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Foreign influence, transparency problems of NGO Monitor

Right-wing NGO that went after progressive and human right groups is financed from abroad, including through large grants from undisclosed donors

Last week, Haaretz’s Uri Blau had a short expose – available only in the Hebrew edition – regarding the rightwing non-profit NGO Monitor. As some readers might remember, NGO Monitor recently attacked the German Heinrich Böll Foundation for a grant of 6,000 Euros it gave +972 Magazine in 2011.

According to its website, “NGO Monitor’s objective is to end the practice used by certain self-declared ‘humanitarian NGOs’ of exploiting the label ‘universal human rights values’ to promote politically and ideologically motivated agendas.” It does so through attacking public position taken by NGOs, questioning their motives and partners, and going after their sources of funding.

Human rights organizations in Israel are very transparent, partly because of the increasing attention their activities get (this is one, and probably the only positive influence of the work of some conservative groups and journalists). Right-wing groups, on the other hand, seem to operate under different standards. Im Tirzu, for example, submitted its list of donors only after receiving threats from the state’s NGO department. Elad, the organization leading the colonization efforts of Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, has received special status from the government that allows it not to disclose any of its major donors.

NGO Monitor, it turns out, is not much better: In 2010, three of its donations came from undisclosed (though legal) sources: The first one, for the sum of NIS 570,000 ($154,000), was passed through the Jewish Federation of North America and the Jewish Agency; the second one, for NIS 100,000, was transferred through the Israeli non-profit Matan – started in 1998 by local tycoon Shari Arison, owner of Israel’s largest Bank – and the third donation came through a British fund registered in the Isle of Man, known for its favorable tax rates.

When the origin of these funds were questioned by Haaretz, the organization that promotes transparency and accountability suddenly becomes very vague. Asked about the NIS half million donation from the Jewish Agency, Gerald Steinberg, president of NGO Monitor, said:

It’s the kind of thing I don’t remember by heart exactly. Sometimes I don’t deal with money… Someone who sees in our activities something worthy of donations gives us money. Unlike the organizations we write about, we don’t get money from any government”…

The Jewish Agency, which transferred the donation to NGO Monitor, is a quasi-governmental organization, operating in Israel under special status. An effort to understand the source of the donation from the chairman of NGO Monitor non-profit, attorney Yoel Golovansky, had similar results:

I am not that knowledgeable [of the source of the money]. We go through the financial report when it’s submitted, but I don’t remember… if I knew I don’t remember. Usually it’s someone that donated through the [Jewish] Agency.

Who is it?

I don’t know. I don’t know if I knew, but I surely don’t know today.

One could only imagine the press release NGO Monitor would have written if it got those kind of answers from a human rights group.

(I have contacted the Jewish Federation for its comment on the 2010 donation, which will be posted here when I get it.)

We have also learned from Haaretz that NGO Monitor had a budget of over NIS 2 million in 2010, and that it employed 27 people. Gerald Steinberg had a yearly salary of NIS 211,000, more than twice the average Israeli income. Haaretz’s piece reveled that NGO Monitor, which is so sensitive regarding foreign influence on Israeli politics, is basically an American organization, registered in Israel. Most of its donations come from the States; reporter Uri Blau was even answered in English when he called the organization’s Jerusalem office…

This is a major point: the campaign against human right groups in Israel is done under rhetoric which is all about “preventing foreign influence” and therefore “defending local democracy“, yet much of the right’s work in Israel is financed from abroad – especially, but not exclusively, by American Jews and Christian Zionists – not to mention the most important element in shaping the political conversation, Sheldon Adelson’s free tabloid Israel Hayom, the most widely read paper in Israel. Israel Hayom was and still is a losing operation, intended only to manipulate public opinion in favor of the right.

To sum it up, if the people behind NGO Monitor were even remotely interested in democracy or transparency, they would have had something to say about the unknown donors and shady practices of rightwing NGOs like Elad and Im Tirzu; but NGO Monitor itself is a right-wing group, working to limit the public debate in Israel, to stop advocacy and civil rights work for the advancement of the Arab minority (see for example its latest attack on Adalah, the local version of the NAACP), and to prevent criticism of Israeli policy in the occupied territories and beyond.

The fact that NGO Monitor receives its support through the Jewish Agency and the Jewish Federation goes to show how invested in those disturbing causes Israeli and Jewish mainstream institutions have become.

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    1. AYLA

      Brilliant, and terrifying in regard to the Jewish Agency and Jewish Federation, since they are very mainstream organizations in the States. Thank you, Noam,for putting solid information behind my intuitions. Now I can send this to some of my Federation Homies who actually pay attention to the NGO Monitor stories.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Anne O'Nimmus

      Correction for you Noam, it’s ISLE of Man, not island 🙂
      Thanks for confirming suspicions!

