Professor Gerald Steinberg’s article, “Why Does the EU Continue to Fund Anti-Peace NGOs?”, published in February 2014 in the Jerusalem Post, contributes to the general debate about foreign funding of NGOs in Israel, and the use of EU funds by radical organizations to engage into a political warfare and to promote an offensive narrative against Israel.
Steinberg denounces these organizations’ hidden agenda that aims to deepen Israel’s diplomatic and economic isolation, and, more generally, to fuel the Middle East conflict rather than to seek peace. In addition, he deplores Brussels’ failure to release relevant documentation and urges more transparency from the EU in this area. Prof. Steinberg expresses the view that EU officials conceal and distort the EU’s role in dealing with the consequences of this financial flow, and thus, recommends that his claim be investigated further by Brussels.
In March 2014, Amb. Faaborg-Andersen replied with an article entitled “Setting the record straight on EU funding of NGOs in Israel”. Although the attempt to justify the EU funding to NGOs is legitimate, the tone of his article belies his role and experience as a senior diplomat. Steinberg’s article, it seems, touched a nerve.
Amb. Faaborg-Andersen’s disagreement with Prof. Steinberg’s arguments, including the “obscure policies of Brussels”, is part of a broader debate that is also taking place in Europe, where citizens and NGOs such as Transparency International can feel free to petition the core power of their nation-states and of the EU without fearing hostile responses from officials. This is one of the privileges of living in Western democracies, where such criticism is actually encouraged in a pure Kantian tradition.
Amb. Faaborg-Andersen accused Prof. Steinberg of publishing “a cocktail of tendentious research, intentional inaccuracies and downright EU-bashing propaganda.” Such a pointed insult by the EU delegation’s top representative against the seriousness and integrity of a prominent academic in a host country is extremely unusual, to say the least. It has repercussions that go beyond the person of Prof. Steinberg, who is well known by students and colleagues alike as relying heavily on the facts. As a prominent academic respected for his research, publication, teaching and public-policy analyses, the professor’s international academic status will survive this injury.
To accuse Steinberg of tendentious research and inaccuracy reporting because of his position looks more like a bald attempt to intimidate the entire Israeli academic establishment, and more generally members of the local civil society who take issue with the Middle East Peace Plan’s approach. It shows as an effort by a government executive entity to dissuade researchers, NGOs and the public from opening their eyes – and their mouths. It is in blatant opposition to the exercise by ordinary citizens of critical judgment about public institutions whose actions influence their lives, and in this case, their security.
Amb. Faaborg-Andersen also criticizes the fact that writers may have political ideas as a basis for their investigations – though it seems he means political ideas different from his own. Indeed, many of the human rights organizations benefiting from EU public funds have an overt agenda that guides them to investigations that are colored in ways that, Steinberg reminds us, are not always honest.
Moreover, in his previous position at the Danish Foreign ministry, Amb. Faaborg-Andersen authored the road map for the Middle-East Peace process, which is based on the somewhat speculative assumption that it is possible to recreate the EU model of political cooperation through economic integration in the Middle East. This perspective is designed to change facts on the ground based on predetermined conclusions.
The Danish diplomat has also been extensively involved with furthering the policy of EU sanctions as a political tool, which is a coercive way par excellence to impose one’s theoretical and subjective opinion to modify a given reality. Opposing the use of a “normative approach” methodology to opponents or critics while simultaneously using it is unfair. It is tantamount to advancing a policy of “do what I say, not what I do” that surely does nothing to promote the EU’s credibility in Israel.
Prof. Steinberg replied to the EU Ambassador in a second article (“EU Funding for Radical NGOs: A Record Far from Straight“), in which he ignored the personal nature of the attack against him and instead limited himself solely to the facts. Nevertheless, damage has been done and should be repaired if the EU is to retain the culture of negotiating with velvet gloves – with politeness and fairness – that is central to its diplomatic ethos.
This requires that Amb. Faaborg-Andersen lay down the bludgeon, and resume the more courteous approach with which the EU usually seeks to foster relations between states. Once the threat has been removed and normative views can again be freely expressed by all sides, the EU truly could be perceived as an honest broker by the Israelis. Such a change would also reflect the values of dignity, freedom, equality, citizenship, security and justice that are enshrined in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights – values that Prof. Steinberg explicitly advocates.
Further, for the sake of transparency and accountability, civil societies, whether in Europe and Israel, are entitled to receive information about the use of public funds, and about the consequences of these funds’ use. Checking the validity of Professor Steinberg’s claim of misuse of public funds by human rights organizations and of their possible betrayal of their EU patrons is critical to the EU credibility in its efforts to achieve peace. Not only should Brussels welcome a suggestion from so respected an academic and NGO specialist, it should also study it with an open mind, and allocate the funds necessary to the investigation, thus bringing light to the EU tax-payers, serenity to its Middle-east partners and harmony to itself.
Jerome Vitenberg is an international political analyst, whose research at Tel-Aviv University explored the validity of the EU model of regional cooperation through economic integration in the Middle East.