Sunday, January 23, 2011

George Jonas: Who is funding Israel’s peaceniks?

National Post

Allegations have surfaced this month about left-wing non-governmental organizations in Israel receiving support from Arab, perhaps terrorist, sources. (That’s more serious than overseas support for controversial mosques in Toronto or New York City.) This month, Israel’s parliament has been debating setting up a committee to look into the matter. The explosive question, raised in the Knesset by a right-wing party in the governing coalition, Yisrael Beiteinu (“Israel Is Our Home”), has sharply divided public opinion.
There are both Jewish-run and Arab-run human-rights advocacy groups in Israel. Some NGOs are post-Zionist, and most could be described as doves — though pigeons would describe some better. (It’s slang for dupes, in case you wonder.)

Last week, the Zionist advocacy group Im Tirtzu released a report claiming to prove that domestic NGOs trying to undermine Israel’s legitimacy receive funding from Arab sources. Im Tirtzu (“If You Will It”) — named after Zionist visionary Theodor Herzl’s “If you will it, it’s no longer a dream” — has been described as “ultra right-wing” by Inter Press Service.

IPS’s “ultra right” may not be everybody’s (or even anybody’s) ultra-right. However, Gerald Steinberg, head of a watchdog organization called NGO Monitor, who is anything but a slouch or dupe, is also unimpressed by Im Tirtzu’s proof of Yisrael Beiteinu’s claim. Professor Steinberg has described it to The Forward’s Nathan Jeffay as being based “on very flimsy evidence.”

Steinberg is concerned that sensational but dubious allegations about Arab funding for left-wing human rights groups in Israel might discredit genuine concerns about the extent of European funding — and the reasons for it. “My fear is that they will raise the issue of Arab money, it will be shown to be a red herring and people will say [that] all the concern about NGOs was without basis,” Steinberg has said.

Im Tirtzu’s case rests on an international NGO-funding organization called Welfare Association, headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, receiving donations from various sources, including the Arab Gulf Program for United Nations Development, administered by representatives from the oil sheikdoms of the region. It’s this “Saudi money” that finds its way, among many other sources of funding, to the Ramallah-based NGO Development Centre (NDC) for later disbursement to NGOs, including both Jewish-run and Arab-run advocacy groups in Israel.

If so, it’s enough for Im Tirtzu’s chairman, Ronen Shovel. “Imagine that during the Cold War,” he told The Forward in a recent interview, “you had an organization in the [United] States supported by the USSR, or that during the Second World War, you had an organization in the U.K. sponsored by Italy or Germany.”

Hmm. I don’t know how to break this gently to Im Tirtzu’s chairman, but there were, in fact, many such organizations. According to defector Lunev Stanislav’s estimates, GRU (Soviet Military Intelligence) alone spent more than $1-billion for propaganda and peace movements against the Vietnam War. KGB General Oleg Kalugin lists in his memoirs the KGB-run “peace congresses, youth congresses, festivals … campaigns against U.S. missiles in Europe, campaigns against neutron weapons.” While this may not make enemy-funded peace- and human rights-groups more desirable, it does make them less novel or unique.

Tracking down donors does nothing for Israeli President Shimon Peres. He has come down solidly on the side of those who oppose a parliamentary committee.

“The investigation of organizations, from the left or the right, must be left to law enforcement,” Israel’s 87-year-old head of state told the press, before reminding his interviewers of David Ben-Gurion’s observation that politicians must not be judges and judges must not be politicians.

One only wishes! Wise as the counsel of Israel’s founding prime minister may be, it sounds incongruous in an age when UN Human Rights Councils chaired by rogue dictatorships commission judges such as Richard Goldstone to compose calumnies about Israel and table them as independent reports. We dress politics in black robes and call it justice.

What can we learn from Israel’s great Donor Hunt so far?

Free speech costs money. Soapboxes don’t come cheap these days. Exercising advocacy rights usually requires a rich uncle — and uncles rich enough to pay the piper tend to be ornery enough to call the tune. The intricate maze of money laundering that passes for NGO funding offers few surprises, but the scandal demonstrates something else.

Whatever pool or cesspool they dip into for money, Israel’s NGOs have flourished. They’ve mushroomed and proliferated. Paradoxically, human-rights advocacy groups always do best in societies that need them the least.

National Post

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