The Western world is full of charities that do nothing but good, such as fight disease; help the less fortunate, or offer legal protection. But there are other sorts of charities, the so-called non-governmental organizations (NGOs); these often work on the international stage, supposedly for human rights, humanitarian aid, and peace. These NGOs are funded by foundations, businesses, private persons -- oh, and governments. They exist in astonishingly large numbers: 1.5 million in the US, 2 million in India, and thousands in Europe, over 500 of which are lobbyists in the European Parliament. The total income of OECD-linked NGOs amounts to around $16 billion. Unfortunately, some of these betray their love of humanity by adopting discriminatory policies.
Many of these NGOs -- especially those heavily dependent on government money -- seem to be driven by an ideological or political commitment, and are inevitably drawn into political engagement.
In a desire to help the underdog, wherever he may be, many NGOs make ideological choices as to whom they place in that category, and who falls into the category of "oppressor." This view often means that their good work may be used as "air cover" for people and actions that are less admirable.
It is not uncommon to find NGOs ignoring human rights abuses in countries they seek to have as allies, or with whom they are obliged to work. Sometimes, NGOs adopt a political stance that is deliberately prejudiced or prejudicial. The vast majority of politicized NGOs, whatever their original remit, are those who condemn only one country and who do so time and time again. That country is, of course, Israel. Within Israel, the community they attack is, without exception, the Jewish community. Israelis, it seems, can never do right, while on their borders, the Palestinians, who are seen as underdogs and victims, can never do wrong.
Quakers, for example, have always been known for their support for non-violence. Yet Quaker NGOs claiming to work for peace in the Middle East grossly ignore Palestinian violence while condemning Israel's right to self-defence against it. In cooperation with the World Council of Churches, the Quaker-led organization calling itself the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in the Palestinian territories and Israel (EAPPI), repeatedly blasts Israel for its use of checkpoints, while saying nothing about the would-be Palestinian suicide bombers who make Israeli security such an imperative -- a hypocrisy that does not seem to trouble their consciences much. And this is exactly where these politicized NGOs do damage. Their contribution to the recent UN report on Israel's 2014 war in Gaza has warped it to such a degree that it is useless for any serious enquiry.
This selection of Israel that emanates from countless NGOs -- as well as from non-transparent and unaccountable supra-national organizations such as the UN and the International Criminal Court (ICC) -- is also reflected in the totally unbalanced singling out of Israel for rebuke by the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC). Last week, the U.S. ambassador to the UN, Keith Harper, protested in no uncertain terms about the fact that the UNHRC criticizes Israel more than it does all the other countries in the world combined:
We remain troubled, however, by this council's standalone agenda item directed against Israel, and by the many repetitive and one-sided resolutions under that agenda item. None of the world's worst human rights violators, some of whom are the object of resolutions at this session, have their own standalone agenda item at this council. Only Israel receives such treatment.
For centuries, almost no other religious or racial community has received such universal hatred or been subjected to such high levels of hypocritical double standards and persecution as the Jewish communities of Europe and the Middle East. Today, the obsessive focus on Israel is a simple reanimation of these classic hatreds. It is manifestly anti-Semitic in nature, yet dozens of NGOs that claim to be opposed to racism are happy to employ it.
Readers who want to gain a broader picture of how this anti-Israel discrimination works for NGOs can do no better than to consult the many articles and press releases of NGO Monitor, an Israeli information, legal advisory and advocacy organization established by Gerald Steinberg, a professor of political science at Bar Ilan University. NGO Monitor is the most crucial resource for the media, the international community and for anyone who needs to know about the frequently anti-Semitic charges levelled against the Jewish state -- whether "war crimes," "apartheid," or ethnic cleansing.
What is significant is not so much the evident hatred of Israel expressed by some NGOs, as that so many of them are heavily funded by foreign governments or foreign institutions
According to NGO Monitor, "NGOs are meant to represent civil society, not the interests of foreign governments. Israeli NGOs that receive foreign government funding benefit from the misleading image of being 'non-governmental,' non-political, and based in 'civil society.'"
