Wednesday, December 21, 2011

NGOS IN ISRAEL - BACKGROUND TO THE DEBATE AND FAQS

NGOS IN ISRAEL - BACKGROUND TO THE DEBATE AND FAQS
NGO Monitor November 15, 2011

http://www.ngo-monitor.org/article/ngos_in_israel_background_to_the_debate_and_faqs

The Israeli public, media, government and Knesset (legislature) are conducting an intense debate on massive foreign government funding for highly political non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Important concerns about the manipulation of Israeli democracy by foreign governments through NGO funding, and on influence of these groups, triggered this debate.

The media coverage of these issues, both in Israel and outside, is often distorted and confused. Basic questions about NGOs, NGO funding, and proposed Knesset legislation, need to be addressed.

Following are FAQs which address the core questions and present the basic facts, to promote a more informed and substantive discussion on these complex issues.

What is an NGO?

In theory, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are autonomous, non-profit and politically unaffiliated groups that claim to promote an agenda based on universal moral values, such as human rights, democracy, the environment, etc. NGOs can contribute to civil society and democracy by using their soft power to challenge governments and promote social interests, but they themselves are not necessarily democratic institutions. NGOs lack a system of checks and balances, and their powerful officials generally only provide accountability to their funders and activist members, and not to the citizens or societies whose lives are directly impacted by their activities.

Can an NGO receive sizable portions of its budget from governments and still qualify as a “non-governmental” organization?
No. As noted above, NGOs are meant to represent civil society, not the interests of foreign governments. Israeli NGOs that receive foreign government funding benefit from the misleading image of being “non-governmental,” non-political, and based in “civil society.” The government funders also use this framework to justify their use of NGOs as a policy instrument, and on a scale which is unique to Israel.

How many NGOs funded by foreign governments operate in Israel?
While the level of European and other foreign government funding for Israeli political advocacy NGOs is very large, it is impossible to provide a comprehensive accounting because, for many years, this funding was mostly done in secret. In addition, many Israeli non-profits, in violation of Israeli law, do not submit annual reports to the Registrar of Non-Profits (Rasham Amutot). However, as more information becomes available, particularly after the NGO Transparency Law (February 2011), additional and verifiable information will become available.

As of November 2011, NGO Monitor’s research reports list 23 Israeli political advocacy NGOs funded by foreign governments, all of which actively oppose, in varying degrees, the policies of the democratically elected government of Israel. A number of powerful groups receive more than 70% of their annual donations from foreign governments. (See Appendix 1)
How do these NGOs contribute to political campaigning and advocacy outside of Israel?
Although most of the foreign government funding is formally designated for “educating the Israeli public” and “changing public opinion” (both in violation of the norms on non-interference in other democracies), these Israeli NGOs are very active externally, in the delegitmization and political warfare against Israel.

Many of these Israeli NGOs, (including B’tselem, Adalah, Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, Public Committee Against Torture in Israel) have lobbyists in foreign capitals, who seek additional funding and promote the private political agendas of the NGOs. The use of government funding for such lobbying is incompatible with good governance principles.
Why do foreign governments provide so much money to Israeli political advocacy NGOs?
European and other governments use direct funding for Israeli NGOs in order to promote their own views and interests, regardless and often in opposition to the policies of the democratically elected representatives of the Israeli public. The NGOs that receive such funding promote opposition policies on highly complex and sensitive issues such as Jerusalem, the future of the West Bank, responses to terror in Gaza, and other core issues which are central to the lives of Israeli citizens. As opposed to presenting their views in public via standard diplomatic practices, foreign governments manipulate Israeli democracy through massive funding of an ideologically narrow spectrum of the Israeli political map.

Which governments are primarily involved?
The major government funders to Israeli NGOs are the European Union and individual European states including Sweden, Norway, Denmark, the United Kingdom, Ireland, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Spain Finland, Belgium, and France.

Most of these governments fund Israeli NGOs both via multiple frameworks, including national ministries of foreign affairs and through EU-membership.

Additionally, many governments outsource foreign aid – including support for NGOs – to local and international humanitarian organizations that distribute funds within Israel. This means that Israeli NGOs often receive both direct and indirect funding from a given government. For example, funding from ICCO (Netherlands), Oxfam Novib (Netherlands), Diakonia (Sweden), DanChurchAid (Denmark), and Trocaire (Ireland) – to list a few – originates with foreign governments.

