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20th Oct 2018

Former diplomats raise alarm on Israeli lobby group

  • Israeli soldiers in Hebron, in the occupied West Bank - settlement expansion has surged in recent years (Photo: Rosie Gabrielle)

Former Israeli diplomats have accused NGO Monitor, a right-wing pressure group, of sowing misinformation that undermined EU efforts on conflict resolution.

The Jerusalem-based group, which also has a one-person office in the EU capital, Brussels, "disseminates misleading and tendentious information, which it presents as factual in-depth research", Ilan Baruch, Israel's former ambassador to South Africa, said in a report by the Policy Working Group (PWG), published on Thursday (27 September).

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  • NGO Monitor said the "smear campaign" against it was timed to coincide with a Jewish holiday (Photo: Rosie Gabrielle)

NGO Monitor's efforts were designed to "defend and sustain [Israeli] government policies that help uphold Israel's occupation of ... the Palestinian territories", he said.

The PWG is a group of Israeli former diplomats and academics who support the EU-backed two-state solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict - a conflict that has helped to destabilise the Middle East for the past eight decades.

The study, written together with a German foundation, the Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung, comes at a time of heightened tension after the US moved its embassy to Jerusalem.

It also comes amid a surge in Israeli settlement expansion, which threatens to cut the occupied West Bank in two, making a future Palestinian state untenable.

And it comes amid an Israeli crackdown on government-critical civil society.

'Defamatory'

For its part, NGO Monitor said the PWG report was "defamatory" and threatened to "vigorously enforce" its rights.

The "pseudo-report" was a "smear campaign" written by "fringe ideologues", the group's Daniel Laufer told EUobserver.

He denounced the Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung for being "far-left" in its politics.

He also attacked PWG for publishing its findings "on the Sabbath Eve in the middle of an eight-day long Jewish holiday when religiously observant Jews do not work."

NGO Monitor's "vigorous" methods were previously on display in July, when it hounded EP Today, a Brussels-based media, not to publish an opinion piece by PNGO, a Palestinian civil society group.

They were also on display in 2012, when it attacked EUobserver for declining to publish an NGO Monitor op-ed.

It did so by publishing internal email correspondence exchanged between an NGO Monitor lobbyist and an EUobserver journalist to bolster the accusation that this website "shut down debate".

But EU diplomats have in the past said the same as PWG - lending Thursday's report their weight.

EU diplomats

"Inopportune and misleading", EU foreign relations chief Federica Mogherini said in May, referring to a paper published by the Israeli foreign ministry, which was based on NGO Monitor material and which said the EU had funded Palestinian organisations with "known ties to terror groups".

"Tendentious research, intentional inaccuracies, and downright EU-bashing propaganda," Lars Faaborg-Andersen, the then EU ambassador to Israel, said in 2014, referring to NGO Monitor's assertion that the EU spent more aid money on the Arab-Israeli conflict than on any other in the world.

The PWG report gave a laundry list of other dodgy claims.

In 2015, for instance, NGO Monitor said B'Tselem, an Israeli NGO, had no legal basis for its outcry on "forced transfer" of Palestinian bedouins, despite a wealth of legal literature on the subject.

In 2008, NGO Monitor said B'Tselem had reported 75 percent of people killed in Israeli strikes on Gaza were civilians, when B'Tselem had actually said the figure was 55 percent.

NGO Monitor has also accused Raji Sourani, an award-winning Palestinian lawyer, of terrorist "ties" based in part, PWG said, on false information that the US considered him persona non grata.

Sourani got a US visa in 2016.

It accused Shawan Jabarin, another Palestinian activist, of terrorist ties based on a UN report, while omitting to mention that the same UN report had said Israel had not managed to bring him to trial on such charges despite six attempts to do so.

Independent and nonpartisan?

NGO Monitor also misrepresented itself, PWG said.

It called itself an "independent and nonpartisan research institute", but in fact "they work hand in hand with the Israeli government," PWG said.

Israeli diplomats have brought NGO Monitor lobbyists to bilateral meetings in EU capitals, the PWG report noted.

The Israeli foreign ministry has helped to organise NGO Monitor lobby trips to Brussels, Dublin, and Bern, it said.

NGO Monitor's leading figures, such as Gerald Steinberg, Dore Gold, Maurice Hirsch, and Yosef Kuperwasser have also held Israeli government posts, PWG revealed.

NGO Monitor's "nonpartisan" status was put in question by the fact its website blacklisted some 250 NGOs which were critical of the Israeli occupation, but not a single of the dozens of NGOs in the country which endorsed Israeli policy.

Its claim to champion "transparency" on NGO funding was put in doubt by the fact it declined to publish the names of many of its own private donors.

Its entry in the European Commission's lobbyist transparency register was also short on detail.

Calling itself a "think tank", whose main activity was "following European Parliament" activity, it said its total budget for 2016 was €1m and its EU-related work was worth less than €9,999.

It said the money came from "other sources" than Israeli or regional sources.

But it left blank a box which requested more detailed disclosure, or: "other (financial) information provided by the organisation".

The funding details it did register in Israel showed it got plenty of support from right-wing donors in the US.

'Times have changed'

"NGO Monitor is a government-affiliated organisation that selectively targets human rights organisations, relies almost entirely on funding from donors in the US, [and] shirks the transparency it demands of others," Baruch, the former Israeli ambassador, said in the PWG paper.

PWG used to ignore NGO Monitor in the past, he noted, because "experience taught that responding to its claims would be interpreted in bad faith, [and] provide ammunition for further attacks".

"But times have changed", Baruch said, because "those in Israel who promote universal values, freedom, and equality" increasingly "find themselves on the defensive".

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