Tuesday, February 22, 2011

We need some sunshine here as well

Israel’s New NGO Law: Sunshine is the Best Disinfectant

Good news from Israel, where the Knesset has just approved an important transparency measure. It requires NGO—non-governmental organizations like human-rights groups and aid providers—to issue quarterly reports disclosing any foreign funding, and to state on their websites and in advertisements that they are foreign-funded.

It might seem strange to the casual observer that a seemingly obscure issue like foreign funding of NGO’s could be important. But Israel faces challenges different from other democracies. The intense media and political interest in Israel and its geographic isolation (which makes the media one of the only means by which the outside world learns anything about the country) make Israel’s image particularly vulnerable to manipulation.

The NGO’s—such as B’Tselem, Yesh Din, Shatil, Breaking the Silence, Adalah, Peace Now, and so on—promote what is by now a familiar narrative: that Israel is a war criminal, a cruel oppressor of the Palestinians, a human rights violator, and an aggressor uninterested in peace. They invest heavily in media outreach and PR firms, and enjoy credulous treatment in the media. All told, they receive over $100 million a year, mostly from the EU, European embassies, and the U.S.-based New Israel Fund, and operate as the political home for a desperately small fringe of radicals who cannot exercise political power by normal democratic means—say, by raising money for their cause from their fellow citizens, or by persuading voters and winning elections. Shorn of foreign funding, they would fade into obscurity. But with their millions, and their PR savvy, and the media’s infatuation with negative stories about Israel, and the desire of many westerners to be convinced that Israel is an embarrassment and a problem, they have flourished.

Ironically, the issuance of the Goldstone Report regarding Israel’s handling of the war with Hamas in Gaza probably changed their fortunes. It was largely a copy-and-paste job from material produced by the NGO’s, and was heavily supported by them. This profoundly unjust and one-sided document drew unprecedented attention both outside Israel and inside its borders to the poisonous role the groups play in assaulting Israel’s legitimacy. And upon scratching the surface, Israelis discovered something that troubled them even more: these groups aren’t even Israeli, as far as their funding is concerned.Read More

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