Friday

20th Jan 2017

EU accused of meddling in Israeli democracy

An archly conservative group with strong links to the Israeli government has attacked the human rights community in the Jewish state, saying that it is being bankrolled by the EU in a secretive attempt to undermine democracy.

Israeli diplomats are touting in Brussels the "investigative" work of NGO Monitor, a body which claims that a clutch of officials in the heart of the EU is plotting to "delegitimise" Israel by funding local human rights organisations.

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

  • Israeli flags in east Jerusalem (Photo: laika slips the lead)

Professor Gerald Steinberg, NGO Monitor president, was in Brussels last week speak MEPs and Israel's EU mission promoted his work among journalists.

The EU gives "public funds to a small group of opposition groups in an effort to manipulate the political process," he told eurodeputies.

"In violation of the principle that democracies do not attempt to manipulate or interfere with the internal political processes in other democracies, anonymous European officials in charge of NGO allocations seek to exploit a minority group of Israelis to impose EU-favoured policies on the wider Israeli public."

"I don't see it as a conspiracy," he later told reporters. "But with the EU lack of transparency in general, it is very hard to sort out."

He compared the sums, amounting to 68.8 million shekels (€15 million) since 2006 for Israeli civil society groups including B'Tselem, Peace Now, the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel, Mossawa and Physicians for Human Rights Israel, whom he terms "radical fringe" NGOs, to the €15 million annually Israel spends internationally on its public diplomacy efforts.

Mr Steinberg also named Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Oxfam as part of what he calls "third-generation warfare" against Israel.

First came attacks from nation-states, he says; second came violence from non-state actors such as the PLO and the Intifada uprisings; and now the new form of war that is being mounted against the Jewish state comes in the form of human rights discourse that aims to "delegitimise" its right to exist.

"Across the board, these organisations cast Israel as having a poor record on human rights. They have a structural bias against Israel and they are very active in the demonisation and delegitimisation campaign of Israel," he said.

He is especially critical of B'Tselem, saying they play fast and loose with death rates and casualty counts in particular. "They are primarily an anti-occupation organisation. They should campaign for Israeli human rights as much as they do for Palestinians," he said.

He highlighted a November 2008 conference in Cairo that was funded by Oxfam and the EU entitled "Impunity and Prosecution of Israeli War Criminals," saying plans were hatched at the event for two Belgian lawyers to later target Israeli officials with legal claims in Belgium on war crimes.

"Why is the EU giving money to private Israeli organisations?" he said. My speculation is that it's a group of EU bureaucrats with personal ideological interests. And with the EU and these groups clinging to secrecy so stubbornly, it suggests that there's something going on under the surface."

Sarit Michaeli, of B'Tselem, dismissed the accusations, saying that NGO Monitor attacks all civil society groups in Israel no matter how moderate, as soon as they criticise the current government.

"Everyone, all human rights NGOs are instantly delegitimisers and demonisers of Israel. There are no shades of grey [for NGO Monitor]," she told EUobserver.

She added that Mr Steinberg gives the impression of being an objective academic studying NGOs in the region, but is in fact a partisan of the current administration: "He maintains he is independent of the Israeli government, but he has been a consultant to the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, he has represented Israel within the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe programmes. This is not in any way someone who is independent of the Israeli government."

She said that NGO Monitor fits in with the Israeli government's attempt to silence internal critics, such as NGO Breaking the Silence, an organisation of former Israeli soldiers who speak out about human rights abuses perpetrated in the occupied territories. In 2009, the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs had meetings with the Spanish, Dutch and British governments in an attempt to stop them funding the group.

"It is tantamount to the government campaigning to discredit Israeli civil society and human rights NGOs," Ms Michaeli said.

"What [Steinberg] is actually doing in discrediting human rights groups in Israel, he is assisting in the creation of a system of repression of the crushing of internal dissent and actually injuring Israeli democracy - the very fragile democracy we have here"

Mr Steinberg's own organisation receives most of its funding from private American Jewish foundations.

