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{Originally posted to Israel Hayom}

It was supposed to be a routine decision. Without discussion or a vote, the Israeli cabinet was to ratify Israeli participation in the latest European Union regional framework, under the grandiose headline of “Cross-border Cooperation within the European Neighborhood Instrument (ENI): Mediterranean Sea Basin Program 2014-2020.”


Largely an extension of a previous mechanism for funding joint cultural and other programs, the CBC-Med program would have been formalized had no ministers raised objections. But at the last minute, on Wednesday afternoon, Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev did just that, citing the EU’s standard language excluding Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Golan Heights from participation in these programs.

As a result, a debate is now required. If we want a serious debate on the topic, we must not limit it to the terms of this specific agreement, and raise questions regarding other EU terms of reference: The EU’s ongoing attempt to force Israel to accept its views on borders, its widespread illegal construction in Area C, and its massive funding of NGOs that lead anti-Israel demonization campaigns.

The European Neighborhood Instrument, which provides the budget for the CBC-Med framework, has been, and continues to be, a major problem for Israel. Every year, some of the most virulently anti-Israel, anti-peace and in some cases, anti-Semitic NGOs are funded under the ENI framework.

For example, ENI houses the EU Peacebuilding Initiative (formerly Partnership for Peace), which funds propaganda groups such as the Ma’an Network, and the Popular Art Center.

In February 2016, PAC organized a ceremony in honor of “Palestinian martyrs” whose homes were demolished, featuring the “father of the martyr Baha Eleyan” as a speaker. Eleyan was one of the terrorists who murdered three people in the October 2015 attack on a Jerusalem bus. The ceremony featured a musical performance captioned “no to laying down arms.”

Other ENI grantees have named schools after notorious terrorists, and bring members of Hamas and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine to speak to teenagers to “strengthen Palestinian youth and their engagement in civic and political life in Gaza.”

Through other bureaucratic frameworks, the EU also channels large-scale funding to fringe Israeli groups like Breaking the Silence (which collects testimonies of IDF misdeeds against Palestinians) and B’Tselem (which documents human rights violations in the Palestinian territories), turning these groups into instruments of European policy under the pretext of “civil society.” There is no other democracy in the world that is treated similarly by the EU.

Beyond highlighting EU policies that trample on Israeli sovereignty, the out-of-control NGO funding is a reminder of how seemingly positive EU regional frameworks can do serious damage. The most prominent example is the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership, launched at the 1995 Barcelona conference, where Europe promised to pour billions into broken economies and brutal dictatorships from North Africa to Syria to prevent mass migration. Spoiler: They failed.

In addition, to compete with the American-led “peace process,” Brussels invited Jordan and the new Palestinian Authority, then led by PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat, and the Israeli government jumped in under the illusion that this framework would expand the avenues for dialogue and cooperation.

Now, in weighing participation in the latest Euro-Med framework, it would be useful to recall the costs of the 1995 decision that ultimately yielded little if any benefit for Israel. Barcelona opened the door to EU manipulation of Israeli politics, through alliances with political NGOs promoting values such as democracy, human rights and development. Grantees in the late 1990s included Peace Now (€400,000) for “outreach” to Soviet immigrants that traditionally have “anti-peace views and vote Likud,” the Four Mothers Movement to Leave Lebanon (€250,000), the Institute for Democracy and Leadership Training (€400,000) – also aimed at manipulating Israeli politics.

Since then, the EU’s alliance with this NGO network has increased significantly. Instead of transparency in government which the EU preaches to others, the decision-making on NGO grants are carefully concealed, as if they were Europe’s most sensitive military secrets. Officials repeat empty slogans, including the claim that funding goes to “projects” and not NGOs.

Perhaps the new Euro-Med framework is substantially different from the 1995 version, and there may be benefits for Israel to be considered. But there are also political costs, as Miri Regev noted. A serious consideration of Israeli interests in relations with the EU, including NGO funding, is long overdue. The questions that will be raised in the cabinet debate on whether or not to join the latest version of the EU’s Mediterranean framework, and the answers that the EU provides, can lead to a more equal and healthier relationship.

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Gerald M. Steinberg is a professor of political studies at Bar-Ilan University, founder of the graduate program on Conflict Management and Negotiation, and president of NGO Monitor.