Bashing Israel Is Big (State-Sponsored) Business

A view of the national flag of Israel in Eilat city center. On Tuesday, March 6, 2018, in Eilat, Israel.
Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images

A recent report by NGO Monitor revealed that between 2012 and 2016, 39 Israeli non-governmental organizations (NGOs) received NIS 515.8 million ($142.6 million) from foreign donors. Just over 60 percent of these resources came from foreign governments – through direct or indirect funding – with 28 of the NGOs receiving more than 50 percent of their funding from foreign government sources.

Twenty-five foreign governments and intergovernmental organizations were involved in funding the 39 NGOs, with Germany as top donor, followed by the EU, Norway, the Netherlands and an intergovernmental organization called the International Humanitarian Law Secretariat, which was jointly funded by Denmark, Sweden, Switzerland and the Netherlands. The United States was the ninth-largest donor, contributing just slightly more than the UN. Private donors included the New Israel Fund (NIF), the Open Society Institute (founded by George Soros) and Amnesty International, among others.

The NGOs are all politically active in the Arab-Israeli conflict, and several of them are involved in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel. The NGOs include organizations such as B’Tselem (64.7 percent foreign government-funded), a member of Fédération Internationale des Droits de l’Homme (FIDH), a major leader of anti-Israel BDS campaigns worldwide. B’Tselem’s executive director, Hagai Elad, has repeatedly appealed for international action against Israel, as in his appearance before the UN in 2016 and in the Danish parliament in 2017, where he compared Israeli policies to “crimes against God and man.” B’Tselem – along with several of the other 39 NGOs – has actively contributed to biased UN reports condemning Israel, including the 2009 Goldstone report, which falsely accused Israel of targeting civilians. Judge Richard Goldstone later publicly regretted having written the report. The main funders of B’Tselem are the EU, the Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law Secretariat and the German state-funded organization Bread for the World, the official aid framework of the Protestant Church in Germany.

The 39 NGOs also include organizations such as:

Coalition of Women for Peace (68.7 percent foreign government-funded), a major player in international BDS campaigns against Israel, especially through its “Who Profits” project, a database that identifies targets for anti-Israel divestment and boycotts. The “Who Profits” project has independent NGO status(94.5 percent foreign government-funded).

Breaking the Silence (59.9 percent foreign government-funded), an organization that collects anonymous and unsubstantiated allegations against the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) from low-level soldiers in order to promote “war crime” charges against Israel. The anonymous (and therefore unverifiable) testimonies were used by the UN in its Report of Inquiry on the 2014 Gaza War.

Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center (46.7 percent foreign government-funded), an organization that leads the global church divestment movement. Sabeel director Naim Ateek was a signatory to the Kairos document, which advocates for BDS. Sabeel has international chapters, including in North America. Friends of Sabeel-North America has led BDS campaigns against Hewlett Packard, among others.

The eagerness with which particularly German and northern European governments, as well as the EU, support anti-Israeli NGOs advocating BDS and delegitimizing Israel is especially remarkable because the EU and its member states, certainly the largest ones such as Germany, formally oppose boycotts of Israel. “We do not support the demands for a boycott. This is not an option for Germany,” said German Chancellor Angela Merkel in 2014. In 2015, Lars Faaborg-Andersen, EU ambassador to Israel, declared, “Europe is not boycotting Israel. ... We oppose boycotts and BDS.”

Funding anti-Israeli NGOs, therefore, becomes an alternative way of pursuing foreign policy objectives that would otherwise be politically inopportune, especially because the sound of Germans calling for the boycott of Jews brings forth memories of Nazi anti-Semitism with which current European governments would rather not be associated.

European funding of Israeli NGOs involved in BDS, however, render these attempts at keeping up appearances disingenuous at best. Adding even more absurdity to the charade is the recent announcement of the intelligence agency for the German state of Baden-Württemberg that the BDS movement is a "new variation of anti-Semitism." The intelligence report was referring to German neo-Nazi party Der Dritte Weg (The Third Way) which calls for boycotts of Israeli products, saying that it "roughly recalls similar measures against German Jews by the National Socialists, for example, on April 1, 1933 (the slogan: 'Germans! Defend yourselves! Don't buy from Jews!')."

It is very fitting that a German state agency should be the one to pronounce that the BDS movement is no different than its Nazi predecessors – and it makes no difference, one might add, whether those promoting it are on the left or on the right of the political spectrum.

Judith Bergman is a writer and political analyst based in Israel. She is a contributor to the news and public policy group Haym Salomon Center. @salomoncenter

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