Monday

18th Feb 2019

Opinion

EU money funding Israel-critical voices in Middle East

  • Jerusalem: NGO Monitor is calling for a public audit of EU funding for Arab NGOs (Photo: wikipedia)

European elections are often regarded as nothing more than a mid-term national poll and this week's vote is set to attract a record low turnout in some corners of the continent. Despite or perhaps to combat this public scepticism, we can expect the new parliament in conjunction with the EU's new Swedish Presidency to flex Europe's diplomatic muscles by joining or attempting to compete with US President Barack Obama's attempts to negotiate an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.

Although the European Union sometimes struggles to speak with a unified diplomatic voice, as exposed at the recent UN anti-racism conference in Geneva, on issues concerning Middle East peace, the EU line remains consistent. As an integral part of the Quartet, the EU helped conceive and write the Road Map towards peace, with a two-state solution at its core.

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Given this central plank of EU diplomacy, it is all the more bewildering that significant EU funds continue to be granted to NGOs and so-called civil society groups that promote hostility in the Middle East, and work against mutual acceptance. If the EU wishes to be viewed as an honest broker by Israelis, its leaders must first examine the negative impacts of their own funding mechanisms in the region.

Among the numerous examples demonstrating this inconsistency is the Israeli registered NGO, Adalah, which received a number of EU grants, including the latest of over €500,000. Ostensibly designated for a project to promote legal access for Israel's Arab citizens, these funds allowed Adalah to focus other resources on its wider and pernicious agenda to strip Israel of its Jewish cultural and historical foundations.

In a world of over 50 Islamic societies, and 30 that are Christian in character, the concept of a Jewish state is not exceptional. Yet, in March 2007, Adalah published a "Democratic Constitution" for Israel which far from encouraging co-operation between a Jewish state and a Palestinian state, argued that Israel should be stripped of all Jewish symbols and renege on its role as an unquestionable haven for Jewish refugees.

Beyond the funds themselves, EU money has also afforded unwarranted legitimacy to Adalah and its plans, thereby adding to the friction in Israeli society.

In January 2009, the European Commission published its latest list of grantees under the "Partnership for Peace" programme. From a total of €4.8 million, over 50 percents of funds were awarded to organisations whose outlook is counterproductive to promoting peace or to projects which require independent evaluation on the issue.

Among the recipients is the Applied Research Institute – Jerusalem (ARIJ) - whose academic facade hides an extreme agenda which can only anger Israelis of every political hue.

This most recent grant of almost €375,000 follows a previous award of €500,000. ARIJ has openly questioned the legitimacy of the Jewish state, referring to it as a "risky assertion." Earlier this year, ARIJ wildly condemned Israel's "apartheid plan" to "loot as much as possible of the Palestinian lands to fulfill its never ending colonialist and expansionist desires." Far from being peace partners or bolstering co-existence, organisations that routinely demonise Israel and question its very existence can only perpetuate the conflict.

The evenhandedness with which the EU carefully attempts to craft its Middle East diplomacy stands in stark contrast to an anarchic NGO funding policy in the region. Worryingly, no public documents exist that chronicle the EU's decision to renew funding for the likes of ARIJ.

Did massive EU backing for ARIJ contribute to advancing peace and tolerance as envisaged in EU guidelines? Did substantial EU money have any positive impact? Does anyone in the EU even know what was actually done with this and many other similar allocations? EU obfuscation ensures that we will apparently never know the answer.

This is not an isolated incident and nor is it an issue which should be confined to the concerns of Middle East observers. It is reflective of a wider accountability deficit within the EU that should worry all European taxpayers. Despite the tens of millions of euros provided annually by the European public, any citizen wishing to discover which NGOs receive their hard earned cash will be confronted by a thick layer of bureaucracy and the discovery that no uniform framework containing this information exists. It is no wonder that MEPs have recently highlighted the "deep crisis" within the European Commission's internal monitoring body.

So long as the EU continues to keep its head firmly in the sand over NGO funding, its image as peacemaker will dwindle among Israelis, further reducing its influence, as well as its credibility as an effective administrator. An independent examination of the chaotic NGO funding system would go some way to strengthening the EU's management credentials and generating greater confidence among European voters.

The writer is communications director of the Jerusalem-based NGO Monitor, an organisation monitoring human rights NGOs in the Arab-Israeli conflict

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