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Who Should Fund the NGOs?

August 2, 2009

Recent articles in the Israeli press say that the Israeli Foreign Ministry is considering banning foreign government funding of “political NGOs”. Most consider this to be a reaction to the flurry of media attention given to the Israeli group Breaking the Silence , which published anonymous testimonies on  IDF military action in Operation Cast Lead last winter(see our article on that here). MIDEAST

But as an article by the Jerusalem Post points out, it may be difficult to legally determine what a “political NGO” is. NGOs here, it says, fund everything from hospitals to activism.

Ha’aretz says that already, the British and Dutch governments have been contacted by Minister of Defence Ehud Barak to get “clarifications” about their contributions to Breaking the Silence and whether any of that money went to group’s report on Operation Cast Lead, Israel’s military incursion into Gaza last winter

According to the Jerusalem Post article, Spain’s agency for international development gave 80,000 shekels to Breaking the Silence this year.  The Association for Civil Rights in Israel got 100,000, and  the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions received 80,000.

The relationship between who funds groups, and who groups in turn fund themselves, can be problematic for governments.  A Jerusalem Post analysis piece asks whether Christian Zionist and right-wing groups which give money to settlements will also be included in the proposed ban, as they have “a clear right-wing political agenda.”

Currently, there is nothing illegal about foreign governments giving money to groups within Israel. According to legal advisers from the Israeli Foreign Ministry, the practice of accepting such donations is legal because the groups are registered as non-profits.

The debate is reminiscent of one that surfaced last month in some American media sources, when an op-ed in the Washington Post challenged the  non-profit status of several American groups that donate to settlements. “Friends of Itamar engages in domestic, tax-deductible fundraising for the West Bank settlement of Itamar,” says Ronit Avni, director of the organization JustVision. “All this comes at the expense of the U.S. government, which loses tax revenue by allowing these groups to operate as not-for-profit entities.”

Avni’s argument is that groups should not lose non-profit status if they run counter to their government’s foreign policy, but if they furthermore are “considered a violation of international law.”

Now, other Israeli organizations, notably Gush Shalom, are taking up the cause as well. They’ve started a campaign in the US to pressure the American government to ban tax exemptions for groups that fund or support Israeli settlements. They’ve intensified the campaign in response to the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s efforts to prevent foreign countries’ funding of Israeli human rights organizations.

What are your views on how much right a government has to control money going in, or out, of organizations it considers against its policies?

PHOTO: A gallery exhibit of Breaking the Silence’s previous work on Hebron. Tel Aviv, Israel. June 23,2004. REUTERS/Nir Elias

Comments

The issue is one of foreign governments laundering monies through NGOs in a clandestine effort to subvert another sovereign. I very much doubt the Spanish government would look kindly upon the Serbian government funding groups within Spain which sought to prosecute officials who directed the NATO bombing of Serbia, e.g., Javier Solana. Similarly, how would the British feel if the Argentine government financed NGOs in the UK agitating for the Falklands to be returned to Argentina?

As Justus Reid Weiner notes in an exhaustive study on building in Jerusalem, “the Palestinian Authority and Arab governments have spent hundreds of millions of dollars in an intentional campaign to subsidize and encourage massive illegal construction in the Arab sector [of Jerusalem], seeing this as part of their demographic war against Israel”. And, “illegal construction has reached epidemic proportions. A senior Palestinian official boasted that they have built 6,000 homes without permits during the last 4 years, of which less than 200 were demolished by the city”.

Why should Israel accommodate European governments in their covert support of NGO activities , e.g., Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, intended to sabotage and dismantle the country from within?

Posted by HIS | Report as abusive
 

For a detailed analysis of transparency vs. prohibition in European government support for these political NGOs, see Gerald Steinberg (NGO Monitor), “Transparency, not ban, is way to handle foreign NGO funding”, Jerusalem Post, August 2 2009

http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?c id=1248277945408&pagename=JPost%2FJPArti cle%2FShowFull

Posted by David Sterling | Report as abusive
 

I would be good to see some openness in the Settlers accounting.

http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?c id=1246296541114&pagename=JPost%2FJPArti cle%2FShowFull Settlers to be reimbursed for EU tariffs By TOVAH LAZAROFF

http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?c id=1246443861462&pagename=JPost%2FJPArti cle%2FShowFull WZO to spend NIS 20 m. on agriculture over green line By TOVAH LAZAROFF

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/jul  /19/us-bingo-funding-israeli-settlement s Gambling with peace: how US bingo dollars are funding Israeli settlements

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/con tent/article/2009/03/25/AR2009032502800. html A Tax Break Fuels Middle East Friction By David Ignatius Washington Post 26 March 2009

 

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