Will European parliaments halt funds to Israeli political NGOs?

For more than 20y ears, European government officials have funnelled tens of millions of euros, pounds, Swiss Francs, and krona annually into a small group of Israeli and Palestinian political groups, under the banners of human rights, democracy, peace and development. Many of these groups are involved in discriminatory anti-Israel and anti-peace demonization campaigns such as BDS (boycotts, divestment and sanctions) and lawfare. And in contrast to European preaching about democracy and transparency, these funding processes involving Israel are top secret; despite the amounts involved and the implications, there have been very few public discussions in Europe, and essentially no parliamentary oversight.

However, this situation is now changing. On June 16, following a detailed debate, the Dutch Parliament approved a proposal requiring the government to review funding for NGOs that promote BDS (boycott, divestment, and sanctions) targeting Israel, and, in particular, the Human Rights and International Law Secretariat based at Birzeit University in Ramallah.

NGO Monitor researcher with Dutch MPs, May 2016
NGO Monitor researcher with Dutch MPs, May 2016

A similar debate and vote is scheduled to take place in the Swiss Parliament on June 17. The Dutch and Swiss governments, along with Sweden and Denmark, provide $17 million to this framework over three years ending in 2016. As documented in NGO Monitor research reports, this money is used for core funding to 24 NGOs, including many of the leaders of BDS and lawfare campaigns, such as Badil and Al Haq, and a number of Israeli political NGOs, including the small but highly problematic group calling itself “Breaking the Silence”.

In parallel, the British Parliament held a debate this week on the government’s international aid activities, including the distribution of funds by the Department for International Development (DFID). In this debate, MPs cited NGO Monitor research reports on this funding, calling on the government to stop diversion of funds to anti-peace Israeli and Palestinian NGOs. Following the debate, DFID officials announcement policy changes. In response, Sir Eric Pickles, MP declared: “I welcome a shift in DFID’s funding toward peaceful coexistence projects that better support a peace process, along with the Minister’s agreement to look at alleged abuses of British aid by particular Palestinian NGOs.”

In all three instances, the parliamentary debates, votes, and policy changes followed recent briefings from NGO Monitor, based on our research reports. The need for responsible policies regarding NGO funding from Europe has been repeated by Israeli government officials, diplomats, and members of the Knesset in their contacts with European counterparts.

These changes and the requirement for close oversight, including the involvement of parliament, mark fundamental changes in the way NGOs are funded by these countries. The extreme secrecy in budgets for radical NGOs, involving tens of millions of euros, opened the door for many abuses, including BDS and other forms of demonization. Similar steps are underway in the European Union, despite some efforts to block transparency and discussion, and in other countries that are involved in these activities.

Dutch Parliament Approves Bill to Regulate NGO Funding
Dutch Parliament Approves Bill to Regulate NGO Funding

Not coincidentally, the changes in European government NGO funding processes also come at an important time in the context of the parallel Israeli debate. After years of “under the radar” European interference through funding for a very selected group of Israeli NGOs (most affiliated with the US-based opposition organization known as the New Israel Fund), efforts are underway to end this political manipulation. Israelis have realized that no other democracy is subject to this type of attack on national sovereignty, through the manipulation of civil society organizations.

Under the framework of transparency, and following the precedent set in the US Congress, the Knesset is weighing laws that would require NGOs that are funded by foreign governments to declare this when they lobby and interact with official frameworks. But if European officials scale back or end this irresponsible practice, which is used uniquely to undermine Israeli democracy and sovereignty, and negotiate funding guidelines with their Knesset counterparts, such legislation will be unnecessary.  Such a cooperative outcome would also mark a fundamental improvement in relations between official Europe and Israel.

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)