6) Criticism of both the false claims of “war crimes” and of the secretive processes by which they receive large European government funding does not prevent members of Israeli NGOs such as Breaking the Silence, Yesh Din, Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI), and many others from promoting their agendas. There is no threat to freedom of expression in this criticism of NGOs.
7) In contrast, attention should be paid to the close relationships between some influential journalists, such as Akiva Eldar (Ha’aretz) and these political advocacy NGOs. This relationship may provide unfair access of these groups of NGOs to the media, in contrast to other groups that do not have similar access.
8 ) Issues of politicization, credibility, and faulty methodology in NGO publications on human rights are particularly acute in the Israeli-Palestinian context. Additionally, some NGOs have falsely claimed to be “human rights organizations,” granting them an aura of objectivity and credibility (“the halo effect”).
Part 3: Criticism of NGO Political Campaigns as Central to the Democratic Process
1) NGO Monitor was formed and began researching these issues after the participants in the NGO Forum of the 2001 UN Durban Conference adopted a plan of action to exploit false claims of war crimes, apartheid, and human rights violations to advance the “total international isolation of Israel,” through the use of boycotts, legal frameworks, and other forms of political warfare.
2) The evidence of NGO inaccuracy, bias, and unbalanced influence in the Israeli political discourse increased significantly in the wake of the UNHRC’s report on the Gaza conflict (Report of the United Nations Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict – the “Goldstone Report”), published in September 2009. Much of the content of the allegations was provided by political advocacy NGOs (while ignoring the thousands of rocket attacks from Gaza – every one a war crime). When the principal author of the report, Judge Richard Goldstone, acknowledged that the allegations were baseless, the focus on NGO biases and inaccuracy increased. This criticism included a recognition of the role of foreign government funding for these NGOs in greatly amplifying their influence, while NGOs that did not enjoy such funding were at a distinct disadvantage in the marketplace of ideas.
3) As a result of these campaigns, in 2010 and 2011 members of the democratically elected Israeli Knesset introduced legislation designed to address the impact of the non-transparent, large-scale foreign government funding for these organizations. This political manipulation and lack of transparency is unique in the case of funding for Israeli NGOs, and violates democratic norms. Some of this proposed legislation was based on practices in other countries, such as the U.S. Foreign Agents Registration Act and prohibitions on discriminatory business practices (regarding anti-boycott legislation).
4) The NGOs that are recipients of this foreign government money and their supporters began a political campaign seeking to prevent this debate, charging that any criticism is inherently “undemocratic,” “McCarthyite,” etc. Statements by officials from Israeli political advocacy NGOs (the New Israel Fund, B’Tselem, and ACRI) quoted in U.S. government cables (published in Wikileaks) revealed their cynical manipulation of democratic processes and structures.
5) Media reports on these issues, both in Israel and outside, are often distorted and confused, including quotes and analysis based on inaccurate translations. Many of these reports fail to address basic issues related to the unique context of NGO political power in Israel, the secret foreign government funding processes, and the substance of the proposed Knesset legislation.
6) Only one law dealing with NGOs has been passed, mandating funding transparency. All of the other proposals, often condemned by the NGOs and their supporters as “anti-democratic,” have either been withdrawn, defeated, or amended. Within the governing coalition, a number of MKs and ministers have also actively opposed the bills. Thus, in contrast to the self-interested claims of NGOs seeking to protect their secret foreign government funding, all the available evidence demonstrates the vibrancy and strength of Israeli democracy. (The law creating a civil right of action for economic damages caused by discriminatory boycotts does not directly address NGOs. In contrast to false NGO claims, the law does not criminalize anti-Israel boycotts.)
Part 4: Criticism of Government Policies, Minority Rights, and Freedom of Expression
1) Allegations to the contrary not withstanding, there is no censorship of Israeli civil society activities. Critical reports of the government issued by NGOs such as the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), B’Tselem, Yesh Din, Adalah, Mossawa, and many others receive extensive press attention in Israel, including from the government-owned media. When ACRI recently released a publication criticizing alleged harassment of demonstrators, the document was widely disseminated and served as the topic in an op-ed in Haaretz, one of Israel’s most influential papers. This type of public debate and intense criticism of government policies would not be possible in a country without free expression.Gerald Steinberg
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