The Israeli mission in Brussels for its part insists that NGO Monitor is not sponsored by the foreign ministry. "We would be happy to help out with arrangements for B'Tselem if they had approached us about coming to Brussels," an Israeli diplomat said.

Update: The Israeli mission has since clarified that such diplomatic support for B'Tselem would only be provided "depending on the topic".

Kerry to EU: Believe in yourself

Outgoing US secretary of state gives EU short pep talk from Davos, hailing its peaceful and economic success. 'It's worked, folks', he said.

Moldova turns from EU to Russia

Moldova's president said he would like to scrap an EU treaty and has started preparations to join a Russia-led bloc.

News in Brief

  1. Report: Hollande thinking of EU council bid
  2. Italy to hold 70% of Monte dei Paschi bank
  3. Nato hit by 500 cyberattacks every month
  4. Hundreds of migrants face German security review
  5. Outgoing US vice-president warns Europe on Russia
  6. German far-right party calls for end to WWII guilt
  7. First Chinese freight train arrives in Europe
  8. Europe has no vision, says Italian minister

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Caritas EuropaEU States to Join Pope Francis’s Appeal to Care for Migrant Children
  2. UNICEFNumber of Unaccompanied Children Arriving by sea to Italy Doubles in 2016
  3. Nordic Council of Ministers"Nordic Matters" Help Forge Closer Bonds Between the UK and the Nordic Region
  4. Computers, Privacy & Data ProtectionThe age of Intelligent Machines: join the Conference on 25-27 January 2017
  5. Martens CentreNo Better way to Lift Your Monday Blues Than to Gloss Over our Political Cartoons
  6. Dialogue PlatformThe Gulen Movement: An Islamic Response to Terror as a Global Challenge
  7. European Free AllianceMinority Rights and Autonomy are a European Normality
  8. Swedish EnterprisesHow to Create EU Competitiveness Post-Brexit? Seminar on January 24th
  9. European Jewish CongressSchulz to be Awarded the European Medal for Tolerance for his Stand Against Populism
  10. Nordic Council of Ministers"Adventures in Moominland" Kick Off Nordic Matters Festival in London
  11. PLATO15 Fully-Funded PhDs Across Europe on the Post-Crisis Legitimacy of the EU - Apply Now!
  12. Dialogue PlatformInterview: Fethullah Gulen Condemns Assassination of Russian Ambassador to Turkey

Latest News

  1. 'Be patient,' ECB chief tells Germany
  2. EU cannot copy Australia's offshore asylum model
  3. Brexit men launch anti-EU website
  4. Germany details its 'Marshall Plan' for Africa
  5. IMF predicts 'pain' for UK, as banks prepare London exit
  6. EP deal could help Tusk keep Council job
  7. UN struggles to monitor fate of readmitted Syrians in Turkey
  8. European space chief: Moon village is 'more or less a fact'

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Zero Waste EuropePublic Support Needed to Promote Zero Waste in More Municipalities
  2. Belgrade Security ForumEU Cannot Afford to Ignore the Western Balkans as Populism Surges
  3. Dialogue PlatformFethullah Gulen Calls for an Investigation on the Assassination of Russian Ambassador to Turkey
  4. World VisionAmid EU Talks on Migration, Children on the Move Remain Forgotten and Unprotected
  5. Centre Maurits CoppietersAlex Salmond Receives Coppieters Award for His Service to Scotland and Europe
  6. International Partnership for Human RightsStrong Support for Hamburg Declaration on Human Rights Defenders
  7. Swedish EnterprisesHow to Use Bioenergy Coming From Forests in a Sustainable Way?
  8. Counter BalanceReport Reveals Corrupt but Legal Practices in Development Finance
  9. Swedish EnterprisesMEPs and Business Representatives Debate on the Future of the EU at Winter Mingle
  10. ACCAFifty Key Factors in the Public Sector Accountants Need to Prepare for
  11. UNICEFSchool “as Vital as Food and Medicine” for Children Caught up in Conflict
  12. European Jewish CongressEJC President Breathes Sigh of Relief Over Result of Austrian Presidential Election