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What is NGO Monitor’s connection to the Israeli government?

The spearhead of the battle against Israeli human rights organizations, NGO Monitor, is run by a man who, at least for a period of time since its founding, was closely affiliated with the Prime Minister’s Office. On another front, the government is now targeting human rights NGOs’ tax status.

By Yossi Gurvitz and Noam Rotem

Hello, I have the honor of representing NGO Monitor, and I think that I will be the first speaker to talk from a point of view that is neither governmental nor quasi-governmental, but rather from, what is called: civil society.
— Gerald Steinberg speaking at the Knesset Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs Committee, July 9, 2013.

Over the years, we have been following utterances, insinuations and rumors that Benjamin Netanyahu is so troubled by human rights organizations that he dedicates a significant portion of his time and energy to fighting them. That struggle has been documented on this blog and on another blog, 0139, in detail. This week, working on a tip, we found Gerald Steinberg’s resume from 2004, two years after he established NGO Monitor. In it, under “additional activities,” Steinberg testifies that he served as a “consultant [to the] Government of Israel,” and as a member of the “Steering Committee, Forum on Antisemitism, Office of the Prime Minister, Government of Israel.” On his Hebrew-language profile on the NGO Monitor website, Steinberg describes himself as a “consultant to the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs.” (His English profile is missing that information.) In a profile attached to a 2006 op-ed, he is described as a consultant to the National Security Council, which is a part of the Prime Minister’s Office.

In other words, Gerald Steinberg claims that he works — or at least has worked — for the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office, and that is long after he founded NGO Monitor. Why is that important? It is necessary to explain, first of all, what Steinberg and his organizations are trying to accomplish. We’ll start by defining an NGO: a non-governmental organization, which carries out work that governments have difficulty performing, or don’t want to perform. Such organizations are called “civil society organizations” in Israel, or sometimes, human rights organizations, according to their respective functions. They do the work the government cannot do, precisely because one of their central roles is to levy criticism against, or to reveal crimes committed by the government.

Naturally, governments have ambiguous relationships with such organizations. In Israel, it is unambiguous: in recent years the Jewish Right in Israel has launched a political war aimed at curbing civil society and human rights organizations’ ability to operate. They provide too much information about how the Israeli government actually operates, whether it’s exposing the apartheid regime that exists in the occupied territories, or about how the Israeli government is redistributing wealth in a way that the uppermost thousandth gets more at the expense of the rest of society. A series of laws are in the pipeline in the Knesset, the goals of which are to silence human rights and civil society organizations.

The target of the campaign, which NGO Monitor spearheads, was the New Israel Fund, which funds many such organizations. Netanyahu — who has said that Israel’s main enemies are The New York Times and Haaretz — would have loved to attack the NIF, but he knows that a direct attack against it and against civil society and human rights NGOs, either by him or by the government, wouldn’t carry much credibility, and would drag the government into a dirty fight, one that would make the government of Israel look too similar to the Putin government, and would further crack the already too-thin facade of a “democratic state.”

So instead of a direct attack, there was an indirect attack. It was carried out by a number of organizations that put on the masks of non-governmental organizations. But they weren’t. NGO Monitor, we saw, is run by a man who – at least in the organization’s early years – was a government employee or closely affiliated with the Prime Minister’s Office. The campaign’s central attack dog was “Im Tirzu,” but it relied too much on reports written by NGO Monitor. Im Tirzu is connected to Netanyahu: his point man, Yoav Horowitz — who today serves as Netanyahu’s go-to man at Israel’s Second Broadcast Authority — transferred NIS 74,180 to Im Tirzu in 2008 (Hebrew). Im Tirzu’s founding chairman, Ronen Shoval, said recently that he was offered a job as the bureau chief of the Prime Minister’s Office. Im Tirzu is the successor organization of the “reservists’ struggle” that came into existence following the Second Lebanon War, but that we know today was secretly run by Netanyahu’s bureau when he was the opposition leader.

