The EU, Terror and the Transparency Bill


On the 7 December 1970, German Chancellor Willy Brandt knelt solemnly before the Warsaw Ghetto in contrition. During the 1973 Yom Kippur War, when Israel faced annihilation, the same Willy Brandt denied German landing rights to US planes carrying emergency supplies to Israel. 

Chancellor Merkel occasionally says that Israel’s “right to exist” is Germany’s raison d’etre.

Like Willy Brandt, Germany appears to be two tongued when it comes to antisemitism. Like the EU,  Germany makes a distinction between antisemitism and objecting to Israel’s policies, which on paper seems to be fair. Thus, giving the Hitler salute and denying the Holocaust are illegal. On the other hand, the annual Iran sponsored Al Quds March through downtown Berlin, calling for the destruction of Israel is legal. Berlin constantly turns a deaf ear to appeals to ban that march.

The JCPOA (Iran Deal) was enthusiastically supported by Germany enabling Iran to fully develop its nuclear program after a decade, whilst currently testing “Death to Israel” marked missiles. However, the same Germany decided that nuclear facilities for peaceful purposes were too risky for Germans. They are to be phased out by 2022.

Germany maintains it has a “special relationship” with Israel while the EU ambassador to Israel explained that Israel is singled out because “you are one of us.”

The EU countries support various NGOs despite being termed “non-government.” Germany’s Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) provides funding to NGOs as part of its foreign aid programs. Recently Prof Gerald Steinberg of NGO Monitor exposed the doublespeak of Germany yet further. The German government annually pays 4 million Euros to NGOs in Israel, of which 42% goes to organizations that support BDS and worse, like The Popular Struggle Coordination Committee which advocates violent riots in Judea/Samaria. The German Embassy in Tel Aviv does not deny the funding, but blandly states that Germany does not support boycotts of Israel. They donate to “organizations supporting peace.”

Some of the NGOs funded by the EU are Zochrot, Grassroots Jerusalem and Baladna Arab Youth Association, all of which are committed to getting  Palestinian refugees and their third and fourth generation descendants to “return” even though most have never been to Israel.  I have met some of these “refugees” who lead comfortable middle class lives, in Australia. They certainly do not fit the image of a refugee we see on TV. In my recent satire, “The trombone man: tales of a misogynist,” the story depicts one such comfortable refugee who, like his parents, has never been to Israel. Despite these anomalies, the EU generously funds these organizations that are dedicated to Israel’s disappearance as the Jewish State.

The EU therefore supports some organizations dedicated to Israel’s demise, while paying lip service to its “right to exist,” whatever that means. The EU, led by countries such as Germany, also supports labelling people and products from beyond the Green Line or “Auschwitz Lines” as former dovish foreign minister Abba Eban called it. Thus, while officially declining to support BDS, the same EU countries fund NGOs that do—all with a straight face.

Unlike the vicious murder of Hallel Ariel (z”l) and countless others before and after her, the EU, committed to democracy and human rights, has been “deeply concerned” about the recent transparency law passed by the Knesset, even though there is no suggestion these NGOs would be banned from practising their dubious activities. The State Department termed it “chilling,” despite its funds being surreptitiously used to help influence the outcome of Israel’s last election. In the meantime, Europe is reeling with regular terror attacks, for which Europeans cannot find an answer—except to insultingly compare Israel to Putin’s Russia and be “deeply concerned” with their fellow democracy that struggles to maintain some balance in civil rights while upholding its citizens right to life.

Israel remains a vibrant democracy despite the underhand tactics of the EU. As Europe grapples with increasing terror, their exaggerated concern with an ally threatened daily by internal and external terror is misplaced and misguided.

NGO Monitor has shown in great detail the doublespeak of the EU countries which mouth unconvincing platitudes regarding Israel’s “right to exist,” but simultaneously fund many NGOs that promote exactly the opposite.

At the end of the day, it should be remembered that the hidden agendas of many of these NGOs have little to do with “human rights” per se but more to do with providing conditions that would end  the State of Israel, by stressing the Nakba, hope, resilience and the “right of return” of refugees and their descendants.

That is why it is always worth remembering Willy Brandt 1970 and Willy Brandt 1973. It sums up Europe perfectly.

Ron Jontof-Hutter is Fellow at the Berlin International Centre for the Study of Antisemitism. He recently authored of the satire “The trombone man: Tales of a misogynist.”

Iran’s Zarif defends Holocaust cartoon contest by invoking U.S. acceptance of KKK


Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif defended the regime’s decision to host a cartoon festival on the Holocaust in June 2016 by schooling the United States of America on hate.

In an interview with the 

NGO law: US ambassador meets Israel justice minister to voice ‘concerns’


The U.S. ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro, met with Israel’s justice minister and expressed reservations about her proposed law requiring NGOs to prominently announce substantial foreign funding.

“Ambassador Shapiro sought more information about the draft legislation from the minister, and noted the U.S. government’s concerns on the matter,” the U.S. Embassy said in a statement describing the meeting Sunday between Shapiro and Ayelet Shaked.

