02 December 09
Yesterday I asked Will Israel allow continued European funding of "peace movements"? and many of my readers were unhappy. They were unhappy with the way I presented the issue at hand, and with the answers provided by the new report issued by NGO Monitor and The Institute for Zionist Strategy (some of the details about this report are here. In short: these organizations think that the support European governments give to Israeli NGO's who deal with sensitive political matters should not be tolerated). With this unhappiness in mind, I sent questions to Gerald Steinberg - President and founder of NGO Monitor, and Professor of Political Studies at Bar Ilan University.
Steinberg's recent academic publications include "Soft Powers Play Hardball: NGOs Wage War against Israel " and "The UN, the ICJ and the Separation Barrier: War by Other Means" (Israel Law Review). He is the editor of the NGO Monitor monograph series, including Trojan Horse: The Impact of European Government Funding for Israeli NGOs. That's the report we are now discussing.
Here's the q&a:
1. Israel gets a lot of financial support from European countries for various projects - is it not reasonable to expect that some of this funds will go to support goals that seem important to those contributing countries?
European governments have many tools for promoting their political objectives, including diplomacy, direct financial and economic mechanisms, etc. There is no need or justification for the attempt to manipulate Israeli civil society through massive funding for a narrow group of non-governmental organizations. The US promotes its political goals regarding Israel without resorting to such "under-the-table" and non-democratic methods to influence public opinion.
2. Why not impose the same rules on governmental support for Israeli organizations and foreign private support for such organizations - is it not a way to silence left-wing activists without hurting right-wing groups who get more from private citizens and less (really, zero) from governments?
The principle of transparency should apply equally to NGO contributions from foreign governments and from private sources, while recognizing that there are also differences. When a state takes money and gives it to a non-governmental organization, taxpayers have no say in the choice of causes or the process (particularly when these are closely held secrets, as in the case of Europe). In contrast, private donors from the Diaspora on all sides of the political spectrum are using their own money - this requires a separate discussion.
3. Where do you draw the line between "legitimate" support for promoting "human-rights" and illegitimate support for promoting "political" goals?
Human rights are universal, by definition. When they are used to target Israel, using double standards, and when organizations that claim to promote these goals violate moral norms, this activity becomes a form of political warfare. This is clearly the case for groups like Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and many Israeli organizations, all of which work closely with the UN Human Rights Council, dominated by the Organization of the Islamic Conference. As Robert Bernstein, the founder of HRW, wrote, his organization needs to "resurrect itself as a moral force".