A third organization, which portrays itself as a non-governmental organization but serves the government of Israel, is Shurat HaDin – Israel Law Center. Shurat HaDin primarily serves as an attack dog overseas, especially against supporters of the boycott, sanctions and divestment (BDS) movement. (Recently they have been trying to sue an Australian professor, Jake Lynch, who refused to hire an Israeli, on the grounds that he violated Australia’s hate crimes law.) As I’ve pointed out in the past, relying on WikiLeaks cables, Shurat HaDin was actually directed by the Israeli intelligence and government. By the way, Shurat HaDin defines itself as a “Jewish human rights organization.”

Taking those facts and statements into account, such organizations might be defined as GONGOs (government operated non-governmental organizations), which is to say, government operated organizations that present themselves as non-governmental and independent. Going back to Steinberg’s testimony at the Knesset Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs Committee, he almost reveals the method himself:

It took the government ministries a few years to understand that this is an existential war [being waged] against the State of Israel. It is de-legitimization in every regard, from the Bedouin, and what JNF-KKL supposedly does, they’re messaging and language of morality, war crimes, apartheid, all of those issues together. And that requires a response like in war, and unfortunately, I think that still hasn’t been understood in many places […]

It took many years to understand that this is an entire industry and that [we] counter attack. I think that [launching] counter attacks against the leading organizations isn’t easy for the government framework. With all due respect, and I respect the Foreign Ministry and Prime Minister’s Office, the Jewish Agency and other organizations — it needs to come from civil society. It’s NGO against NGO. If it’s Human Rights Watch, and if it’s Amnesty International, if it’s in the media, so there need to be organizations that address the media. It could be that there’s a place for cooperation, the exchange of information, and to build [joint] strategies between governmental and non-governmental bodies, but to ask a government to solve these problems, I think that isn’t realistic.”

So the Israeli government used dummy organizations. So much so that the founder of one organization boasts about her connections with Israeli intelligence, another worked with the Prime Minister’s Office, and a third organization received funds directly from a confidant of the prime minister.

It’s important to emphasize that the principal work of these dummy organizations is dealings with the Israeli public or Jews overseas. That is the modus operandi of hasbara organizations. Netanyahu wants to close ranks at home, by flooding the public discourse with fraudulent information in order to discredit civil society organizations, which appears to come from independent, unconnected organizations that are incidentally connected to him or to the government. In other words, those government-affiliated organizations — and let’s remember that Netanyahu and the government are the story here; Steinberg is a pawn — have adopted the exact same tactic they accuse civil society organizations of using: sock puppetry. Meaning, they say they are serving one agenda at the same time that, using various names, they are serving an entirely different aim — and they pollute the public discourse in a way that official government statements could never achieve. NGO Monitor, by the way, has a long history of polluting the public discourse by planting lies using sock puppetry. (Hebrew)

This is one front of Netanyahu’s war against a free Israeli society. On a second front, he is siccing government forces on civil society organizations. On NGO Monitor’s Hebrew-language donations page, it says that “donations to NGO Monitor are tax deductible in Israel.” We haven’t found the specific tax document, but we’ll believe them. In the past few weeks, the Israeli Tax Authority is trying to revoke the tax exempt status of a veteran human rights organization (which happens to be a shared, age-old goal of NGO Monitor), Physicians for Human Rights. Additionally, the Tax Authority sent a letter to human rights organization B’Tselem, informing it that it will not receive such status:

In the matter at hand, it appears that the organization’s declared, principal purpose is of a clearly political nature, and as such, touches on and deals with matters of public debate and/or politics.

In other words, criticism of the Israeli government and its actions is “of a clearly political nature” — but an organization whose purpose is to attack B’Tselem and similar organizations (“NGO against NGO”) – that is somehow not political. Meaning, political actions whose goal is to attack those who oppose the government, in the eyes of the Tax Authority, is not political. Using the Tax Authority against political opponents of the government is a well-known tool; among others, it was made famous by Richard Nixon.

