Do-gooders who do bad – NGO problems exposed at AIJAC webinar

December 7, 2020 by J-Wire Newsdesk
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With terrorism and antisemitism ever-present threats, the latest webinar from the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC) featured NGO Monitor Vice President Olga Deutsch, whose topic was “Following the Money Trail: An Insight into the Funding of Terrorism and Antisemitism”.

Olga Deutsch

She explained that, while everyone assumes non-government organisations (NGOs) do good, NGO Monitor, using only information from sources open to the public, raises awareness that some promote the opposite values.

NGOs active in the Israel-Palestinians area raise US$100 million annually from government and private funding, but there are no checks and balances, and most have no internal democracy or transparency, she said. Many promote BDS and antisemitism, have ties to terror groups or incite violence against Israel, even the reputable ones.

For example, she revealed that in 2015, Amnesty International sponsored a tour of the US for Bassem Tamimi, who had been arrested in Israel for inciting youths to throw rocks at Israelis and regularly circulates virulent antisemitism. On the tour, he urged a class of grade three children to become freedom fighters for Palestinians. Meanwhile, Oxfam was selling Mein Kampf online.

Palestinian NGOs are extremely problematic, she noted. For example, the Palestinian Medical Relief Society used antisemitic cartoons referring to the Holocaust in a report funded by European countries and the UN. A graver issue than the actual money is that the funding allows these NGOs to use the UN and EU logos, which gives them legitimacy. This allows them to influence policy and to be cited as reliable sources of information.

Various NGOs have accused Israel of deliberately spreading COVID-19 to Palestinians, or even creating it, Deutsch noted.

When Israeli forces arrested 50 members of the terrorist group the PFLP following the bombing that killed Rina Shnerb in August last year, they included at least five current and former employees of Palestinian NGOs funded by the EU, one of whom commanded the operation and another who placed and detonated the explosives and recruited members to the cell, she also pointed out.

At least US$28 million was provided by the EU to eight NGOs with links to terror in a four year period, and US$44 million was provided to 11 such groups in 2011 to 2019.

When the EU introduced anti-terror requirements for the funding of NGOs, the Palestinian Authority’s response, Deutsch explained, was to pressure the EU to dismiss these requirements and threaten to prosecute any NGO which accepted them. At least eight Palestinian NGOs refused to sign contracts which included these provisions.

While the EU will now says it will not give money to NGOs which have members affiliated with terror groups, she said this has zero impact, because the EU terror list doesn’t include Palestinian individuals, and the PFLP is regarded as a political party.

She noted that European governments use the funding politically, so may, for example, fund an NGO specifically to build illegal structures in Area C of the West Bank, which is fully under Israeli control, which the IDF will then demolish, and then a political issue can be made of it.

The Abraham Accords, she said, have changed the regional paradigm and diminished an Israeli-Arab conflict to an Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with Arab governments now looking critically at the Palestinians, and the UAE making encouraging signs that it will look at the funding of UNRWA and incitement in Palestinian textbooks. However, there has been very limited European reactions to the Accords, she added.

In relation to NGOs funded by Australia, Deutsch discussed  the scandal over charges against Mohammed El-Halabi, a senior employee of World Vision in Gaza, who was allegedly channelling funds to Hamas, while an employee of the Maan Development Centre, an NGO funded by the Australian Trade Union’s global justice organisation APHEDA, was a PFLP member who was killed in 2018 while taking part in violence on the Gaza border.

The answer to these issues, she said, is for governments to cut funding for problematic NGOs, to ensure policies stop funding going to NGOs linked to terrorism, BDS or antisemitism, and to require better vetting of funded groups.

BDS has now been declared antisemitic by Germany and the US, and France will now apply the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism to NGOs.

Israel, she said, has been using NGO Monitor’s research in presentations to governments on these issues.

A major challenge is modern antisemitism because while condemning far-right antisemitism falls within the consensus, the same is not true of modern antisemitism which is “mainly antisemitism which is connected with Israel, be it anti-Zionism, or blaming Jews in the Diaspora collectively for the activities of the State of Israel or equating Israel to Nazi Germany and so on.”

However, she continued, governments are becoming more aware that some criticism of Israel is antisemitism, and the IHRA definition of antisemitism “is pivotal for this because it’s the first intergovernmental and international attempt to bring together all the new antisemitism, and it is on us, on all of us, to push and advocate that as many adopt it and implement it because this is the name of the game.” The definition needs to be connected to the legal system, the police, teachers and NGOs, she added, but it does give us the tools, and so far, it has been adopted by 34 states.

In funding NGOs, donor governments must have standards and guidelines that clearly stipulate what is and isn’t okay. For example, guidelines for Danish taxpayer funding to Palestinian NGOs say, “Danish taxpayer money will not go to groups that promote antisemitism, it will not go to NGOs that incite violence, glorify violence or have any ties to terror including, and this is specific, board members who are affiliated with terror organisations, employees, workshop participants and so on and so on. Danish funding will not go to groups that fund BDS.”

She added that we have come a long way since the 2001 UN Durban Conference, where human rights group were spouting antisemitic hate. Sometimes it takes a traumatic event, like the murder of Rina Shnerb, to focus governments.

While more governments are ready to scrutinise these groups, it’s not easy to get them there, Deutsch said, because “these groups come with tremendous public trust, but also incredible political influence. They’re brought to major discussion tables where policies are discussed. They’re usually used as official counsel and advisers to governments in devising development and humanitarian policies in conflict areas exactly because of their boots on the ground and experience.”

She concluded that while the government and private sectors have accountability, civil society doesn’t because there is a “halo around what they do.” We need to be more vocal “and say, it is extremely important to have a vibrant civil society… but that is not a contradiction to demanding that they do their job with integrity and accountability and that they can vouch for the partners they work with. This is not to criticise their work. This is our demand… to make their work better.”


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