Women Wage Peace and the Debate on Partisan NGO Funding
Women Wage Peace (WWP) is an Israeli NGO enmeshed in one of the most politically sensitive questions of the day. As stated in its mission statement, WWP was “born out of deep despair and cynicism which followed our most recent war in Gaza (Operation Protective Edge 2014),” with the goal “to reach an honourable and bilaterally acceptable political agreement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict which is to be reached by 2018.”
Yet, WWP also claims to eschew partisan approaches to its activities. As part of its attempt to reach out to a broad support base, WWP avoids using terminology that is seen as contentious in Israel, such as the term ‘occupation.’ One of WWP’s stated objectives is “To grow our numbers through diversity by reaching out to religious and secular women; Jews and Arabs; right, center, and left-wing voters; immigrant and native-born residents from all corners of the country, as well as moderate settler women.” As reported by both Haaretz and Channel 20, while the majority of its members can be viewed as left-wing, WWP counts right-wing activists among its supporters, including Likud voters and settlers.
To be sure, WWP has been referred to as “left-wing” by right-leaning media outlets Arutz 7 and Channel 20. From the other end of the political spectrum, WWP was criticized by radical activist and B’Tselem board member Orly Noy for ignoring “50 years of military occupation, all while recycling the same old tropes about the role of women in violent conflicts.” As reported by Times of Israel, the Palestinian BDS (boycott, divestment, and sanctions) National Committee denounced WWP’s rally in Jerusalem as a “feminist normalization march” and called for a “peaceful sabotage” of the event.
WWP’s political nature – and whether it is right, left, or neutral – is also manifest in its funding, and such questions have dogged WWP from its inception. As reported in Israel Hayom, when WWP was founded, attorney Gilad Sher called its registration “urgent,” explaining that the NGO was “eligible for a substantial and significant donation for its overall activities.” What was the urgency? WWP was “supposed to be active leading up to and during the elections in March 2015.”
Based on WWP’s website, donors to the organization include the European Union, the Russel Berrie Foundation, the National Council of Jewish Women, the Middle East Peace Dialogue Network, and the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation. In 2015, the New Israel Fund (NIF) provided Women Wage Peace with $18,215. The European Union’s Directorate-General for Neighborhood and Enlargement Negotiations funded a two-year grant (2016-2018) of €476,108 along with the partner NGOs Midreshet Adam (Adam Institute for Democracy and Peace) and Itach (Women Lawyers for Social Justice), for a project titled “Building a Shared Future: Women as Catalysts for Peace and Security.” According to WWP’s website, this project was also funded by Heinrich Böll Stiftung (HBS) Israel – a German government-funded foundation affiliated with the German Green Party.
However, in September 2017, Haaretz reported that “after its first year of operation, the group decided to no longer accept donations from the New Israel Fund,” for fear this “could drive away potential supporters from the new communities they sought to engage.” WWP’s effort to maintain a diverse and inclusive membership is further reflected in its horizontal organizational structure and lack of hierarchy. As stated in its guiding principles, the group is run primarily by local volunteer coordinators, the sole paid position being that of head coordinator.
As the above demonstrates, NGOs active in the Arab-Israeli conflict are at the center of intense partisan controversies in Israel, with the issue of funding featuring prominently in the debate. In the case of WWP, an openly political group that is trying to be non-partisan, this has had a direct effect over the NGO’s decision-making and overall strategy, particularly in relation to funding.