The Netanyahu government’s attack against a free society in Israel is coming from two directions: the first is encouraging “concerned organizations” to attack civil society organizations; the second, is using the power of the authorities in order to suppress legitimate political activity. Benjamin Netanyahu is waging a war against Israeli society, using both deception and the power of government. The time has come for the Knesset — whose function is to oversee and supervise the government — to wake up. And the first thing it needs to do is to appoint an investigatory commission to look into the connections between the Israeli government and NGO Monitor, Im Tirzu and Shurat HaDin. If it created a committee to investigate police violence against settlers at Amona, then this is certainly a worthy subject.

NGO Monitor did not respond to a request for comment at the time of publication. If one is received, it will be published here.

Following the publication of a version of this article in Hebrew, Meretz chairwoman and MK Zehava Galon submitted a parliamentary inquiry to the Prime Minister’s Office. She posed the following questions:

1. Has the Prime Minister’s Office directly or indirectly funded “NGO Monitor” or “Im Tirzu?”

2. If so, for what purposes were funds transferred? What were the sums transferred and in what years? Was a tender issued?

3. Is Mr. Gerald Steinberg employed by a government ministry or office as a private individual, as part of an organization or as another legal entity, or alternatively, was he employed in the past by a government office?

4. If so, in what capacity and during which years?

MK Galon also demanded that Knesset Legal Advisor Eyal Yanon clarify whether Steinberg perjured himself in front of the Knesset Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs Committee, and if so — what legal remedies exist.

Any developments will be updated here, if there are any.

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    1. At this (http://bit.ly/1fpkDAG) WJC meeting in 2010, note how Steinberg and Yosef Kuperwasser – currently in the Ministry of Strategic Affairs and fighting BDS – refer to each other:

      Steinberg: “So I would have to say with the work that other people are being done and we
      will hear from General Kuperwasser and Fiamma now about the tremendous work that they are doing, we have a functioning network and I think in the next year or two, although the challenges seem very, very strong, our ability to deal with them and, I think, to defeat them is becoming greater.” (http://bit.ly/1kj0Tfg)

      “And there are more sophisticated, sublime delegitimizers. Those people Gerald is dealing with…”
      “We have to come up with a strategy that is based on proactive activity,
      proactive concept that brings in activities in all the domains, in which this battle
      is being fought…in the legal domain – much of things that Gerald
      touched upon are happening in the legal domain.” (http://bit.ly/1hNtDOX)

      Reply to Comment
      • Kolumn9

        Oh the travesty! I mean it is totally unnatural that one speaker might refer to some things that were said by the previous speaker at a conference.

        Reply to Comment
    2. Rab

      So the head of an NGO that bothers you used to work for the government or may have served at other times as a consultant to the government.

      That’s funny because Zehava Gal On is one of the co-founders of B’Tzelem!

      Do you know how many American lobby groups, NGOs, think tanks and companies that sell to the US government are former government employees at all levels including some of the highest in the land?

      People create businesses, non-profits, etc. on the basis of what they know and a need they perceive in the marketplace. Steinberg obviously identified – correctly – this need. Just as Zehava Gal On perceived a need. Even if Steinberg or Gal On identified these needs after a conversation with Netanyahu or Peres, respectively, in which the political leader specifically said, “Hey, we should have an NGO that does X,” does that make the NGO’s work no less effective or important?

      Also, as an aside, just as I don’t see what you’ve proven with this article, your article about Shurat HaDin also doesn’t prove anything other than the possibility that the government knows this group exists and may occasionally steer people towards them or provide information (according to your evidence, not intentionally but within context of normal work interaction) that may lead to cases.

      Should we

      Reply to Comment
    3. Danny

      Gerald Steinberg is a well-known fraud. No reason to devote such a long piece just to him.