“The ambassador noted that Israel is a strong and vibrant democracy, which gives substantial voice to all points of view and promotes a thriving, transparent civil society,” the statement said. “He reiterated the United States’ view that such a free and functioning civil society is an essential element of a healthy democracy, and that governments must protect free expression and peaceful dissent and create an atmosphere where all voices can be heard.”

Separately, the U.S. Embassy on Monday released a statement outlining differences between Shaked’s proposed law and the U.S. Foreign Agents Registration Act, or FARA, the law that requires lobbyists for foreign entities to register and which has stricter reporting requirements than those for domestic lobbyists.

Shaked has defended her law, which would require NGOs that receive more than half their money from foreign governments to declare they do so in any public interaction, by comparing it to FARA.

“As a general matter, U.S. law imposes no limits, restrictions, or transparency requirements on the receipt of foreign funding by NGOs operating in the United States, other than those generally applicable to all Americans,” the embassy statement said. “In contrast, the draft Israeli law would target NGOs simply because they are funded principally by foreign government entities.

“That is not how the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) works. FARA requires individuals or organizations to register as foreign agents only if they engage in certain specified activities at the order, request, or under the direction or control, of a foreign principal – not simply by receiving contributions from such an entity. As a result, it does not create the chilling effect on NGO activities that we are concerned about in reviewing the draft Israeli NGO law.”

Shaked said she appreciated Shapiro’s concern, but that worries about Israel’s democracy were overstated.

“I was happy to meet with the American ambassador, and I came away believing that their concern is genuine,” the Times of Israel quoted her as saying. “But they don’t have to worry. Israel is a strong and lively democracy, one that doesn’t need the intervention of other states in internal legislation.”

Proposed Israeli NGO law is hypocritical attack on left


Yet again the Israeli Knesset is considering legislation to single out and punish progressive nongovernmental organizations, particularly the human rights groups that are such a thorn in the side of those who favor the continued occupation of the West Bank.

Carefully constructed to evade the inevitable legal challenges it would face if passed, the legislation approved by a Knesset committee this week would require representatives of organizations receiving foreign government funding to identify themselves as such in every public venue, including the Knesset, the media, and in all printed and online materials. Failure to do so would trigger huge fines.

That every human rights organization in Israel is already required to make its funding sources public is apparently irrelevant. Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked and her Likud and Jewish Home allies designed this nakedly political maneuver to further delegitimize progressive organizations, especially those opposing the occupation and its inevitable human rights abuses.

The legislation, purportedly for transparency, comes as new reports are surfacing about the millions of foreign dollars flowing to the settlements, the NGOs that defend them and allied institutions on Israel’s ultranationalist right. The new reports make a mockery of the right’s stated objective of transparency, not to mention its self-righteous disdain for foreign funding.

In a series of investigative reports for Haaretz, Uri Blau has shown how American donors gave the settlements more than $220 million over the past five years — donations that went through tax-exempt American nonprofit organizations. Despite the longstanding American government view that settlements are impediments to peace, at least 50 organizations from across the United States are involved in raising funds for settlements and settlement activities, according to Haaretz.

Blau found that American donations fund everything from air conditioning for settlers to payments to the families of convicted Jewish terrorists. Among the recipients of tax-exempt American donations is Honenu, a right-wing legal aid group that has provided stipends to Yigal Amir, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s assassin. The yeshiva whose rabbis wrote the “The King’s Torah,” a book purporting to demonstrate when it is legitimate to kill non-Jews, also benefits from tax-deductible contributions from the United States.

Yet the proposed legislation would exclude these organizations and their funders. Only money from “foreign political entities” are targeted, a formulation designed to ensnare Israel’s human rights community, which receives significant funding from European governments motivated by shared values and an interest in protecting the millions of Palestinians living under military rule.

Longtime observers of the growing power of the Israeli right and its links to a network of mostly foreign millionaires are not surprised by this. After all, Israel’s leading newspaper is a freebie to its readers, funded by American billionaire Sheldon Adelson and faithfully parroting the Likud line. Israel permits its politicians to receive foreign funding for their party primaries, and nearly all the money donated to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s campaign in the last election came from overseas, according to government records. And many of the neoconservative and ultranationalist think tanks and political NGOs in both Israel and the United States share donors, staff and volunteer leadership.

We at the U.S.-based New Israel Fund, ourselves a partnership of Israelis and Jews worldwide with program and grant recipients in Israel, take no issue with overseas dollars funding Israeli organizations and institutions. But the manipulation of Israel’s political process to single out organizations of the left for obloquy is both wrong and dangerous.

Selectively deciding that foreign funding for human rights must be shamed and labeled, while millions of dollars flow unimpeded to neutral and right-wing institutions, is not just a matter of stigma. It tells Israelis that those who criticize the occupation on the grounds of human rights need not, or must not, be heeded.

The current governing coalition, the most hard line in Israel’s history, has made it clear that it will do everything possible to stifle dissent. At a time when Israel’s relationships with its most important partners, the United States and the European Union, are already shaky, the signals sent by the government’s arrogant defiance of supposedly shared democratic values also further damages Israel’s international standing.

