The French Consulate in Jerusalem and Breaking the Silence: Pourquoi?

Imagine a non-governmental organization (NGO) in France collecting anonymous testimonies from soldiers who fought in Mali, and accusing the French government of systematic war crimes. Now, add more funding from the European Union, and various other governments enabling the leaders of this fringe anti-France NGO to travel the world with exhibits claiming to demonstrate these war crimes, and cooperating with efforts to impose a punishing boycott on Paris.

For France, this scenario is entirely unrealistic. But if we change the focus to accusations to Israel, the absurd picture matches reality. In 2015, the French Consulate in Jerusalem provided the Israeli group “Breaking the Silence” (BtS) approximately 15,000 Euros.

BtS consists of a tiny group of Israelis who repeat anonymous “testimonies” (or make up their own, as shown in a few cases) in order to denounce the Israeli Defense Forces as war criminals. In recent months, BtS has unfurled its agenda in the European Parliament, in a Zurich church (a two week propaganda program with a photo exhibit and a continuous stream of anti- Israel speakers), a lecture to the British anti-Israeli group Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP), and elsewhere.

In general, foreign governments do not give taxpayer monies to a non-governmental organization (NGO) in another democracy to promote a particular political cause or lobby on legislation. However, Israel is an exception.

By channeling public funds to Breaking the Silence, the French Consulate in Jerusalem, as an arm of the Government of France, is directly facilitating and enabling a demonization campaign against another country that faces terror threats similar to those facing France.

The French government does not fund any groups making similar accusations against security forces involved in counter-terror operations in Paris, Brussels, London or elsewhere. And one can readily imagine the outrage if another country, for whatever reason, would fund a Breaking the Silence-type world tour claiming that France was committing war crimes in Mali or after the 13/11 terror attacks in Paris.

The French Consulate in Jerusalem is not the only source of foreign taxpayer funds for BtS and other fringe NGOs involved in these demonization campaigns. The BtS world tours are also funded by the European Union, and a number of church “aid” groups that receive their money from governments -including Broederlijk Delen (Belgium), Dan Church Aid (Denmark), Christian Aid (UK), Trocaire (Ireland), and Misereor (Germany).

All this money has given this tiny fringe group political power, unregulated by any checks and balances, and entirely outside the democratic process. For many years, BtS was a small organization with little impact. But since 2013, its budget, provided by foreign sources, has more than doubled, and at the end of 2014 (the last available report), totaled over 500,000 euros, much of which is used for international campaigns and travel. (In August 2015, the EU secretly provided an additional 250,000 Euros.) In addition to France and the Christian groups, BtS receives generous support from the “Human Rights and International Law Secretariat”, a mechanism funded jointly by the governments (and taxpayers) of Sweden, Denmark, Netherlands and Switzerland. This consortium is managed by the Institute of Law at Bir-Zeit University in Ramallah, which funds anti-peace and, in some cases, antisemitic NGOs.

Among these frameworks, whose hostility to Israel is documented in detail, support for radical Israeli NGOs promoting false war crimes accusations is widespread. This demonization, and the essential enabling role of funders like the French Consulate in Jerusalem, have fuelled growing anger from a broad spectrum across Israeli society.

On November 19, an IDF officer exposed a video showing BtS official, Avner Gvaryahu, fabricating stories about IDF troops during a so-called “educational tour” near Hebron. The video caused an outrage in the Israeli public, where more than 400 IDF reserve officers signed a petition, noting, “BtS is no longer about a public discussion between right and left… It is all about demonizing the IDF and its soldiers”. Also Ben Dror Yemini, a center-left Israeli journalist, spoke out against the group, saying, “The sane left needed to step up, since these campaigns perpetuate the conflict.”

In addition, Yediot Ahronot – Israel’s largest daily, affiliated with center-left political forces, – reported on December 9 that the head of the one of the country’s largest youth education program, largely identified with Israel’s social-left, decided to stop cooperating with BtS. He explained: “Instead of promoting a critical discussion in Israel, you [BtS] have transformed into a tool for foreign interests aimed at demonizing Israel.”

Recently, Yair Lapid, leader of the opposition party “Yesh Atid,” stated it was time “to tell them [BtS] – you lie, you defame, you use anonymous testimonies and foreign funding to damage the country. This isn’t activity for peace, those are fabricated stories aimed to hurt Israel legitimacy.”

In Israel, there are increasing demands that the elected government put an end to this very damaging form of political warfare, which fuels demonization and attacks against Israelis and Jews. In response, Justice Minister Shaked has proposed legislation – analogous to regulations in the US – requiring NGOs lobbying their cause to clearly state that they are funded by foreign governments, and to file periodic reports.

The Israeli reactions to foreign-funded NGO warfare also highlight the secrecy which surrounds this funding, including the money for BtS provided by the French Consulate in Jerusalem. Who makes these decisions, and on the basis of which information, and for what objectives? Does any credible independent institution evaluate how this money is used or abused?

Neither Israeli citizens, whose lives and safety are directly affected by such propaganda campaigns, nor French and European citizens who pay for them, have any idea about the answers to these questions. This lack of democratic transparency makes a mockery of moral justifications for funding Israeli groups like BtS.

Beyond transparency and respect for sovereignty, we need NGO funding guidelines to ensure the proper use of tax payers’ money. Funding fringe opposition groups in an ally country makes little sense, and is morally wrong. Implementing guidelines will help avoid such situations, preventing the violation of sovereignty or diplomatic norms, while strengthening healthy relations between friends.

An earlier version of this article was published in the French edition of the Huffington Post.

About the Author
Gerald Steinberg is Professor of Political Science at Bar Ilan University and president of NGO Monitor. His latest book is "Menachem Begin and the Israel-Egypt Peace Process: Between Ideology and Political Realism", (Indiana University Press)