      I would have written a piece that lumps all the shit together (Steinberg, Im Tirzu, Shurat Ha’din, StandWithUs and others) and shows how they have direct links to the Israeli government.

      Reply to Comment
      • Kolumn9

        Lets presume that it is true that these organizations have direct links to the Israeli government. What exactly is the problem with organizations that support the political line of the current Israeli government having “links” with the Israeli government?

        This is like having some issue with the Obama administration’s links with the New America Foundation and with the Center for American Progress.

        Reply to Comment
        • Danny

          The problem for Steinberg is that he claims he is an unbiased monitor of NGO activity, while in reality he is as biased as one could get.

          The second, more principled problem with being associated with the current Israeli government is that this is perhaps one of the most extreme and reactionary governments in the western world. I would just as soon associate myself with Vladimir Putin as I would with Netanyahu.

          Come to think of it, perhaps Putin should consider starting a lobby group in Washington. He could call it ARPAC.

          Reply to Comment
          • Kolumn9

            1) I have no idea where you got the claim that Steinberg claimed he is unbiased or absent of a political agenda. NGO Monitor is very explicit about exposing foreign-funded NGOs pretending to be human rights organizations for the purpose of political and ideological activity.

            2) You have already left the country so you may associate with whoever you wish, nonetheless the “expose” or “accusation” that an organization has links with the democratically elected government of the country they operate in is basically retarded and meaningless given that it is entirely normal in the rest of the Western world.

            3) Tisk tisk on the censorship on this board. I didn’t realize pointing out that Yossi Gurvitz is being paid a salary by an organization with “links” (that is it is almost entirely funded by them) to the governments of the EU, Belgium, Norway, Netherlands, Ireland, UK, and Germany is irrelevant to the subject matter at hand.

            Reply to Comment
          • Danny

            From the top of this article:

            “Hello, I have the honor of representing NGO Monitor, and I think that I will be the first speaker to talk from a point of view that is neither governmental nor quasi-governmental, but rather from, what is called: civil society.
            – Gerald Steinberg speaking at the Knesset Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs Committee, July 9, 2013.”

            Reply to Comment
          • Kolumn9

            Exactly. He is neither governmental nor quasi-governmental. Nothing in the article shows any evidence to the contrary.

            Reply to Comment
          • Danny

            – This week, working on a tip, we found Gerald Steinberg’s resume from 2004, two years after he established NGO Monitor. In it, under “additional activities,” Steinberg testifies that he served as a “consultant [to the] Government of Israel,” and as a member of the “Steering Committee, Forum on Antisemitism, Office of the Prime Minister, Government of Israel.”

            – On his Hebrew-language profile on the NGO Monitor website, Steinberg describes himself as a “consultant to the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs

            – In a profile attached to a 2006 op-ed, he is described as a consultant to the National Security Council, which is a part of the Prime Minister’s Office

            Are you dyslexic? Do you have trouble reading?

            Reply to Comment
          • Kolumn9

            Exactly, all you have is that he currently participates in advisory bodies that have ties to the Israeli government. Here is an actual translation of his profile in Hebrew:

            Professor Gerald Steinberg – President of NGO Monitor and Professor of Political Science at Bar Ilan University. His research areas include Security and Diplomacy in the Middle East, the politics of human rights and NGOs. He previously worked as an adviser to the Israeli Foreign Ministry, participates in workshops of the inter-parliamentary coalition for the fight against anti-semitism, and is a member of the advisory academic committee of the “Israel Law Review” publication.

            So, what do you actually have? That he once had a job with the Israeli government? His is neither a governmental nor a quasi-governmental organization and he himself has no direct affiliation with the Israeli government. Where have you or the article itself pointed to any evidence to the contrary?

            Reply to Comment
          • Tzutzik

            “the current Israeli government is that this is perhaps one of the most extreme and reactionary governments in the western world.”

            So says an extreme Israel hater who said the same thing about all previous Israeli governments.