Let’s be clear. B’Tselem, Yesh Din, Rabbis for Human Rights and other beleaguered protectors of human and civil rights will do their jobs even if they have to wear neon deely boppers to visit the Knesset. No amount of harassment will shut down these organizations, short of the sorts of measures used by police states like Russia and China.

But the treatment of organizations with unpopular missions and activities is the canary in the coal mine of democracy. We who defend Israel as a liberal democracy must make clear to our counterparts in Jerusalem that we see through the hypocrisy and double-dealing, and take a stand for an honest, free and democratic Israel.

Naomi Paiss is the vice president for public affairs at the New Israel Fund.

Advancing NGO bill, Israel’s Cabinet fires another shot at its critics


Its backers call it a victory for transparency. Opponents say it smacks of dictatorship.

Either way, a new bill requiring certain Israeli nongovernmental organizations to publicly declare their foreign government funding is moving toward passage after it was approved by a Cabinet committee on Sunday. Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, who proposed the bill, said it uncovers foreign meddling in Israeli affairs.

“The transparency law, which passed the ministerial committee for legislation today, doesn’t label people and doesn’t label organizations,” Shaked, a member of the pro-settler Jewish Home party, wrote Sunday on Facebook. “It labels the foreign interest of different states, which seek to enable NGOs here, and in whose name they give hundreds of millions of shekels.”

Shaked’s bill is the latest in a string of measures undertaken by Israel’s right-wing governments to target left-wing NGOs. Sunday’s vote occurred two weeks after government ministers restricted the activities of Breaking the Silence, an organization of military veterans that draws attention to alleged Israeli military abuses in the West Bank.

In 2011, the Knesset enacted a law requiring NGOs to declare any foreign government funding on a quarterly basis. A 2013 bill sought to levy high taxes on foreign government donations, but foundered after the Israeli attorney general advised that it was unconstitutional.

Recent years have also seen legislative efforts to prohibit boycotts of settlement products and allow individual soldiers to sue groups that defame the army.

“This is part of the attempt to hurt groups that criticize the regime,” said Amir Fuchs, a researcher at the Israel Democracy Institute think tank. “They’re trying to put NGOs on the stand and say they’re not legitimate.”

Shaked’s bill would require NGOs that receive a majority of their support from “foreign political entities” to declare that funding and detail it every time they put out a report or speak with a public official. An earlier draft of the law would have required representatives of such groups to wear badges identifying themselves as lobbyists of foreign governments.

The NGOs affected by the bill have decried the measure as an attempt to silence opponents in Israel of the government’s policies. They say by singling out foreign government funding, which goes mostly to left-wing groups, the bill ignores foreign funding of right-wing groups by private donors.

“This creates a negative image and has no place in a democratic state,” said Yariv Oppenheimer, executive director of Peace Now, which would fall under the bill’s purview, having received donations in the past from the British, Belgian and Spanish governments. “There’s no reason I should wear a tag that says I get foreign funding while right-wing NGOs will stand next to me as if they got all their funding from home.”

Right-wing politicians have been working to clamp down on left-wing NGOs since 2009, when a United Nations report accusing Israel of war crimes cited research by left-wing groups. Shaked’s bill, which would expand the disclosure requirements of the 2011 law, comes amid a campaign by the right-wing organization Im Tirtzu, which has posted ads in major cities accusing prominent left-wing activists of being foreign “moles” in Israel and supporting terror.

Im Tirtzu’s founder, Ronen Shoval, wrote in a column on the news website Walla that the bill provides necessary transparency around foreign entities seeking to meddle in Israeli affairs.

“Imagine what would happen if the state of Israel chose to give money to groups in Spain working toward Catalan or, God forbid, Basque independence,” Shoval wrote. “For years, European states have been undermining Israeli democracy.”

NGO Monitor, an Israeli organization that scrutinizes the work of human rights organizations, says European governments provide some $100 million in direct or indirect funding to NGOs operating in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza — funding that constitutes an illegitimate effort to sway Israeli policy.

“When sovereign states disagree, they disagree through diplomacy and other measures,” said NGO Monitor President Gerald Steinberg, who said his group neither opposes nor supports the bill, though it has long drawn attention to what it calls the “problem” of foreign NGO funding. “They do not do it through the manipulation of civil society. When states provide money to influence policy in another country, that’s a unique infringement on sovereignty.”

Critics counter that Shaked’s bill represents a ploy to suppress dissent by taking aim largely at groups on the left. The New Israel Fund, which funds several groups that would be affected by the law, said Sunday in a statement that the bill “is a very precise imitation of the policies of Putin’s Russia and other authoritarian regimes clamping down on civil society.”

Centrist and left-wing politicians are also criticizing the bill as a vehicle to shame left-wing groups. The notion that the law enhances transparency is a sham, they say, since the 2011 law already requires financial disclosure. 

Critics also called the bill inconsistent for mandating a public declaration of governmental funding, but not of private donations. Peace Now released a study earlier this month reporting that hundreds of millions of shekels in private donations to nine right-wing NGOs could not be traced to a specific individual or organization.

“This is not a law aimed at transparency, rather a law aimed at labeling Israelis,” opposition lawmaker Tzipi Livni wrote Sunday on Facebook. “The goal in this law is to label bodies that oppose the government’s policy.”

