Inside Israel and the Palestinian Territories
Who Should Fund the NGOs?
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).
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