If foreign aid is OK for Israel’s government, why not for its NGOs?

The Israeli government receives massive international aid but now may agree to proposals to outlaw the foreign funding of civil society organizations as that would constitute ‘interfering in its internal affairs.’ Since when is the occupation of Palestine an internal Israeli affair? Meanwhile, the foreign funding of right-wing organizations remains secure.

Monday, 21 November, 2011 - 11:01
London, UK

Israel has been dependent on international support from the day of its founding. It received donations from Jewish communities, massive aid from the U.S (to the tune (PDF) of US$ 3 billion annually in weapon subsidies), reparations from Germany for the Holocaust (which rarely find their way to the actual Holocaust survivors), and other forms of donations.

Today the Palestinians are following a similar path – with a highly aid-dependent economy. It’s little known, however, that the international money intended to help the Palestinians deal with the occupation often ends up in the Israeli economy. Donors (most of them European states) who wish to promote an independent Palestinian state by funding projects in Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT), end up paying money to Israeli companies, and they actually help finance the occupation which they claim to be working to end.

Knesset members forwarded two bills to limit foreign government funding for Israeli NGOs. One, by Tzipi Hotovely and Ofir Akunis aims to limit donations to 20,000 NIS per organization, and the other, by Faina Kirschenbaum, aims to impose a 45% tax on these donations. Any of the two would be a death blow to the democracy and freedom of speech of Israeli civil society, and any organization that would seek to criticize the Israeli government would have to register in a foreign country or cease to operate.

The Israeli government approved the bills to be voted on by the Knesset. European governments spent approximately 158 million Euros in 2010 in donations to Israeli organizations. About 148 million went to Israeli universities for research programmes, 2 million were given to Israeli government agencies, and the rest (about 8 million) were given to NGO-managed projects. Of these, the majority of the funds were for social projects, and only a small portion (about 2.5 million) were dedicated to human-rights and political projects.

Right-wing organizations also operate in Israel, of course, and their donations are actually much larger than those of left and human-rights organizations. They receive their funding from private (mostly anonymous) donors, and as such will not be affected by the bills.

In light of the growing international criticism of Israel and the growing BDS movement, the Israeli government feels besieged. They cannot acknowledge that the criticism is a result of Israel’s own activity, so they must promote conspiracy theories as if foreign agents have an interest in slandering Israel. Who exactly? The same European governmental funds that pay for research in Israeli universities, give Israel preferred trade status (PDF) and even fund Israeli military research?

Unable to point the finger and to act directly against the international movement demanding justice in Palestine, the Israeli government focuses its efforts on attacking easy targets. Palestinian human-rights and anti-occupation activists have never been safe from Israeli persecution. For example, the raid and arrests against the Stop the Wall organization prove that there is no freedom of speech for Palestinians. Now, however, the government is moving against Israeli activists as well, in the hopes that cutting their funding will somehow limit the flow of information on illegal Israeli actions to the international community.

Knesset member Danny Danon claimed that the bill is intended to prevent foreign intervention in Israel’s internal affairs. This view - that the occupation is an internal Israeli affair -  is supported only by the Israeli government.

Israel is the largest per-capita recipient of US aid and the country that receives the largest gross sum, but unlike aid recipients in the rest of the world, the money comes with almost no strings attached. Israel can manipulate the donors as it sees fit. US bombs and ammunition for the Israeli army, to be used against unarmed protestors? Sure. But a Dutch-French funded seaport in Gaza? No thanks.

So far, donor countries have allowed Israel to subvert their projects and abuse their money.

Perhaps the greatest risk from this bill is that Israeli NGOs will actually have an inflated role in providing information on the situation in Israel/Palestine. Although there are plenty of Palestinian organizations which publish the facts, they are rarely trusted unless an Israeli organization corroborates the information. Journalists and even political activists in Europe prefer to quote from Israeli organizations like B’tselem rather than from Palestinian organizations like the Palestinian Center for Human Rights.

During the days of South African Apartheid, would it have made sense to ignore the evidence from blacks? Those who favor the more “reliable” feel of Israeli sources of information and speakers over Palestinians end up reinforcing apartheid in Israel/Palestine.

As a Jewish Israeli myself, I have been invited to many conferences on the occupation, only to find that no Palestinian speaker was invited. My critical voice was deemed sufficient.

If the Israeli government successfully wipes out the critical voices from within, will the occupation fade from the international field of vision? I certainly hope not.




Shir Hever is an Israeli economist and commentator who researches the economic aspects of the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories.

This article may be reproduced on condition that JNews is cited as its source.

commentary rss feed