Monday

19th Aug 2019

Analysis

Israeli propaganda attacks EU funds for NGOs

  • Israeli solider in Palestine: Israeli troops shot dead dozens of people last week (Photo: Rosie Gabrielle)

The EU is funding "NGOs with ties to terror", Israel has said in a propaganda attack as foreign ministers meet.

The allegations came out in an Israeli report on Friday (27 May).

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  • Gaza after an Israeli military assault two years ago (Photo: United Nations Photo)

They flew round the world after they were picked up by top news agencies, such as Reuters, which quoted at length from the Israeli dossier.

The study attacked Norwegian NGO Norwegian People's Aid and two Palestinian NGOs, the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) and Al-Haq.

Entitled The Money Trail, like a whodunit, it said these had "known ties to terror groups" Hamas and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), which the EU and US lists as terrorist entities.

It also attacked eight other NGOs - including British, Danish, Irish, and Italian ones - on grounds they and the EU that funded them, to the tune of €5m in 2016, "promote delegitimisation and boycotts" of Israel.

The study came out as EU ministers prepared to discuss Gaza at a meeting in Brussels on Monday.

The "working lunch" on the Israeli occupation comes after Israeli forces shot dead dozens of Palestinian protesters on the border the day the US moved its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem on 14 May.

There will be no EU communique on the killings or on the US Jerusalem move.

The Czech Republic, Hungary, and Romania openly vetoed a previous EU statement on the US embassy, but Israel's list of EU friends is longer than that.

"Poland, Slovakia, and Greece were also sensitive [about the EU statement]," an EU diplomat told EUobserver.

None of this will stop Palestinian expats, together with US-based NGO Avaaz, from staging a protest outside the EU Council building in Brussels, where ministers meet, on Monday, or from calling for EU sanctions on Israel.

The Israeli study might provide talking points for its allies inside the building.

But anybody intending to rely on it to attack EU policy had better read the small print.

The 40-page file was given its imprimatur by Israel's ministry of strategic affairs, a government body, which spends €30m a year on monitoring what it has called anti-Israeli "consciousness terrorism".

Focusing on the terrorism allegations, the dossier cites a US court settlement, from April, in which Norwegian People's Aid agreed to pay a €1.7m fine over links to Hamas and PFLP.

The actual settlement, referenced in a footnote, says this was because Hamas and PFLP people took part in a Norwegian programme called "Youth of Today" in Gaza three years ago.

'Terror funding'?

This included workshops designed to train young Palestinians to "organise, debate ... and resolve conflicts".

It also helped Hamas and PFLP "to become more attractive" to young people who attended the workshops, the US judge said, but to claim, as the Israeli report did, that Norwegian People's Aid was therefore guilty of "terror-financing" is "both unreasonable and false", the Norwegian NGO said.

"Norwegian People's Aid believes that the [US] demands were unreasonable and would have liked to have pursued the case in the courts, but lacked the resources," the 80-year old charity said.

The Israeli claims against EU-funded Palestinian NGOs, the PCHR and Al-Haq, were even flimsier.

The PCHR claim was based on the fact its director, Raji Sourani, an award-winning human rights lawyer, received a commemorative plaque at a PFLP event in Gaza four years ago.

The Al-Haq claim was based on allegations that its director, Shawan Jabarin, was a PHLP member, which Jabarin vehemently denies.

"The information on which the analysis is based derives from EU databases and websites as well as from the websites of European and Palestinian NGOs," the "in-depth" Israeli report said.

But the Jabarin accusations were based on a different source - the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Centre (ITIC) in Jerusalem.

The ITIC sounds official and relies on the mystique of Israeli intelligence for its authority, citing past spy chiefs as directors.

But in reality, it is just an NGO run by a retired brigadier general and a handful of staff.

Many other claims in the Israeli report also regurgitated past ones by NGO-Monitor, a pressure group funded by right-wing US supporters, which says global charities are part of an anti-semitic conspiracy.

The report's main "revelations" - that the EU funds terrorists and boycotters - were not true.

But even if they were, the right to call for a boycott on Israel is enshrined in EU law on freedom of expression.

"The intent is clear: to criminalise criticism [of Israeli actions]," Daniel Seidemann, an attorney who runs Israeli NGO Territorial Jerusalem, which works with EU diplomats, told EUobserver.

Reuters and the other news agencies briefly quoted EU and Palestinian reactions.

EU "financing does not go to support terrorism" the EU embassy in Tel Aviv said.

The Israeli report was an "aggression against the Palestinian people and their institutions", Munjid Abu Jaish, from Palestinian group PNGO Net, said.

But for some EU diplomats, the rebuttal should go further.

Russia playbook

One EU contact said the EU embassy in Tel Aviv should fact-check it and call it out as "nonsense" if need be with their Israeli counterparts.

"If someone presents the Israelis with proof that the report on which they based the allegation is just propaganda, they have two options - apologise (with the same publicity they gave the attack), or dismiss the claim about propaganda as being just more propaganda," the contact said.

"In the latter case, it would resemble our Russian friends, where facts don't matter, and all that matters is that the story makes it into the media, and the way you manipulate audiences," he said.

The Israeli stunt highlighted that Russia is not the EU's only adversary in terms of information warfare.

Right-wing British and US media, some of which seized on the Israeli report, regularly attack Europe using bogus material. Islamist militants decry "the West" in all its forms.

The Chinese regime also promotes itself in Europe, albeit much more gently than Russia.

But even if Russia and Israel had used the same playbook, the Israeli attack looked more like "a one-off" designed to alter a specific policy rather than a wider campaign to delegitimise the EU, Jakub Janda, from Czech NGO European Values, which monitors Russian propaganda, said.

"Israel sees EU activities in funding some of the Palestinian groups as negative or hostile and they are publicly arguing against this - let's call it a policy disagreement. I don't see Israel trying to destabilise the EU or undermine its whole credibility (as the Russians do)," Janda said.

Following this article, NGO Monitor wrote to EUobserver and said that it "makes clear and nuanced distinctions between NGOs that promote anti-semitism, on the one hand, and those that engage in anti-Israel activity, act contrary to their stated mandates and/or the stated policies of their donors, or that make unsubstantiated legal arguments, on the other." It also denied being "tied the Israeli government, not 'intimately' or otherwise."

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