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Israeli Right renews its fight on funding for human rights orgs

Legislative attacks on EU funding of human rights activities could backfire by forcing the Europeans to revisit the basis for its entire economic relationship with Israel — something that not even BDS has succeeded at accomplishing.

EU Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, July 11, 2014. (EU Photo)

EU Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, July 11, 2014. (EU Photo)

The Israeli Right is once again seeking to introduce legislation that would limit the ability of human rights and anti-occupation organizations to seek funding abroad. As part of coalition negotiations with Prime Minister Netanyahu, Naftali Bennett’s Jewish Home party is demanding that foreign-government funding of local institutions require approval by the Defense Ministry and the Knesset’s powerful Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. The next government is unlikely to adopt Bennett’s demand as policy, but some softer version may very well reach the Knesset floor, and even gain the necessary majority to become law.

The right-wing media is already preparing the ground. Right-leaning newspaper Makor Rishon (now owned by Jewish American billionaire Sheldon Adelson) published a major article last weekend based entirely on press releases by NGO Monitor, and focused on the European Union’s support for human rights organizations and other similar groups in Israel.

Like most of the public debate around this issue, the portrait the article painted was biased and one-sided — the organizations themselves weren’t even given a chance to comment. The Jewish Home party and NGO Monitor are not interested in the wider, general effect of foreign entities on the public debate in Israel, nor do they seek to look into the entire array of political organizations that are funded from abroad. They will not, for instance, tell you very much — if anything at all — about right-wing non-profits’ sources of funding. (NGO Monitor itself is funded abroad, and doesn’t have the most transparent record.) The goal of the Jewish Home and NGO Monitor is to attack what they see as the last political platform for anti-occupation activity inside Israeli society. (Full disclosure: the non-profit that operates this site is among the organizations that are often attacked by NGO Monitor. Eight percent of +972’s budget last year came from the Heinrich Boell Foundation, which is defined as “a representative of a foreign government” under Israeli law.)

There is little doubt one way of gaining influence is to fund certain activities, and that includes gaining political influence. “Soft power,” the common phrase used to describe such humanitarian, cultural or economic activities by governments, already betrays this fact. Every country engages in similar activities – including Israel, which, among other things, sends paid envoys to university campuses and synagogues overseas to engage in political activities designed to influence public opinion, with the eventual goal of influencing governments’ foreign policies to support the Israeli side of the conflict.

A debate about foreign influence in local politics is a good thing, but it should encompass the whole picture and put things in proper context. Most of the European Union money that is sent to Israel, for example, does not go to human rights activities, but to other fields, most notably to scientific research. As part of the Horizon 2020 program, for example, Israeli scientists and institutions are about to receive up to NIS 1.5 billion, which is more than what all of the human rights organizations got from all European countries combined (not just the EU), over a period of several years, and that’s according to NGO Monitor’s own data.

In other words, there is no “political” and “non political” money, but rather support for all sorts of activities that fall under the broad agenda of the EU (or the American government, for that matter). Anyone seeking to stop funding for human rights organizations will also necessarily risk losing university grants as well. That is the reason Netanyahu torpedoed previous versions of anti-NGO legislation in the Knesset.

And it doesn’t end there: Article 2 of the 1995 agreement between Israel and the Europe, the very document that made Israel a favorable trade partner to the EU, states that:

Relations between the Parties, as well as all the provisions of the Agreement itself, shall be based on respect for human rights and democratic principles, which guides their internal and international policy and constitutes an essential element of this Agreement.

I believe that the EU should have long ago realized that the permanent state of occupation Israel perpetuates, which deprives millions of people of their most basic human rights, is a major violation of Article 2 of the agreement. But Brussels has never applied Article 2, let along considered backing away from the Israeli-European agreement. The public discourse in Israel — full of conspiracy theories about European agents — tends to miss that simple fact.

If Israel decides to place limits on the EU’s ability to support human rights causes, it will be inviting the Europeans to revisit the 1995 agreement, including Article 2. As I said, I believe this – and not the fear of the Supreme Court or a non-existent opposition – is the only thing standing in the way of new attempts at passing anti-NGO legislation.

The irony is that the Israeli Right might actually succeed where all the boycott movements failed – in making European governments reconsider their special relationship with Israel, and not just engaging in symbolic actions and statements against the settlements, as they do now. If the Israeli anti-occupation organizations really supported BDS – as they are often accused by the Right – they would be wishing the Jewish Home party and NGO Monitor the best of luck in their current efforts.

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    1. Jello

      If Israel was sponsoring the extreme right-wing or the extreme left-wing in a European country you would have certainly heard about it by now. In Israel the entire extreme left-wing exists largely due to the life support that European funding provides. Without that support it would shrink by at least half.

      For the most part these extreme left-wing organizations are despised in Israel because they present a fundamentally foreign point of view on domestic Israeli issues. They do so because at their core they operate to please their European donors and naturally produce reports and carry out activities that please their benefactors and reflect their, often naive and flawed, understanding of the issues. Their continued funding from Europe is a massive, persistent and continuing interference in Israeli domestic politics and would not be tolerated in a country like France.

      These extreme left-wing organizations, like 972mag, are fundamentally political in nature, and despite the silly claim to the contrary in the article, it is very much possible to separate between funding that goes to scientific research and that going to political organizations. The other claim made in this article that somehow democratic values or human rights are undermined when domestic political organizations are prevented from receiving foreign government funding is equally baseless.

      I look forward to the day when this despicable interference by foreign governments in the affairs of my country are ended for good.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        For one thing, the occupation is not an “Israeli domestic issue,” it’s an international one.

