Foreign-Sponsored Non-Governmental Organizations Can Undermine Democracy, Transparency, and Sovereignty

In recent years, India, Ireland, Hungary, and other countries have attempted to enact legal measures limiting the influence of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that receive funding from abroad. The Israeli law of this kind simply requires such groups to be transparent about their sources of funding. Responding to critics of such laws, and paying particular attention to Israel, Gerald Steinberg writes:

In the Israeli case, . . . out of over 200 active NGOs with human-rights and international-humanitarian-law agendas, 39 from a very narrow part of the political spectrum have received more than 500 million shekels (about $150 million) over the past five years. (Most other groups report less than one-tenth that amount.) Two-thirds of this largesse comes from the European Union and Western European governments. All 39 of the Israeli grantees stridently oppose Jerusalem’s policies regarding the West Bank, and a number promote allegations of “war crimes” and apartheid. Together, they form a network that includes coordinated activism and shared characteristics.

This is a huge budget, and it dwarfs the donations received by the NGOs that are not part of the network. Many also receive funds (approximately $10 million annually) from U.S.-based private donors identified with the political left, such as the New Israel Fund, the Open Society Foundation, and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. Conservative donors channel parallel amounts to right-wing Israeli NGOs, which would produce a rough balance between the two poles, but the much larger foreign-government grants, which total on average $20 million a year, disrupt this equilibrium.

Furthermore, the processes by which European donors decide which groups to fund are conspicuously opaque, and freedom-of-information requests, . . . particularly pertaining to Israeli and Palestinian NGOs, are routinely denied. . . . And in many cases, the bureaucracies responsible for distributing funds lack the resources or interest in performing due diligence, as recently demonstrated when a number of European governments were made aware of connections between NGO grantees and terrorist organizations. After years of grants totaling tens of millions of dollars, they cut off this funding. . . .

Using the largesse provided by European governments, [far-left] Israeli groups appear before influential audiences at the United Nations, European Union, and International Criminal Court, and at parliaments, churches, universities, and media platforms. Citing the NGO allegations, faculty in European universities have banned Israelis from classrooms and pulled Israeli products off shelves. . . . Other Israeli NGOs that vehemently disagree with these narratives and policy prescriptions are shut out from these platforms because they lack the resources for high-impact political tours. . . .

[M]assive external funding for a very narrow group of unaccountable and polarizing NGOs is in fact corrupting the democratic process in whose name they claim to speak.

Read more at Lawfare

More about: Europe and Israel, European Union, Israel & Zionism, NGO


Recognizing a Palestinian State Won’t Help Palestinians, or Even Make Palestinian Statehood More Likely

While Shira Efron and Michael Koplow are more sanguine about the possibility of a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and more critical of Israel’s policies in the West Bank, than I am, I found much worth considering in their recent article on the condition of the Palestinian Authority (PA). Particularly perceptive are their comments on the drive to grant diplomatic recognition to a fictive Palestinian state, a step taken by nine countries in the past few months, and almost as many in total as recognize Israel.

Efron and Koplow argue that this move isn’t a mere empty gesture, but one that would actually make things worse, while providing “no tangible benefits for Palestinians.”

In areas under its direct control—Areas A and B of the West Bank, comprising 40 percent of the territory—the PA struggles severely to provide services, livelihoods, and dignity to inhabitants. This is only partly due to its budgetary woes; it has also never established a properly functioning West Bank economy. President Mahmoud Abbas, who will turn ninety next year, administers the PA almost exclusively by executive decrees, with little transparency or oversight. Security is a particular problem, as militants from different factions now openly defy the underfunded and undermotivated PA security forces in cities such as Jenin, Nablus, and Tulkarm.

Turning the Palestinian Authority (PA) from a transitional authority into a permanent state with the stroke of a pen will not make [its] litany of problems go away. The risk that the state of Palestine would become a failed state is very real given the PA’s dysfunctional, insolvent status and its dearth of public legitimacy. Further declines in its ability to provide social services and maintain law and order could yield a situation in which warlords and gangs become de-facto rulers in some areas of the West Bank.

Otherwise, any steps toward realizing two states will be fanciful, built atop a crumbling foundation—and likely to help turn the West Bank into a third front in the current war.

Read more at Foreign Affairs

More about: Palestinian Authority, Palestinian statehood