Your Jerusalem, my Jerusalem


This article first appeared on The Media Line.

Jerusalem is a dream and a vision, and at the same time a city where garbage needs to be collected, children go to school, and roads need to be fixed. For some of the 800,000 people living inside the city’s municipal boundary, Jerusalem is the capital of the Jewish people, reunited in 1967 after Israel’s victory in the Six Day War. For others the city, or at least those parts of it on the eastern side of the Green Line, is occupied territory, land which should one day become the future capital of a Palestinian state. People’s understanding of events in the city’s history are always viewed through the prism of their beliefs and nuanced by what they think is best for the future of the holy city.

This is as true for the plethora of vying non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that live and work in Jerusalem as it is for the city’s residents, visitors and observers. Numerous groups with political agendas conduct tours within the environs of Jerusalem each one highlighting the evidence they believe proves the veracity of their cause. As often as not conflicting NGOs will look at the same piece of evidence and interpret it in two radically different directions.

Keep Jerusalem is an organization founded by Chaim Silberstein in order to advocate for the continued unification of the city. “If you mention the words “east Jerusalem” most people think it is an Arab area, overwhelmingly populated by Arabs, and therefore it’s not a problem to give it away,” Silberstein told The Media Line. “However when you inform people that in fact east Jerusalem is compromised half of Jews and half of Arabs and the neighborhoods are intertwined then people’s attitudes and opinions change drastically,” Silberstein explained in a slight South African accent.

Silberstein, who lives within a Jewish community located in the West Bank, fears that two possible futures lie ahead for Jerusalem: either Arab neighborhoods in the east of the city will become part of  the West Bank and will eventually become home to violent organizations in a similar manner to Hamas’ take over of the Gaza Strip; or Jerusalem will remain united but the Jewish population will find itself eventually outnumbered and outvoted due to higher birth rates among the city’s Arab population – the so called demographic problem.

A third and preferable option, as far as Keep Jerusalem is concerned, is the boosting of the numbers of Jews living in east Jerusalem through government housing and special subsidies.

Taking a different view of the city is Ir Amim, a dovish organization that campaigns to make Jerusalem a “more equitable” place to live for all of its residents.

“Ir Amim works very hard to promote the understanding that the division of the city is an imperative part of a two state solution – meaning that the city must be the capital of two sovereign nations,” Betty Herschman, Director of International Relations at Ir Amim, told The Media Line. Herschman, who emigrated to Israel from the United States, explained that the organization did not see the division of the city as a worthy objective in itself, but as a necessity for peace between Palestinians and Israelis.

As can be imagined Keep Jerusalem and Ir Amim do not tend to agree with one another. Although the two groups are not directly in conflict they are representative of the numerous NGOs who disagree ideologically. These groups put much of their efforts into spinning their narrative and conducting tours for those willing to give up their time to come listen.

Although it is likely that there is a certain amount of “preaching to the choir” taking place during these tours they represent a key battleground when it comes to bringing policy makers and opinion leaders into line with an organization’s point of view.

Part of this clash of conflicting narratives is the interpretation of evidence on the ground. In a report earlier in the year the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) said that 75% of Arabs living in east Jerusalem are below the poverty line. When asked to comment on levels of poverty among Arabs in east Jerusalem both Ir Amim and Keep Jerusalem’s answers were indicative of the manner in which they could view the same piece of evidence with radically different outcomes.

Herschman argued that the continuation of income inequality between Jewish and Arab neighborhoods was “dramatic enough to constitute a (deliberate) lever of displacement,” pointing out that Palestinians make up 40% of the city’s population but only benefit from 10% of the municipal budget. In Ir Amim’s view the municipality of Jerusalem is slowly encouraging Arabs to leave the city by keeping them poor.

Silberstein, on the other hand, rejected any notion that intentional discrimination was taking place and suggested that the figure of a 75% poverty rate was “vastly inflated.” Any lack of funding towards Arab neighborhoods, he said, was simply because Palestinians, most of whom are residents of Jerusalem but not Israeli citizens, continuously refused to vote in municipal elections and therefore lost out when decisions about funding were being made.

Disagreements over the facts and the use of statistics to blur lines, should not come as a surprise, Professor Eran Feitelson, of Hebrew University’s Geography department, told The Media Line. “In Jerusalem everyone has a different narrative – there are always multiple narratives,” Feitelson said.

An exact definition of east Jerusalem is difficult to define, Feitelson explained, as people mean different things when they use the term – “it depends what you count in and what you count out.” When Israelis say east Jerusalem they are generally referring to the Arab communities, irrespective of geography or political considerations, Feitelson observed.

But the most important thing to remember when listening to an individual or an organization’s narrative – and this, the geography professor said, is something he drills into his students – is always be skeptical of numbers.

As the old adage goes, “there are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”

When the Knesset tries to muzzle free speech


I am a product of the '60's. I demonstrated against the Viet Nam war, marched for civil rights and against racism. I have boycotted lettuce and grapes, in support of the United Farmworkers; Dow, for manufacturing napalm during the Viet Nam war; Coors, for discriminatory hiring practices against people of color and gays; Nestlé, for its aggressive campaign to sell breast milk substitute to young mothers in developing countries; Target, for its significant contributions to Tom Emmer, the rightwing candidate for Minnesota Governor whose agenda included positions I abhorred on everything; and Walmart, for its poor labor practices (except when my mother Ruth Epstein, who turns 100 this August, insists on going there “for the bargains”).