Is it true that much of this European government funding for political NGOs in Israel is not transparent, in violation of basic democratic norms?

Yes. While some governments, notably the UK, have increased transparency, and others provide substantive responses to NGO Monitor research requests, most of the decisions in this area violate transparency norms. There is little information on how funding decisions are made, and who makes them; project evaluations (if they exist) are not made public, and often the amounts and other details are tightly held secrets, and if released, are in a highly confusing and incoherent format. The lack of parliamentary oversight in most countries and the EU adds to the consequences of the secrecy.

Within Israel, many NGOs do not submit the requisite annual reports to the Registrar of Non-Profits (Rasham Amutot). This situation has persisted for years due to lax enforcement and limited consequences for violators.

In other instances, the funding decisions are secretly made by unknown individuals chosen by embassies in Tel Aviv, representative offices in Ramallah and other regional frameworks, using processes that are hidden from top officials and ministerial oversight.

Due to this secrecy, conflicts of interest and other violations of due process cannot be prevented or exposed.

How much money is involved?
Due to a lack of transparency on the part of European funders and Israeli NGOs, and major indirect funding via aid organizations, no accurate number is available. We know that over 27 million NIS annually is provided to Israeli political advocacy NGOs by foreign governments. (Additional foreign government funding goes to Palestinian and international NGOs active in delegitimization campaigns.)

What is the NGO “halo effect”?
Statements made by self-proclaimed human rights NGOs are routinely accepted at face value by journalists, diplomats, academics, UN representatives, etc. Instead of viewing these political advocacy organizations as such, important audiences often perceive these NGOs to be morally objective arbiters. This “halo effect” provides immunity from scrutiny and criticism, and greatly increases NGO power.

Is the role of NGOs funded by foreign governments in Israel unique?
Both the amount of money given to NGOs and the quantity of these types of NGOs is not found elsewhere. Only Israel has dozens of NGOs operating under a fa├žade of human rights whose credibility and impact are artificially amplified by massive foreign funding.
What can be done to offset the artificial influence of foreign-government funded NGOs in Israel and their role in political warfare?

Transparency and informed public debate, both in Europe and Israel, are vital. It is entirely appropriate for democratically elected representatives to introduce legislation that seeks to address this problematic funding. Committees debate the legislation, amendments are offered, and rigorous debates takes place – all reflecting a vibrant democratic system.

To address the root of the problem, European governments must enforce transparency, facilitate informed public debate, and hold themselves accountable for their NGO funding.
On the proposed Knesset legislation
What do the proposed bills say?

Two different bills have been proposed and approved for further consideration by the Ministerial Legislative Committee:

1. Proposed Bill for the amendment of the Income Tax Order (Taxation of public institutions that receive donations from a Foreign State Entity), 2011 (Fania Kirshenbaum – Israel Beiteinu

2. Proposed bill The “Amutot Law” [Non Profit Society] (Amendment – Banning Support by a Foreign State Entity), 2011 (Ofir Akunis and Tzipy Hotovely – Likud
For complete translations, see Appendix 2.

Has Israel already banned all government funding for political NGOs?
No. The proposed bills are in the earliest stages of the legislative process. As demonstrated by the NGO Transparency Law and many other examples, a bill can change dramatically from its initial introduction until it finally becomes Israeli law, if in fact it does.
NGOs and officials of European governments involved in funding them have campaigned against all regulation proposals, condemning them as “anti-democratic” or “fascist.” Are these descriptions accurate?

Unfortunately, NGO officials who fear that they will lose their political power and influence have labeled all critics “McCarthyites,” and all attempts to increase transparency regarding their funding and activities as “anti-democratic.”

By blurring the lines between valuable contributions to democracy and truly problematic bills, and greatly over-exaggerating the faults in those proposals, NGOs muddy a very important public conversation taking place.

Experience has shown that, as in most liberal democracies, the robust Israeli legislative process serves as a corrective mechanism, ensuring a proper balance of democratic values and societal concerns.

No comments:

Post a Comment