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Defunding the NGO Terror-Linked Propaganda Network

Year after year, the network received tens of millions from European governments and private donors who looked the other way or even applauded as the NGOs launched repeated assaults on Israel through false accusations of apartheid and war crimes.
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February 2, 2022
Palestinian militants of Abu Ali Mustafa Brigades, a group linked to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) (Photo by Getty Images)

For twenty years, the powerful NGOs (non-governmental organizations) that lead the propaganda campaigns demonizing Israel under the facade of civil society were carefully sheltered from investigations and criticism. Year after year, the network received tens of millions from European governments and private donors who looked the other way or even applauded as the NGOs launched repeated assaults on Israel through false accusations of apartheid and war crimes.

But in recent months, the environment in which this network thrived has changed fundamentally. The evidence of direct links to terror organizations accumulated to the point where officials could no longer avoid the issue. The sudden freezing of funds by the European Union (at least $1 million annually) and withdrawal by the Dutch government ($2.5 million) for two of the major NGOs has shaken the industry. Millions more for other groups are at stake, and if this vital flow is cut, the anti-Israel NGO machine will lose much of its effectiveness. 

Millions more for other groups are at stake, and if this vital flow is cut, the anti-Israel NGO machine will lose much of its effectiveness.

In January, following a very rare independent investigation, the Netherlands government announced a funding cut-off for the Palestinian NGO known as the Union of Agricultural Workers Committees (UAWC), citing numerous links to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) terror organization. Under the cover of development aid, the UAWC is also heavily invested in hate campaigns including the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement. This initially did not bother their Dutch patrons, but they were forced to reconsider following Israel’s arrest of the leaders of a PFLP cell for the murder of 17-year-old Rina Schnerb in 2019. As NGO Monitor research quickly demonstrated, a number of the suspects held positions with UAWC and other core participants in the PFLP’s NGO network. Under criticism from MPs, the government hired a private consulting firm to investigate. Their report referenced open-source information on 34 staff and board members between 2007 and 2020 “with roles in both organizations” (UAWC and PFLP) that had been hidden from the Dutch government. 

In parallel, the European Union quietly suspended funds for both UAWC and Al Haq—a “highly respected” NGO that leads world-wide demonization of Israel through a constant flood of false accusations of human rights and international law violations. Their allegations are often repeated without question in media reports and biased United Nations “investigations” that invariably condemn Israel. However, for the first time, the Pandora’s box of donor frameworks that have funneled at least $200 million (based on NGO Monitor’s compilation) to these NGOs in the past decade was finally being opened for inspection. In addition, the EU’s anti-fraud mechanism launched its own investigation into financial support to Palestinian NGOs linked to the PFLP.

In the background, in October the Israeli government designated six Palestinian NGOs (including Al Haq and UAWC) as terror fronts for the PFLP, in addition to the Health Workers Committee that had been designated earlier. Although the specific evidence remains classified and unavailable to journalists or the general public (as noted in the report of the Dutch investigators), Israel sent terror experts to brief their counterparts in Washington, London and elsewhere. Even without this information, and as documented independently by NGO Monitor, the fact that dozens of PFLP officials hold high-level positions in these NGOs and receive salaries should be, in itself, disqualifying for recipients of public funds. Confronted with this information, officials from the Netherlands and the EU, and presumably others who will follow, could no longer hide behind the excuse that their NGO funding was somehow contributing to “the viability of the Palestinian economy and future Palestinian state.”  

The PFLP was recognized by the EU as a terror organization beginning in the 1970s, when they were involved in a series of airplane hijackings. The Marxist group is a member of the PLO framework, a strong opponent of the Oslo agreements, and publicly declares its goal of eliminating Israel, in sharp contrast to the proclaimed policy objectives of the European governments. The fact that the PFLP’s network of NGOs received hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidies from the same Europeans, used for a combination of terror and demonization campaigns, reflects the abject absence of accountability. 

For the NGOs, including Israeli counterparts such as B’Tselem and Breaking the Silence that also receive most of their resources from the same European governments, the defunding is an earthquake. This network was able to thrive for many years because the details were hidden from public scrutiny—numerous requests made to European governments for documents on the grant process were rejected on the vague grounds of “public security” or that the details were proprietary. But with the terror connection exposed, first by NGO Monitor and then by the Israeli government, these excuses lost credibility.

The shrill campaigns from the NGO network seeking to prevent long-overdue independent investigations reflect fears that, as the facts are exposed, they will lose their European patrons.

The shrill campaigns from the NGO network seeking to prevent long-overdue independent investigations reflect fears that, as the facts are exposed, they will lose their European patrons. By mobilizing powerful ideological support for the anti-Israel organizations and their agendas, a long struggle is possible. But the first steps in exposing the NGO terror links have begun, and the secrets cannot be forced back into the bottle.


Gerald Steinberg is emeritus professor of political science at Bar-Ilan University and heads the Institute for NGO Research in Jerusalem.

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