            There is no pleasing these types of extreme individuals short of total capitualation by Israel to ALL Arab demands unconditionally. This would probably include the “return” of most Jews to somewhere in Europe. And those who won’t or can’t would be subject to arbitrary treatment by Hamas. I will leave it to the readers imagination what that would mean.

            Reply to Comment
          • marianne azizi

            why is that if someone has an issue with a government that makes them an israel hater? Do all british people who disagree with certain policies become members of the BNP? Or UKIP? With all the evidence available why is it so difficult to face the facts that Israel is duplicitious? Does that make me automatically ‘hate’ them or be antisemitic? Israel is making disastrous mistakes on the world stage, and the freedom of speech and movement for those against the policies both inside Israel and the occupied territories in impinged upon daily. That’s the unpallatable truth.

            Reply to Comment
          • shachalnur

            Hey Marianne,

            I read your article on iacknowledge,through redressonline.

            Two years ago ,I went trough something similar as a Dutch citizen,eventhough I was being held for unrelated causes,the fact I have children in Israel was being used to hold me locked up.

            I had a chance to talk to several dozens of Israeli’s and Palestinians going through this hell of being locked up,held as prisoner in Israel,mostly based on the simple declaration of somebody and then it takes months to get out of jail.

            Even if it turns out the allegations were unfounded,there’s no possibility to repair the damage.

            I spoke to several lawyers jailed,yes there’s lots of them,and they explained me these laws are there to create splits and fights between people,creating distrust between family members and neighbours,and makes the population easier to manage,like in any fascist society.

            I can testify Israel can make a foreigner dissappear for two weeks,without the Dutch Embassy being informed.

            When the embassador finally showed up ,they told me they can’t help because “this is a security issue”.

            My ordeal was a joke compared to the heartbraking stories I heard from other Israeli and foreign prisoners.

            Locked up indefinitely for “mezonot”(child support),locked up for months by neighbours for conflicts without any wittnesses around to prove the allegations,man talking to their wives and children all day long on the telephone ,because his mother in law went to the police with some allegation his wife denies,etc etc.

            It’s a horrorshow,and most of these men are depressed and on medication in jail for months without having done a thing that could or will be proven.

            Still it sounds like peanuts compared to your and Ilan’s ordeal,and I wish you strenght and patience in order to get through this.

            One question,you mentioned Ritalin in children in Israel,and I’m looking for articles and proof of numbers of Ritalin use in Israeli children.

            SSRIs use in Israel is skyhigh ,but reliable numbers are hard to come by,could you give me some sources.

            To me it felt like the Israeli authorities are losing the fight to control and humiliate their own population,and this whole strategy will turn on israel in the long run,because of the damage done to the trust people need to have in their own country.

            It’s more proof of the moral bankruptcy of 1897 Zionism,and I have no doubt this nightmare will pass,especially for the Israeli’s who are effectively prisoners in this suicidal.mentally diseased hell called Israel.

            Reply to Comment
          • marianne azizi

            send me an email at marianne@marianneazizi.co.uk and we’ll talk. We can share information. Today another man committed suicide, which I’ll be posting about, it needs to go viral, or all this postulating is a waste of time. Comments of intelligence are useful, but until someone has endured the brutality in Israel, there is nothing else to comment on. A man died today, as one dies every day, prefering suicide to life in Israel. What comments can change that?

            Reply to Comment
          • Rab

            “until someone has endured the brutality in Israel,”

            Obviously you speak to an ignorant audience. Good luck!

            Reply to Comment
          • Kolumn9

            What makes someone an Israel hater is embracing an ideology that insists that Israel must be eliminated.

            Someone in the UK that believes that the UK should be disbanded and on top of it should be built an Islamic Republic would be the closest equivalent.