You get the picture. And while I don't support the boycott of Israel or Israeli-made products, I do support boycotting products made in settlements – and I urge others to do the same. In taking this position, I stand with friends, colleagues, and loved ones in Israel – including Shalom Achshav (Peace Now), the veteran Israeli peace movement. I seek out Israeli wine at my local stores, but only buy it if it comes from one of the vineyards inside the Green Line.

I boycott settlements – and urge others who care about Israel to do likewise – because settlements and their expansion is the greatest obstacle to achieving a two-state solution for Israel and her Palestinian neighbors, and thus the greatest threat to an Israeli future that is Jewish, secure, and democratic.

My position on settlement boycott is consistent with my life-long tradition of fighting the sense of helplessness that comes from seeing policies that are antithetical to my values and my Jewish tradition of trying to “heal the world.” I am, in word and deed, standing up against settlements and standing up for the values I hold dear, including my love for Israel.

That is why I was shocked when Israel’s Supreme Court – a court that historically has been “a light unto the nations” – ruled to uphold a law that makes the mere statement, “I support the boycott of settlement products and urge others to do the same,” illegal.

It is also why, as the president and CEO of Americans for Peace Now, a Jewish, Zionist US organization, I am determined to scrutinize the new Israeli government's policies on peace and democracy, and why I will not hesitate to call it on policies that I believe are disastrous for Israel's future.

I am often asked how, after working so long for Israeli-Palestinian peace, I haven’t given in to despondency and hopelessness. I am asked this particularly following events like the collapse of the peace process, or the formation of Benjamin Netanyahu’s new government, the guidelines of which don’t even mention the Palestinian issue.

How can it be that Israel’s Knesset will soon be introducing a new version of a bill to muzzle left-wing NGOs? 

How can it be, that Israel’s prime minister has made Ayelet Shaked the new justice minister: That the next government of Israel has placed in such a pivotal position a woman best known for driving efforts to weaken Israel’s courts, and who proposed the bill that would limit funding to progressive NGOs.

What keeps me going, I think, is my rage. That same rage I felt (and feel) against misguided war, racism, discrimination, and injustice of all kinds. And, as I have done all my life, I channel my rage over Israeli settlement policies into action. I am not helpless: I can stand up and take action, and I can urge others to do the same. I can educate others to understand and share my rage over policies that threaten to destroy Israel and deprive its citizens of the secure future they deserve. And I can help them see that channeling our rage into pro-Israel, pro-peace action is the best – the only – antidote to the despair that comes from feeling helpless in the face of self-destructive, morally intolerable Israeli government settlement policies.

I will call on fellow Americans who care about Israel as a democracy and a Jewish state to vociferously oppose a Knesset bill to muzzle progressive Israeli NGOs or bills that strive to further disenfranchise Israel’s Arab citizens

As the most reactionary government in Israel’s history is sworn in this week, I am determined to stand for what I believe is necessary for Israel to survive as a democracy and a Jewish state. I hope others will come to understand that supporting Israel means standing against the policies that members of this government espouse. As a dear friend of mine often says, it's not about Right vs. Left, it's about right vs. wrong.

——
Debra DeLee is the President and CEO of Americans for Peace Now

Human Rights Tragedies and Distortions


December 10 is known as International Human Rights Day, commemorating the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations in 1948.  The Declaration stresses equality before the law; due process rights; freedom of thought, conscience, and religion; and the right to earn a livelihood. Although it is non-binding, the declaration has spawned a host of human rights treaties and greater attention to civil equality, labor rights, and environment-related rights. 

Sadly, the universality envisioned by the Declaration has not been achieved. In all too many parts of the world, human rights are nonexistent.

Moreover, as concern for human rights has grown, rights-based language has been hijacked or “weaponized”: Many political advocates exploit human rights principles and terminology to advance narrow political goals and attack ideological adversaries, abandoning the universality of human rights. These campaigns, unsurprisingly, result in fewer human rights protections.

This troubling phenomenon is a visible part of the Arab-Israeli conflict. A powerful network of NGOs uses human rights and related concepts of international law to demonize Israel and advance campaigns of isolation and sanctions.  While ostensibly aimed at promoting the human rights of Palestinians, these actions often weaken Palestinian rights while completely ignoring the rights of Israelis. 

Amnesty International, one of the largest and most powerful non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that claim a focus on human rights, with an annual budget approaching $100 million, is a case in point. Instead of confronting abuses by ISIS or Boko Haram, groups that torment women and minorities in unspeakable ways, this week Amnesty will mark International Human Rights Day by yet again accusing Israel of “war crimes” for its efforts to stop Hamas rocket and tunnel attacks on Israeli civilians.

In its publication, Amnesty levies unsupported allegations that, amidst the fighting in Gaza this summer, Israel deliberately destroyed “landmark buildings” and targeted civilians. This is the second such major document in as many months attacking Israel on relatively minor aspects of the Gaza conflict; a November publication, despite lacking evidence, also accused Israel of exacting a “devastating toll on civilians and civilian property.”