        Reply to Comment
        • Jello

          The organizations operating in Israel to influence Israeli policy, regardless of their focus, are domestic Israeli issues.

          Reply to Comment
          • alex

            i think it’s a good idea to stop the interference by foreign governments and agents in the affairs of countries.

            how amazing would it be to shut down AIPAC?

            Reply to Comment
          • Jello

            I know this is hard, so I can see why you would be confused. Let me simplify this for you. AIPAC is an American organization that gets its money from Americans who wish to exercise their democratic right to lobby the American government. In this case we are talking about Israeli organizations getting their money from European governments with unclear objectives to lobby the Israeli government. Does that clear it up for you or should I dumb it down for you some more?

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            That’s not quite a coherent sentence. But according to you, Sheldon Adelson massively funding Israel Hayom is A-OK, but, let’s say, a George Soros funding +972 magazine, for example, would not be ok? Please explain.

            Reply to Comment
          • Lo

            It’ll never cease to amaze me that so many Israelis think a geriatric who made his money in Macau and lives in the U.S. is a real Israeli patriot.

            Reply to Comment
          • Jello

            According to the proposed law it would be perfectly fine for George Soros to fund 972mag. What would not be okay is the funding it receives from the German government (via the Heinrich Boell Foundation).

            Reply to Comment
      • Yeah, Right

        “In Israel the entire extreme left-wing exists”….

        Well, heck, I would suggest that there is the flaw in your argument.

        There is a definite “extreme right-wing” in Israel. No question.

        But there’s precious little “left of centre”, and most definitely nothing on “the extreme left”

        Reply to Comment
    2. Pedro X

      Full Disclosure?

      The article under the rubric of full disclosure says the non profit which operates 972 receives a grant representing 8% of its budget from Heinrich Boell Foundation. It received 10,000 euros from this organization. Yet the writer fails to mention the $100,000 from the American Rockfellers Bros Foundation which is for two years.


      So much for full disclosure.

      Europe funds ngos whose main goal is not to affect a change in political discussion in Israel, but to demonize Israel and support a Palestinian narrative to an audience outside Israel. Many of these organizations support BDS and a right of return of Palestinians to live in Israel. Many advocate for an one state solution in which Zionist society is eliminated. Zochrot in 2012 Study after visit to Cape Town

      “All of us involved are firmly committed to the liberation of Palestine and the return of Palestinian refugees, even if these may mean somewhat different things to each of the participants. As such, most of the discussions took the end of Zionist apartheid, occupation and colonization as a starting point while focusing our energies on the exercise of envisioning a post – Zionist Palestine”

      The head of Zochrot has said that most members of Zochrot support a single state as the vision of a post – Zionist Palestine.

      As explained by Zochrot founder Eitan Bronstein,

      “When the refugees return, Jews will become a minority in the country. Israel as a Jewish state will change radically, and it will no longer be defined as such. Jews will no longer be able to determine their future…by themselves…. There may be Jews, most of them of European origin, who won’t be able to adjust to a non-Zionist reality, and prefer to use their other passport to move elsewhere…”

      Zochrot traveled in 2015 to the US with Palestinian ngo Badil to spread its anti-Israel bias and to produce activism against Israel in foreign countries. In a flyer put out by the group, Zochrot states

      “American audiences will have focused time to consider their role in supporting the call for the Right of Return and how to integrate the Nakba into U.S.-based activism.”

      India has a law to deal with ngos. It banned 69 of them. Israel needs to look at why it is allowing ngos like Zochrot to be funded by foreign dollars to demonize Israel and call for its end.

      Reply to Comment
      • Bruce Gould

        Then let’s end the U.S. annual 3 billion contribution to the Israeli economy, as well as U.S. military cooperation; let’s also end the U.S. role of shielding Israel in U.N. votes.

        Reply to Comment
        • New Relic

          Bruce, with all due respect,,this discussion is above your intelligence level.

          Reply to Comment
    3. Bruce Gould

      Information: this is a list, compiled by Gisha, of items that are prohibited and permitted from entering Gaza; it was made in 2010 and no doubt things have changed, but be assured that the current list, whatever it is , is equally absurd:


      Reply to Comment
    4. Lo

      Tax-exempt donations from the Zionist Organization of America to the Jewish National Fund? Not foreign funding of political activity.

      U.S. military aid for subsidizing the cost of the occupation? Not foreign funding either.

      An online magazine that reports on the occupation? HOLY F*CK! THE FOREIGNERS ARE HERE TAKING MUH SOVRENTY!

      Just look at the countries where “foreign agitators” are brought up by the ruling regime to explain away domestic dissent: Putin’s Russia, Maduro’s Venezuela, any number of Arab countries (those pesky zionists!), “capitalist reactionaries” in China, etc.

      Back during American Apartheid, Southerners also made the same argument about “outside agitators” stirring up trouble. They postulated that “their” blacks would never rise up because there was nothing fundamentally wrong with the way of life in the South. The only reason they ever would is because some damned negro-lovers/Jews from the North had come down to raise trouble. So instead of examining their own sins, the Good Ol’ Boys and their paramilitary terrorist allies in the KKK made a point of attacking the messengers (see: the torture and execution of Chaney, Schwerner, and Goodman).

      Reply to Comment
    5. CDWard

      You have to love Sheldon Adelson’s newspaper criticizing human rights and anti-occupation organizations getting funding from outside Israel while he completely funds his newspaper from outside Israel. A total hypocrite, like everyone on the Right.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Davis

      support for human rights OUT casino gangster supporting bibi IN

      Reply to Comment

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