When such funding is provided by allied states such as the U.S. or the UK, or international unions such as the EU, it constitutes disproportionate interference by external governments in the internal affairs of another democratic state.
These foreign agents of influence are why the new government of Israel needs legislation to bring accountability for those activities, in part by insisting on transparency in all funding.
A 2008 conference on "Impunity and Prosecution of Israeli War Criminals," held in Egypt in 2008, was sponsored by the European Union. (Image source: NGO Monitor)
It should come as no surprise to learn that Israel's efforts to curb unregistered foreign agents -- NGOs that together receive tens of millions of dollars every year, primarily from Europe -- have been, and are, condemned as "undemocratic." This charge is usually levelled despite the fact that no country would tolerate undue interference in its internal policies by other states, beyond a very limited and truly humanitarian level.
The pushback began in earnest in 2011, with two bills proposed and approved for consideration by Israel's Ministerial Legislative Committee. Neither was passed into law, but both reflected the widespread realization that Israeli democracy has the right and obligation to defend itself against such foreign attacks and manipulation. The proposed mechanisms included a 45% taxation rate on income derived from foreign government donations to highly politicized NGOs, and placing limits on the amount of donations from governments and international bodies (such as the UN or the EU).
Although these and similar proposals have been condemned as discriminatory and anti-democratic by many organizations, and were not adopted, it is hard to see why that accusation is true. The NGOs are not being banned, and will continue to be free to act as they please, so long as they remain within the law. Democracies place restrictions on all sorts of things. There are those who think a ban on smoking in public places is a denial of smokers' rights, while others think the benefits to the nation's health outweigh any absolute claim to democratic priority.
The need for some sort of control on foreign funding stems from two considerations, both essential to the proper working of a real democracy. First, there must be limits to how far foreign governments and entities can interfere in the politics of another nation. Second, the sort of intervention to which Israelis object involves the funding and support of NGOs whose purpose is to attack, weaken -- and, for some, ultimately destroy -- Israel from without or within. These include groups and individuals who might well be described as seditious or insurgent, given that Israel finds itself in a more or less constant state of war-readiness and of being under attack -- militarily, economically and diplomatically -- by governments and organizations that would clearly like to see this lone pluralistic democracy in the region obliterated.
NGOs such as Breaking the Silence (BtS) use anonymous "testimonies" to undermine the reputation and morale of the Israel Defense Force, and to promote allegations of war crimes. Other NGOs issue reports replete with distorted or false information, clearly designed to weaken Israel's position within the international community; ignore or downplay Palestinian terror and thousands of rocket attacks from Gaza; call for an end to supposed Israeli "apartheid," or demand the establishment of a Palestinian state without necessary negotiations, agreements, checks or balances. Israel is singled out obsessively and through double standards, while the worst human rights violators are given a free pass.
A high-level delegation from Human Rights Watch (HRW), for instance, went to Saudi Arabia in 2009, according to the Wall Street Journal "to raise money from wealthy Saudis by highlighting HRW's demonization of Israel... Apparently, [HRW spokesperson Sarah Lea] Whitson found no time to criticize Saudi Arabia's abysmal human rights record. But never fear, HRW recently called on the Kingdom to do more to protect the human rights of domestic workers.... But Whitson wasn't raising money for human rights. She was raising money for HRW's propaganda campaign against Israel."
So far, Israel has been remarkably indulgent toward anti-Israel NGOs and their activities in Israel or the West Bank. But countries openly targeted for genocide, as Israel is by Iran, may be hampered when they provide such indulgence. By contrast, this May, Russia's State Duma passed a bill for the banning of "undesirable organizations" -- foreign NGOs that pose a threat to Russia's defence, security, public order or public health.