      Reply to Comment
    3. Batya Kallus

      It’s about time that someone expose the
      NGO Monitor. Thank you. I hope this is only the beginning of the counter attack.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Danny

      Rightists are funny people, aren’t they? They don’t seem to have a sense of IRONY at all. That is partly the reason why most artists and, in particular, writers are leftists.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Passerby

      I think it’s ironic to read this article in English, in a magazine geared to educating English speakers about Israel’s ills and evils.

      And come on, Adalah is the NAACP? You’re insulting the NAACP.

      By the way, there is a key difference between you and other NGOs criticized by NGO Monitor and NGO Monitor: they report on you guys and attempt to modify the anti-Israel propaganda mill, while the NGOs under discussion are actively attempting to influence and change Israeli society and are obviously influenced or trying to please by their outside funding sources.

      Imagine how many articles you’d write about Israel’s perfidy if Israel was to sponsor, say, British NGOs intended to bring down the British government or make it give Scotland the freedom it so desires?

      Reply to Comment
    6. louis



      “These Guardians Of Zion, (GOZs to be terse) have found it necessary to degrade democratic discourse, to debase civil society and to defile the public sphere with a distinctly uncivil, monist and monologically hegemonic non-dialogue, which not only delineates the boundaries of accepted speech, action and thought but also attempts to set out rewards and punishments for those who abide by these limits and those who dare to violate them. In the past one may have thought of these GOZs as just another part of the civic conversation. But, they have so clearly embedded themselves in the Israeli political process so as to have co-opted discourse with a clear vision of what is forbidden and permitted in the Israeli body politic.”

      Reply to Comment
    7. Thanks for bring to English the conversations everyday Israelis have, Noam. To me, that’s simply what Israeli NGOs are doing, bringing the depth and detail of Israeli conversation to the Diaspora. And why can’t we out here also discuss whether the occupation is moral or hurting Israeli interests? Opposing such is the simple purpose of NGO Monitor and the like.

      Reply to Comment
    8. Mordechai ben Yosef

      Passerby: “Adalah is the NAACP? You’re insulting the NAACP.”

      You are 100% correct. The NAACP was regarded by J.E. Hoover and other US government luminaries as a Coommunist infiltrated, Soviet controlled front group trying to foment race riots and destruction of Anglo Saxon Christian culture, a major threat to USA stability and security. Adalah doesn’t even come close.

      Reply to Comment
    9. Passerby

      Wait, we’re talking about Hoover now?
      As I recall, it was just a few years ago that Adalah came out with their proposal for a constitution in which they demand (they like to claim it’s just “imagined”) that Israel take on the narrative of the nakba and accept the coming of all Palestinian descendants into Israel (what they call “return”).
      Where is the parallel with the NAACP exactly?

      Reply to Comment
    10. Piotr Berman

      I will try to make a case for Passerby using data from NGO Monitor (they have a decent web site):

      # Adalah’s donors in 2009 include the European Union, Switzerland, Ford Foundation, Open Society Institute, Oxfam-Novib, Christian Aid, NDC.

      # Drafted a 2007 “Democratic Constitution,” which calls for replacing the Jewish foundation of the state with a “democratic, bilingual and multicultural” framework. Jewish immigration would be permitted for “humanitarian reasons.”

      Comparing Adalah’s record with Hoover criteria is unfair, because Hoover did not give a hoot if NAACP was anti-Semitic or not (and it was not!) while NGO Monitor does not give a hoot about Communist infiltration. Adalah’s was cited 39 times by evil Goldstone report. Second, Adalah worked jointly with Al-Haq which is doubly evil as Palestinian and radical. Al-Haq is also almost terrorist.

      How radical is Al-Haq? They got some money from German Rosa Luxemburg Institute which is run by Communists. Aha! But NGO Monitor does not care, because they got more money from anti-Semitic sources like Ford Foundation (Communist stooges AND corporate shills!) But terrorists connections are more juicy:

      the head of al-Haq was denied exit visa by Israel, and lost the appeal

      former al-Haq employee was subpoenaed by FBI, she also have been driving (well, taking mass transit) under influence (of radical ideology).

      Someone could make a facile statement that if Maureen Claire Murphy was investigated by FBI and nothing happened that PROVES that she is not a terrorist. But that overlooks the possibility that radical leftists at the top echelons of US Administration squashed the investigation due to their Islamo-fascists sympathies.

      Reply to Comment