Israel is today in the throes of a powerful backlash against the Knesset's decision last week to establish a parliamentary commission of inquiry into the foreign funding of Israeli NGOs that engage in political warfare against the state.
Opposition leader Tzipi Livni claimed on Tuesday that the commission shows that "Israel today is deteriorating and abusing the very values for which we want to fight. The way that Israel is presented by the belligerent, violent government is hindering Israel's ability to defend itself."
As head of the opposition, over the past two months Livni has angrily opposed every initiative supported by the government as loudly as she can, regardless of its merits. So it isn't surprising that she would condemn the commission. More jarring are the statements by Likud ministers condemning the Knesset move.
It has been known for years that European governments finance Israeli anti-Israel pressure groups. The exact amount of funding has never been determined. No one can tell the public whether or not these groups could survive without foreign funding. The Israeli public deserves to know just how Israeli these groups are and what foreign governments require them to do in exchange for receiving funding.
Some estimates place foreign funding for Israeli NGOs at NIS500 million per year. Some estimates have claimed that foreign donations make up the majority of many of the radical leftist groups' budgets.
Take Ir Amim for instance. Ir Amim is a group dedicated to undermining Israeli sovereignty in eastern, southern and northern Jerusalem. Last year NGO Monitor reported that Ir Amim receives 67 percent of its budget directly from European governments.
What does this mean about the nature of this group? Can it be reasonably called an Israeli organization?
It is hard to understand why exposing this information to the public would be a cause of consternation and worry for the likes of Likud ministers Dan Meridor, Bennie Begin, Michael Eitan and Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin who have been outspoken in criticizing the formation of the Knesset panel of inquiry.
More likely than not, what really bothered these gentlemen from Likud was that these groups are not simply being called out for the European funding they receive. They are being accused of receiving money from Arabs and assisting terror groups.
In remarks in support of the probe proposed by his Yisrael Beitenu party, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman did not simply accuse the likes of Ir Amim, B'Tselem, Adalah, New Profile, Breaking the Silence, the Public Committee Against Torture, Human Rights Watch, Ittijah, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, Gisha, Moked: Center for the Defense of the Individual, Yesh Din and Physicians for Human Rights in Israel of being on Europe's payroll.
He said that these groups, "help terrorists, and their main aim is to weaken the IDF and its
ability to protect the citizens of the State of Israel."
The notion that Israeli NGOs may have ties to terrorists is without a doubt political dynamite. And people get frightened by dynamite. But a new report indicates that Lieberman's accusations are an accurate depiction of reality.
THIS WEEK Im Tirtzu, the Zionist student movement released a report that makes a convincing case that foreign Arabs are funding Israeli Jewish and Arab NGOs with the aim of criminalizing Israel and influencing Israel's political discourse in a way that constrains Israel's ability to defend itself.
Im Tirtzu's report is titled, "Support by Arab foundations and states for organizations working against the policies of the State of Israel and the IDF." It focuses on two Palestinian organizations headquartered in Ramallah: The Welfare Association, and the NGO Development Center.
The Welfare Association was established in 1983 for the purpose of building a sustainable Palestinian society. It operates in Judea, Samaria, Jerusalem, Gaza, throughout Israel and in Lebanon. It receives money from the EU and the World Bank and separate European governments. It also receives money from Arab governments and Arab governmental funds from Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and OPEC. Of its 2004 budget of nearly $30 million, more than half came from Arab sources.
As the Im Tirtzu report notes, one of those contributors is particularly notable. In 2004, the Welfare Association received $796,606 from the Islamic Development Bank - al Aksa Fund - Saudi Arabia. Im Tirtzu attests that the IDB has continued to fund the Welfare Association since then as well.
According to the IDB's own documents, cited by the Im Tirtzu report, in October 2000 at an Arab League summit in Cairo, Arab leaders decided to establish the IDB's al Aksa Fund and the Al-Quds Intifada Fund "to assert comprehensive Arab support for the Palestinian people in the face of continuous Israeli aggression." Together the two funds received $1 billion to distribute.
According to a report by the American Center for Democracy cited by Im Tirtzu, "In 2001 alone, the IDB transferred $538 million raised publicly by Saudi and Gulf Royal telethons to support the Palestinian intifada and families of Palestinian suicide bombers. The IDB has also channeled UN funds to Hamas, as documented by bank records discovered in the West Bank and Gaza."
In 2001 the Saudi Ain A-Yaqeen newspaper reported that that year the IDB transferred $2,378,072 to the families of Palestinian "martyrs," and prisoners.