Unlike Russia, if any of the Israeli bills are passed, it would be in a thoroughly transparent and democratic manner. Further, once the bill would be made law, any individual or NGO may address the High Court of Justice on issues of rights, infringements or contradictions to existing laws. It is very hard to see how such a painstaking and open process can be "anti-democratic."
In analyzing the legislative options, NGO Monitor argues that when an NGO receives a sizeable portion of its budget from governments, it is no longer a non-governmental organization:
"NGOs are meant to represent civil society, not the interests of foreign governments. Israeli NGOs that receive foreign government funding benefit from the misleading image of being 'non-governmental,' non-political, and based in 'civil society.' The government funders also use this framework to justify their use of NGOs as a policy instrument, and on a scale which is unique to Israel."
A current and controversial example of this is the Swiss government's funding of Breaking the Silence (BtS), a small group at the fringe of the political spectrum. The Swiss Foreign Ministry and the Zurich municipality have sponsored an expedition by this famously anti-Israeli NGO on the grounds that it has increased "dialogue about human rights." But Breaking the Silence refused to include in its events Israeli soldiers who would tell a different story. This means that the Swiss Foreign Ministry and a Swiss municipality are willing to interfere with Israel by funding a wholly one-sided narrative that impacts the country's reputation overseas and opens it to charges of criminal activity.
Breaking the Silence exists for one purpose only: to report on and quote from the views of anonymous disaffected former Israel Defense Force soldiers, who accuse Israel's armed forces of war crimes. BtS uses, according to NGO Monitor, "sweeping accusations based on anecdotal, anonymous and unverifiable testimonies of low level soldiers." In doing so, BtS deliberately undermines military morale, exposes Israel to international opprobrium, and brings about a likelihood of IDF officers and politicians facing war crimes trials.
No country at war -- and Israel, to its disquiet, is always at war -- should be exposed to an international attack on such a scale. Of course, there are countries and movements that do commit war crimes -- from Syria to Iran to ISIS and Hamas (recently highlighted by a rare and major Amnesty International report); and it is right that they be brought to book, which they seldom, if ever, are.
The irony here is that the Israel Defense Force is widely known to be among the most cautious and law-abiding armies in the world. British military commander Col. Richard Kemp has repeated this many times and in many forums. "No other army in the world has ever done more than Israel is doing now to save the lives of innocent civilians in a combat zone," he said in an interview with Channel 2 News during the last Gaza conflict.
But the role of NGOs in distorting information about Israel's military actions has reached crisis point. The June 2015 UNHRC report on the 2014 Gaza war, taken by many as gospel, relied heavily on NGOs. NGO Monitor takes up this point:
The report of the Commission of Inquiry on the 2014 Gaza War is different both substantially and methodologically than its predecessors, including the 2009 Goldstone Report, according to NGO Monitor. However, it still quotes extensively from biased and unreliable political advocacy NGOs. By repeating the unverified and non-expert factual and legal allegations of groups such as Amnesty International, B'Tselem, Palestinian Center for Human Rights, and Al Mezan, the UN investigation is irrevocably tarnished.
"The UNHRC report would be entirely different without the baseless and unverifiable allegations of non-governmental organizations," said Anne Herzberg, Legal Advisor at NGO Monitor. "Despite efforts to consult a wider array of sources, the report produced by McGowan Davis and her team lacks credibility as a result of NGO influence."
NGO Monitor's initial review of the Commission of Inquiry's "detailed findings" shows that NGOs were referenced, cited, and quoted at a high volume: B'Tselem was the most referenced NGO with 69 citations, followed by Amnesty International (53), Palestinian Center for Human Rights (50), and Al Mezan (29). UNWRA and UN-OCHA were also featured throughout the report. As repeatedly demonstrated by NGO Monitor, these groups are not appropriate for professional fact-finding.
Further commentary by NGO Monitor on the UN report may be found here. It includes a full list of the NGOs and their donors.