From a certain perspective, this parade of publications on Israel and Gaza is to be expected.  Amnesty played a primary role in the Goldstone process following the 2009 Gaza war, providing the list of incidents that Judge Goldstone discussed in his discredited report (none involved Hamas). Amnesty also campaigned publically in support of the mission and its skewed conclusions. With the Schabas Report (aka Goldstone 2) forthcoming in March 2015, Amnesty is actively working to construct a false narrative of Israeli guilt.

In contrast, Amnesty has issued no such detailed reports on Hamas attacks against Israel civilians or on its war strategy of operating out of residential areas to maximize Palestinian civilian damage. As previous rounds of conflicts and condemnations have shown, by ignoring Hamas abuses, Amnesty encourages the terrorist organization to operate from homes, schools, mosques, and hospitals – making future violations of Palestinian rights more likely.

Unfortunately, Amnesty is not alone in the damage caused by the exploitation of rights rhetoric for narrow political agendas.

Human rights distortions are also present in the boycott campaign against SodaStream, a company that manufactures home carbonation systems. It has six manufacturing facilities, with one production plant located in the West Bank. Because SodaStream is a popular product and ran high-profile ads during the Super Bowl, anti-Israel NGO activists target the company. The political objective, to punish private business activity allegedly connected to the “occupation,” is obvious. 

However, from a human rights perspective, the targeting of SodaStream is perplexing. The company employs hundreds of Palestinians at a good wage and in respectable labor conditions. Its reusable product is more environmentally friendly than bottled soft drink options. Seeking to cause the company economic damage could result in the loss of thousands of jobs. Closing the plant in the West Bank, specifically, will deprive nearly 1,000 Palestinians and their families of livelihoods.

NGO campaigners cannot explain why they ignore these aspects or how their dogmatic political goals justifies the violation of the economic, social, labor, and environmental rights caused by their activism. 

In another situation, anti-Israel boycott activists and the Dutch government targeted the company Royal Haskoning DHV, pushing it to cancel its involvement in constructing a sewage treatment facility in East Jerusalem. The plant would have significantly remediated the severely polluted Kidron Valley, home to many Palestinian villages. Yet, the NGO activists and Dutch officials were obsessed with the location of the plant and completely ignored the rights of Palestinians and Israelis regarding health, clean water, and a pollution-free environment. 

As these examples demonstrate, actualizing rights in the context of the Arab-Israeli conflict is complex, and cannot be reduced to slogans and advocacy campaigns.

However, for narrow-minded actors, including many NGOs, political abstractions are far more important than the concrete realization of human rights. Too often, their political considerations and agendas trump human rights and cause the very damage they claim to combat.

And that is a tragedy.

Naftali Balanson and Anne Herzberg are the managing editor and legal advisor, respectively, at NGO Monitor (www.ngo-monitor.org), a Jerusalem-based research institute. 

Exploiting Israel’s Negev Bedouin


While many believe that a successful peace process will end demonization of Israel based on incendiary terms such as “apartheid” and “racism,” and in accompanying boycott campaigns, the evidence suggests that this hatred goes far deeper. Indeed, the organizations that lead these campaigns are not focused on the post-1967 “occupation”, but rather target all of 1948 Israel, from Kiryat Shemona, along the border with Lebanon (and Hezbollah), to Eilat at the southern tip. For these groups, any form of Jewish self-determination and sovereignty equality, is, in their language, a form of racism, ethnic cleansing and apartheid. And Israeli Jews who live in the Negev or Tel Aviv are “settlers”.

For example, a number of political non-governmental organizations (NGOs) recently launched campaigns that exploit the complex issues surrounding land claims on behalf of Israel's Negev Bedouin population. The Negev, with the city of Beersheva, Ben Gurion University, and Soroka hospital, constitutes over half of the country's territory. As the Israeli Bedouin population grew significantly in recent decades, partly due to the practice of polygamy and very high birthrates, illegal building, without planning or environmental considerations, has expanded widely. As is true for any other competent government, the Israeli leadership has sought to change course, in form of assisting the Bedouin by creating new towns, with schools, clinics and other necessary facilities.

[Read a response to Gerald M. Steinberg]

In response, anti-Israel NGOs that cynically use the cover of human rights hit the road with global tours, including in the United States and Europe, attacking the plan, repeating labels such as “ethnic cleansing”, “racial discrimination,” and “human rights violations”. In slick publications, videos, and presentations before the UN and European parliamentary groups, NGOs have falsely referred to the Negev Bedouin as “Palestinian victims”, and Israeli Jewish residents in the Negev as “settlers”. The campaign erases 4000 years of Jewish history in the Negev (from the arrival of Abraham in Beersheva), thereby delegitimizing Israeli sovereignty. Noted Israeli columnist Ben-Dror Yemini reviewed a slick propaganda video produced by Rabbis for Human Rights, portraying Israel “as the cruel anti-Semitic ruler, expelling and disinheriting and destroying and robbing…” (Funding for this video and for other campaigns of radical NGOs that exploit Bedouin issue is provided by groups such as the US-based New Israel Fund.)

