission from the beginning to the end of its research”; e) lobbied foreign governments, including the EU and the U.S., to adopt Goldstone’s skewed conclusions; f) appeared before UN Human Rights Council proceedings in support of the Goldstone report.