            Unfortunately in Israel people with such ideologies are sponsored by foreign government, including, coincidentally, the government of the UK. Like the author of this article they are paid a salary by foreign governments to write articles like this one that is an attack piece and to write other articles and carry out activities whose purpose is to spread ideologies that insist that Israel is evil and must be eliminated. In the UK it is unlikely that such foreign intervention would be tolerated. Here, in Israel, an organization that tracks such activity is attacked for its existence by people paid by foreign-funded organizations. It would be funny if it wasn’t so sad.

            Reply to Comment
          • shachalnur


            “Ezekiels’ wheel
            build on the hills
            of Israel
            were provoked
            to cause
            the blood to spill”

            You’re messing around with stuff you should leave to people that do good.

            Reply to Comment
          • Piotr Berman

            “Someone in the UK that believes that the UK should be disbanded…”

            Such people are called by the English “Celtic nationalists.” I visited a Celtic region in Scotland which somehow did not concern immigration authorities at all! The country is disorganized and doomed.

            Concerning the topic at hand, if Im Tirtzu is paid by the government to do consulting and PR, then this is a quango, contrary to Steinberg’s testimony. On top of that, it is hard to see how Steinberg can represent “civil society”, the guy is quite rude.

            Reply to Comment
          • Kolumn9

            “Celtic nationalists” insist on independence or autonomy of their regions. Where there to be organizations that insisted on renaming England Celtia, flooding it with [in this case non-existent] 60 million Celts, renaming all the streets and towns, imposing a Celtic language on the population and putting in place of Westminster a Celtic absolute monarchy, then you might have the equivalent of what anti-Israeli groups insist on here with the full financial backing of European governments. Again, the closest equivalent of such groups in England are the Islamic groups that wish to replace England with an Islamic State. It is highly unlikely that the funding of any such group by foreign governments would be considered acceptable in England or tolerated by the government.

            Reply to Comment
          • Noevil

            Marianne ,
            not to bother too much in understanding the tactics of Israeli Firsters, they all subscribe to the same modo; if you are not under our spill you are against us,you are a hater of Israel and you are an Antisemitic person. Haven’t you figured it out yet? I just don’t know where they read that all people have to agree and support everything Israel does, and love every person that happen to be Jewish? I must have missed it ! How come they can hate all those other none Jews ( goys)but yet there in no negative name branded to them?

            Reply to Comment
          • Taylor

            “The problem for Steinberg is that he claims he is an unbiased monitor of NGO activity, while in reality he is as biased as one could get.”

            Funny because I was thinking that exact same things about the people at Human Rights Watch but of course my statement, just as yours, is only speculation. Although we both know the more probable truth to the regarding the biased nature of both groups.

            Reply to Comment
    4. Kim

      An important and very good article! However, one small correction: you have got the details of Jake Lynch’s case slightly wrong. He did not refuse “to hire an Israeli” as you have written.

      Jake declined to support an Israeli academic’s application for a bilateral, funded institutional fellowship between Sydney University and the Hebrew University in Israel.

      As Jake has pointed out, as have others, that the Hebrew University is built on stolen Palestinian lands, it runs training course for the Israeli Occupation Forces and the Chair of the Board of Governors is Michael Federmann, who is also Chairman of Elbit Systems, one of Israel’s biggest arms dealers.

      Jake has simply, as he has state publicly, reserved his right not to support or participate in an institutional fellowship program which he objects to in principle.

      It should also be noted that Shurat HaDin before targeting Jake Lynch also threatened legal action against World Vision Australia and AusAID, the Australian government developmental aid organisation because of their support for programs run by the Union of Agricultural Work Committees (UAWC) in Gaza. They temporarily halted support for the programs and conducting an investigation into the Shurat HaDin’s claims. However, both organisations found that there was no merit whatsoever to in the claims and resumed support for the programs.

      For more information on Jake Lynch’s case see:

      Spurious case against Palestine activist

      Palestine solidarity still under attack

      Palestine solidarity scores a victory

      Reply to Comment
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