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Ireland’s hypocritical approach to foreign meddling

How strange that the Irish fund left-wing Israeli NGOs, but prohibit foreigners weighing in on the abortion debate
Illustrative: Protesters hold up a banner that reads "London-Irish Abortion rights Campaign" as they protest in Parliament Square in front of the Houses of Parliament in central London against the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), June 10, 2017. (AFP Photos/Justin Tallis)
Illustrative: Protesters hold up a banner that reads "London-Irish Abortion rights Campaign" as they protest in Parliament Square in front of the Houses of Parliament in central London against the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), June 10, 2017. (AFP Photos/Justin Tallis)

Today, Ireland will hold a country-wide referendum on repealing a 1983 constitutional amendment that all but eliminates abortion rights in the predominantly Catholic country. Abortion is often a lightning rod issue around the world, and the argument gets particularly intense in the state with the most restrictive policies in the Western world.

In the background, though, sits another delicate question — whether foreigners, through funding of local advocacy campaigns, should have any influence over the abortion debate. When it comes to foreign donations, Ireland enforces a policy that is hardly open or unrestrictive.

The Standards in Public Office Commission, which is responsible for “supervising the disclosure of interests and compliance with tax clearance requirements, [and] the disclosure of donations and election expenditure,” has repeatedly demanded that campaigners seeking to overturn the existing laws return donations from foreign sources. Significantly, the groups in question, Abortion Rights Campaign and Amnesty International Ireland, received these funds from a private organization, George Soros’ Open Society Foundations, not from a foreign government.

On the other side, anti-abortion efforts have similarly attracted American volunteers, who have arrived in Ireland to try to influence the outcome of the vote. Some of these activists have apparently deceived immigration officials about the true purpose of their travel, in order to skirt Dublin’s requirements that those seeking to participate in such political activities apply for a “volunteer visa.”

Given these Irish sensitivities to foreign meddling in its internal affairs, it is surprising that Ireland does not hesitate to fund political advocacy on highly inflammatory issues in other countries.

The case of Israel and the Palestinian Authority is instructive.

Ireland directly funds numerous Israeli non-governmental organizations (NGOs) whose entire focus is on changing Israeli government policy. In Ireland, the government would direct the return of such funding to the donors.

For example, the Irish government has provided generous budgets to a host of Israeli NGOs dedicated to challenging the government through public advocacy. Groups such as Yesh Din, Bimkom, and Gisha are partisan actors, committed to achieving political agendas. They are involved in the legislative process, supporting and opposing bills and government decisions on some of the most intensely debated issues. These Irish-backed organizations frequently petition local courts in an attempt to reverse government policy or constrain it, when appeals to the Israeli public and politicians fail to achieve the desired results.

Irish funding for NGOs that operate in the West Bank and Gaza reflect a different, more disturbing set of issues.

Ireland’s largess has been also bestowed upon a number of Palestinian organizations with ties to terror groups. Addameer is an affiliate of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), designated by the EU as a terrorist organization. They received 300,000 euro from Irish Aid during 2013-2016. Al-Haq and the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) are also linked to this banned group, with some of their officials having served time due to their PFLP terrorist activity. Both Al-Haq and PCHR were granted 320,000 euro from 2013-2016.

Also notable is an Irish Aid grant provided to MIFTAH, a Palestinian outfit that has promoted anti-Semitic blood libels on its website. These revelations — which were sufficient to cause American government and German funders of MIFTAH to end their support — did not disqualify it in the eyes of Irish officials.

Aside from their worrying ties and unacceptable rhetoric, Palestinian NGOs have also used their Irish funding to campaign furiously against Israel in international forums, championing BDS (boycotts, divestment and sanctions) tactics.

In addition, through Irish government funding of the Catholic organization Trocaire, Irish taxpayers also bankroll the promotion of BDS, including in European churches. Trocaire has long supported the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI), a vehicle for convincing churchgoers to participate in anti-Israel warfare via boycott and divestment actions, and for enlisting churches to lobby their governments on these issues.

EAPPI participants are also sent to the West Bank to engage in “advocacy” and “monitoring and reporting human rights abuses.” Ironically, these group members employ the same tactics as the American anti-abortion activists in Dublin and are trained to deceive Israeli immigration officials in order to avoid detection and mask their actual motivations.

Ireland is faced with a critical choice on a highly contentious issue. Presumably, the people of Ireland want to decide how to proceed without outside interference artificially amplifying the impact of either side of the debate.

Maybe they ought to ask themselves why such values end at their own borders.

About the Author
Olga I. Deutsch is NGO Monitor’s Europe Desk Director. Olga graduated from the universities of Belgrade and Munich with degrees in banking, insurance and finance. She was awarded a Fellowship with the Ford Motor Company graduating as a Community Leader at the School of International and Public Affairs of Columbia University in New York, USA. Before making Aliya in 2009 she served as the chairperson of the European Union of Jewish Students, an umbrella organization for 34 national unions. In 2008, she received the International Leadership Prize from the American Jewish Committee. Over the past twelve years Olga held senior positions in the private sector in Europe and Israel. Olga is fluent in Serbian, English, Hebrew and German.
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