Contrary to BtS' claim that "the contents and opinions in this booklet do not express the position of the funders," NGO Monitor research reveals that a number of funders made their grants conditional on the NGO obtaining a minimum number of negative "testimonies." This contradicts BtS' declarations and thus turns it into an organization that represents its foreign donors' interest, severely damaging the NGO's reliability and its ability to analyze complicated combat situations.
A screenshot of a document from 2009 (obtained from the Israeli Registrar of Non-Profits) shows how the British Embassy in Tel Aviv, the Dutch church-based aid organization ICCO (primarily funded by the Dutch government), and Oxfam Great Britain (funded by the British government) required Breaking the Silence to obtain negative testimonies...
In its report, Breaking the Silence thanks the following for financial support:
"Broederlijk Delen (Belgium), the CCFD - Terre Solidaire (France), Dan Church Aid, Die Schwelle, Foundation for Middle East Peace, Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law Secretariat (funded by Switzerland, Holland, Denmark, and Sweden), Medico International, MISEREOR (a German "humanitarian aid" organization), Moriah Fund, New Israel Fund, Open Society Foundations, Pro Victimis, Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Sigrid Rausing Trust, SIVMO, Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, The Royal Norwegian Embassy to Tel Aviv, Trócaire (Ireland) and countless private individuals."
There is no need to look at these funding bodies here, but it should be clear that a wide range of church organizations, human rights NGOs, and a number of European governments are engaged in an extremely one-sided enterprise to bring about the defamation and destruction of the Jewish state. The report also brings these organizations and individuals in line with the many anti-Israel groups that engage in the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, and in daily propaganda hostile to Israel.
Some NGOs do not restrict their activities to claims about the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, the conflict in Gaza, or general Israeli "crimes." It has just been announced that the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) will unveil a new tax-exempt lobbying group, named NIAC Action, which will launch with 30 chapters across the U.S.
NIAC itself has been exposed as an agency of Iran's Islamic regime, a claim supported in 2012 by U.S. District Judge John Bates. Not only does its new NGO have an openly anti-Israel agenda, it has undertaken to support the Iran nuclear deal by working against the Israeli opposition to it. In February 2015, NIAC itself paid for a full-page advertisement in the New York Times to condemn Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's March 3, 2015 speech to the US Congress. The head of NIAC Action, Jamal Abdi, has made no secret that they plan "to shift the political landscape in Washington away from groups such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which has criticized the talks with Iran, and toward movements more inclined to pursue diplomacy with the longtime U.S. nemesis."
One Israel-based NGO, the New Israel Fund, plays by far the most important role in funding and encouraging other Israeli NGOs working against Israel's interests. It has recently been studied in a somewhat haphazard way by the American journalist Edwin Black in his book Financing the Flames. With a per annum income of $35 million, the NIF has financed smaller NGOs to the tune of $250 million over seven years and poured money into organizations such as the Arab-run Adalah, B'tselem, the pro-Palestinian Hamoked, Ir Amim, Rabbis for Human Rights, the lobby group Shatil, and others. All of these NGOs have much the same political agenda of defaming, pressuring and undermining Israel; and using human rights issues to promote a steadily negative view of the country, its government, its laws, and its defence forces. They never acknowledge the many positive human rights activities of the country or its basic qualities as a democratic, open, free and human-rights-observant state. Many never criticize the Palestinian Authority or Hamas, nor do they turn their attentions to the desperate state of human rights in states such as Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria, North Korea, Venezuela, Cuba, China, Russia and Lebanon, among others.
Western democracies host many human rights organizations, NGOs that battle for civil rights, for legal action against discrimination, for support of minority groups and mistreated individuals, and that advocate for religious, political, and sexual freedom. Even the best countries are not perfect; democracies could function perfectly well without groups that call governments or institutions to account for their misbehaviour. Nowhere in the West, however, do we find such an array of haters who seek to bring about the demise of their own free nations.
How many foreign governments finance hatred against themselves to the extent that NGOs finance antagonism to the United States, the UK, France, Denmark, the Netherlands, or Canada?