Among the many groups it funds, the Welfare Association supports Israeli Arab NGOs. These include Adalah, Balanda, Ahali, Ittijah, Mada al Carmel, and the Galilee Society. The Welfare Association also gives direct support to Israeli Arab municipal governments including Nazareth's municipal government and Kfar Kanna's local council. Its efforts are aimed at breaking the cultural and civic ties between Israeli Arabs and Israeli Jews. Among other things, it sponsored a campaign to block Israeli Arabs from volunteering in national service. It also buys properties for Arabs throughout the country.
The Im Tirtzu report shows that in 2006 the Welfare Association was instrumental in forming the NGO Development Center in Ramallah. Five out of 13 members of the NDC's board of directors are also on the Welfare Association's Board of Directors. The Welfare Association also donates money to the NDC.
The NDC acts as yet another clearinghouse for donor money to Palestinian and Israeli NGOs. Aside from the money it receives from the Welfare Association, most of its annual budget of $19 million comes from European governments.
According to the NDC's website, to receive funds from the NDC, groups must agree to "monitor, document, and report on violations by the Israeli military occupation of Palestinian human rights, as well as undertake campaigning and advocacy activities to address these violations and raise awareness about them."
Between July 2008 and December 2009, the NDC allocated $1.89 million to the following Israeli NGOs: B'Tselem, Physicians for Human Rights, the Public Committee Against Torture, Moked: Center for the Defense of the Individual, Bimkom, the Public Committee Against Housing Demolitions, Moussawa, Breaking the Silence, Gisha, Yesh Din, and Workers' Hotline.
The largest beneficiaries were B'Tselem, which was allocated $450,000 and received $405,000 by the end of the reporting period, and Moked which received $500,000.
While it is true that most of NDC's funds are donated by European countries, it is also true that it is a Palestinian organization. And as it funding requirements make clear, in order to receive money from the NDC, groups need to actively participate in political warfare against Israel.
Given Im Tirtzu's limited resources, it is more than likely that its findings are merely the tip of the iceberg. And yet, even with its limited scope, the report makes a convincing case that hostile Arab governments and bodies linked with terror finance are indirectly funding Israeli Arab groups.
It also makes a convincing case that the NDC is a Palestinian organization founded and largely controlled by another Palestinian organization, the Welfare Association, which is funded by hostile Arab governments and foundations with ties to terror funders. And in turn, the NDC is financing Israeli Jewish and Arab organizations that have agreed to conduct political warfare against Israel and the IDF.
THE PROPOSED inquiry has not only raised the hackles of Israeli politicians. It has provoked the ire of European politicians as well. During his visit here this week, Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Store threw diplomatic niceties to the seven winds. In an interview with the Jerusalem Post, he condemned Lieberman for sponsoring the inquiry into foreign funding of Israeli NGOs hissing, "I think it is a worrying sign," about the state of Israeli democracy.
Norway is a key funder of some of the most radical Israeli and Palestinian NGOs. It is also increasingly a major fount of anti-Semitic blood libels. Store himself endorsed one such blood libel when he wrote a blurb on the back cover of a book about Operation Cast Lead written by two radical physicians named Eric Fosse and Mads Glibert.
The two men spent the mini-war at Shifa Hospital in Gaza which Hamas used as its command center. There they broadcast Hamas propaganda back to Norway. Then they returned home and wrote a book in which they claimed that the IDF entered Gaza with the express goal of murdering women and children.
And Store endorsed their book.
It is possible that Store's hostile response is just the kneejerk reaction of an anti-Semite. Or it could be that he doesn't want his Norwegian voters and the people of Europe as a whole to know about the anti-Israel political war their governments are waging with their taxes. Either way, his statements are simply more reason for the Knesset to move ahead with the probe.
Then there are the NGOs themselves. Their responses to the probe of their finances have been marked by total hysteria. They have attacked the commission's supporters as McCarthyites and fascists. If nothing else, the Im Tirtzu report makes clear that they have good reason to not want the public to know where their money is coming from.
One of Lieberman's most incendiary claims against the radical groups the Knesset inquiry will investigate was, "We're talking about organizations whose entire goal is to deter Israeli security forces and the IDF. It is clear that these groups are not interested in human rights. These groups disseminate lies. They demonize and incite against the State of Israel and against IDF soldiers. Never have any of these organizations ever said that Israel was right. Of course we are talking about groups that assist terror, and that is all, that their goal is to weaken the IDF."
Against the backdrop of the Im Tirtzu report's finding, Lieberman's allegations seem more or less spot on. At a minimum, backed by the new data, it is obvious that the public needs to have a full picture of who and what stand behind these self-proclaimed human rights groups.
Originally published in the Jerusalem Post.