Similarly, a radical organization calling itself “Jewish Voices for Peace”, which supports BDS (boycotts, divestment and sanctions) has suddenly discovered the Bedouin Negev issue. Little is know about JVP’s membership or its sources of funding (over $1 million dollars annually), but its primary agenda is to promote anti-Israel and anti-Zionist propaganda, in order to “drive a wedge” over support for Israel in the American Jewish community. In particular, JVP targeted participants in the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) Biennial conference, taking place in San Diego.

With little knowledge of the details, “progressive Jews” are deemed as likely to accept and sympathize with the campaign to “help the Negev Bedouin” stand up to the “powerful Israeli state which seeks to deprive them of their land”.

In contrast, American Jews are unlikely to hear the Bedouins themselves, unfiltered by officials of political NGOs, because their leaders lack the resources for these global tours and press campaigns. For example, Abed Tarabin, leader of one of central clans in the Negev, recently noted that “The opposition to the plan comes from belligerent politicians, making noise for their own purposes. It doesn’t come from real Bedouin leaders who are concerned with their people. There is plenty of room in the Negev for everybody, and it is good that the government is working to improve things and is investing money in us”.

These views rarely make it into many journalists writing about Israel simply repeat the unsupported NGO allegations, and exclude the Bedouins themselves. In a major article based on NGO claims, and accompanied by emotionally moving photos, the New York Times correspondent greatly exaggerated the number of individuals that would be affected by the Israeli plan. She also quoted radicals who again referred to “insidious racism, ethnic cleansing or even apartheid”, as well as “a land grab that ignores their culture and traditions.”

The prevalence of such campaigns regarding the Negev, within Israel’s 1948 “Green Line”, suggests that a peace agreement with the Palestinians will not end the demonization and boycotts. For Israelis and American Jews who support a two-state solution, the need to oppose such misleading and hate-based campaigns should be a major priority.


Prof. Gerald M. Steinberg is the president of NGO Monitor, a Jerusalem-based research institute and recipient of the 2013 Menachem Begin Prize.

EU court throws out NGO funding case brought by Israel-based group


The European Court of Justice threw out a lawsuit filed nearly three years ago against the European Union that would have required the E.U. to release details of its funding of NGOs.

The lawsuit filed in January 2010 by the Jerusalem-based NGO Monitor charged that the European Commission had failed to fulfill European Union transparency obligations after the group had tried for 13 months to secure documents detailing nongovernmental agency funding by the EC, the European Union's executive branch.

Under the European Freedom of Information law, such funding details must be made available upon request. However, the EC cited “public security,” “privacy” and “commercial interests” in denying NGO Monitor’s information request.

NGO Monitor researchers identified nearly $48 million provided by the EC from June 2005 until the filling to nongovernmental organizations active in Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Many of these organizations, the group said, are active in efforts that seek to isolate Israel by legal means and through boycott campaigns.

The court based in Luxembourg last month ruled in favor of the EC, rejecting NGO Monitor's claims for being “manifestly unfounded” or “manifestly lacking any foundation in law,” Ami Kaufman at the +972 magazine website reported on Monday. The court also ordered NGO Monitor to pay the costs incurred by the EC for defending itself.

NGO Monitor said in a statement released Monday that the decision “confirmed that the EU fails to act transparently in its funding of non-government organizations.”

“For over a decade, the EU has acted with impunity in funding political advocacy NGOs with near total secrecy,” said Gerald Steinberg, president of NGO Monitor. “Throughout, EU officials have attempted to justify the intense secrecy by using exaggerated claims of 'public security' and 'commercial interest.' The only reasonable conclusion is that the EU has something to hide.”

NGO Monitor said in a statement that EU funding, amounting to millions of dollars annually, has gone to what it calls a small fringe of highly politicized groups.

“In addition to violating basic principles of transparency in government, this secret funding for Israeli NGOs grossly infringes on and seeks to manipulate the Israeli democratic process,” Steinberg said.

For Knesset’s Danny Danon, unapologetic Israeli nationalism is key to political success


If there’s one thing Danny Danon doesn’t do, it’s shy away from controversy.

Danon, a deputy speaker of the Israeli Knesset and chairman of World Likud, has come under fire for describing African migrants in Israel as a “national plague,” for hosting controversial U.S. TV personality Glenn Beck at the Knesset and for demanding government investigations of left-wing NGOs.

Though Danon is in his first term in the Knesset, his profile is rising quickly on the Israeli political scene—perhaps more than anything else because of his unapologetically nationalist vision for Israel’s future.

He wants Israel to annex all the Jewish-occupied and uninhabited land in the West Bank. He wants Palestinians living on the remainder of the West Bank to become part of Jordan, Egypt to take control of the Gaza Strip and the international community to reject the establishment of a Palestinian state on the west bank of the Jordan River (it’s fine by him if the Palestinians take over the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan on the east bank). Danon does not believe in land for peace or the two-state solution.

Danon outlines his blueprint for Israel’s future in a book due out in September, “Israel: The Will to Prevail,” though the book focuses more on history than the details of the blueprint.