NGOs are being well paid to urge total changes in the constitutions of other nations, and in the total abolition of another nation's right to exist at all.
Writing in Politically Incorrect Politics, Noru Tsalic demonstrates in a sequel that, "Despite the pretence, the 'Israeli NGOs' are neither 'Israeli' nor 'Non-Governmental': although operating in Israel, they depend on foreign funding... by foreign governments -- especially those from the European Union. In short, they are not 'Israeli NGOs', but Foreign Political Subversion Groups (FPSG)." Often called Foreign Agents or Agents of Influence, their job is to manipulate the internal workings of countries not theirs -- usually in ways they would not like other countries to do in their own countries.
Even if some governments may be forgiven for financing what purport to be human rights NGOs, it is a disgrace that so many private foundations and individuals (including many Jewish charities) use their money to promote what are deeply political, rather than humanitarian, agendas through NGOs in an open, pluralistic democracy such as Israel, possibly the one bright spot in a region of authoritarian repression.
The New Israel Fund has, until recently, obtained about twenty percent of its financing through its partnership with the Ford Israel Fund, an organization that emerged as an alternative after the US-based Ford Foundation was exposed for having paid to bring thousands of anti-Israel radicals to the infamous 2001 Durban conference.
Other organizations from around the world abound, however, adding to the wide pool of hostile and interventionist funding. These include many Christian aid, pro-justice and human rights organizations such as the UK's Christian Aid, Ireland's Trócaire, the USA's Catholic Relief Services, and the World Council of Churches. All of these have missionary and evangelization agendas, in addition to their obsession with politically destroying Israel and leaving the Palestinians to the tender mercies of their corrupt leaders.
In this regard, the World Council of Churches works chiefly through its Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI), which brings members of many churches to Israel and the West Bank. The stated role of participants in this program is:
- Monitoring and reporting violations of human rights and international humanitarian law
- Supporting acts of nonviolent resistance alongside local Palestinian and Israeli activists
- Offering protection through nonviolent presence
- Engaging in public policy advocacy
- Standing in solidarity with the churches and all those struggling against the occupation
The British and Irish member organizations in EAPPI are:
- Baptist Union of Great Britain
- Christian Aid
- Church of Scotland
- Church Mission Society
- Churches Together in Britain and Ireland
- Iona Community
- Methodist Church
- Pax Christi UK
- Presbyterian Church of Wales
- Quaker Peace & Social Witness
- Scottish Episcopal Church
- United Reformed Church
As written previously, many of these groups came together in 2012 for a conference held in the UK, where they gave their approval to only one side in a complex conflict, and lambasting Israel at every turn.
With such a one-sided pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel agenda, it must be asked why it seems undemocratic of Israel to want to exercise some degree of control over the rights of its citizens not to be exposed to such unrelenting disinformation, hatred and ruin. No other country in the world would stand for it; why should Israel?
Israel, a beacon for human rights in a region of war, prejudice, denial of free speech and opposition to democracy, should be singled out for its humanitarian commitment to these values. Instead, the diplomatic jihad, which is the usual response, is -- let us be frank -- nothing more than the same old anti-Semitism, only on a national, gargantuan scale. Israel has every right to defend itself from what everyone knows is the oldest and most vicious hatred in history, and again in the world today.
Denis MacEoin is a lecturer in Arabic and Islamic Studies. He has an MA in Persian, Arabic and Islamic Studies from Edinburgh University, a PhD in Persian Studies from Cambridge (King's College) and an MA in English Language and Literature from Trinity College, Dublin.
 Translations of both bills may be found in appendix 2 of "NGOs in Israel 101: Background to the Debate and FAQs".
 The process begins with a first reading before a Knesset plenary session; then the proposed law is sent to the Constitution Law and Justice Committee for debate and revision, with the revised version sent back to the Knesset; then a second review by the committee; and a second and third reading in a plenary session.