“I’m working very hard to present a different approach for the peace process,” Danon told JTA in a recent interview in his Knesset office. “Our goal should be to annex the maximum land with the minimum Arab population,” he said of the West Bank. “We should speak about our rights and not apologize for it. We have biblical rights, historical rights, rights according to international law. We also have common-sense rights: We won the war.”

While his ideas might seem far-fetched and antiquated—a throwback to notions that haven’t been discussed with much seriousness since the pre-Oslo era—Danon believes Israelis are warming to them.

“We live in the Middle East; everything is dynamic here. With time it can be feasible,” he said. “I don’t accept that my views are on the fringe. I do believe one day they will be accepted.”

Danon’s detractors fear this is becoming true – in Israel, at least.

“Ostensibly, one could even ignore the existence of this Likud backbencher, but little Danny Danon will be big, the sugar of the Israeli right,” Haaretz columnist Gideon Levy, a left-wing critic, wrote last summer. “So it’s better to pay attention to him now rather than later.”

Levy’s column compared Danon to Joe McCarthy for backing legislation targeting left-wing nongovernmental organizations and for initiating a bill to dismiss Israeli-Arab Knesset member Hanin Zuabi for participating in a flotilla aimed at breaking Israel’s naval blockade of the Gaza Strip.

“Danon’s contribution to the political discourse is important: Enough with the euphemisms, dump the deceit, down with the pseudo-democracy under which one can be both a proponent of the occupation and a democrat, an oppressor of minorities and a liberal, a nationalist and enlightened, the way Likud ‘moderates’ are trying to be,” Levy wrote. “True, Danon is making Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu look like a moderate and Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz look even better, but Danon is Likud’s 3G.”

Born in Ramat Gan, a city contiguous with Tel Aviv, Danon, 41, was raised in a deeply Zionist household. His father, who immigrated to Israel from Egypt in the early 1950s, was wounded in 1969 while serving in the Israel Defense Forces during the War of Attrition with Egypt. Danon grew up steeped in the Beitar youth movement, the Revisionist Zionist society founded by Ze’ev Jabotinsky.

Aside from his penchant for controversy, Danon has a few things going for him: He’s personable, media savvy and articulate in English. (He earned a bachelor’s degree at Florida International University and later worked in Miami as an emissary for the Jewish Agency for Israel.) Earlier this year, Danon won praise for co-sponsoring a Knesset bill that compelled advertisers to disclose on their ads whenever they digitally alter images to make models appear thinner.

But Danon is better known for sponsoring nationalist legislation targeting left-wing groups and Israeli Arabs. Aside from his bills aimed at Zuabi, Danon in 2008 filed a petition with the Israeli Supreme Court to rescind the citizenship of former Arab Knesset Azmi Bishara for possibly aiding Hezbollah in the 2006 Second Lebanon War. The effort, aimed at stripping Bishara of his Knesset pension, ultimately failed.

Danon, who accuses Israeli-Arab leaders of trying to “use democracy to destroy democracy,” also wants to outlaw Israeli-Arab incitement against Israel. Under his plan, Arab Israelis would be required to take an oath recognizing Israel as a Jewish, democratic state; those who refuse would not be able to obtain a passport or driver’s license.

When a growing chorus of left-wing Israelis backed a boycott last year of a new cultural venue in the Jewish West Bank settlement of Ariel, Danon proposed a law allowing settlers to sue those behind the boycotts. The bill passed.

And when controversy erupted in May over illegal African migrants in Israel, Danon led the calls for their immediate expulsion, using his bully pulpit as chairman of the Knesset Committee for Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs to warn of the influx of Sudanese Muslims into the Jewish state.

It’s all part of Danon’s ultimate goal: the fostering of an unabashedly Zionist state stretching from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River with as few non-Jews as possible.

More often than not, Danon has found himself on the wrong side of history.

When Yitzhak Rabin shook hands with Yasser Arafat on the White House lawn in 1993 during the signing of the Oslo Accords, Danon, 22 at the time, was on the street out front protesting. When Ariel Sharon pulled Israel out of the Gaza Strip in 2005, Danon opposed it. When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu endorsed a demilitarized Palestinian state in a speech at Bar-Ilan University in June 2009, Danon spoke out against it.

“I haven’t changed my policies or ideology for last 20 years, since the Oslo Accords,” Danon said.

But now, Danon believes, history is coming around. Israelis’ confidence in the principle of land for peace has been shaken by the Arab Spring and the newly bellicose tone from Egypt; by the wars and rocket fire that has followed Israel’s withdrawals from Lebanon and Gaza; and by the instability of the Arab regimes around Israel. While polls show most Israelis remain committed to a two-state solution, few think it’s achievable right now. Israel’s left-wing opposition is in tatters; the right wing is growing.

The idea of scrapping a Palestinian state and letting Israel annex most of the West Bank may be a non-starter internationally—not to mention in most of Tel Aviv—but Danon has one word: Wait.

“In the Middle East you cannot put a time frame on peace. People look for an instant solution, but it’s not going to work,” he said. “I think we have to fight to present our case. I don’t have control over what happens in Jordan, Lebanon and Egypt, but I want control over what’s happening in my backyard.”