The foreign interests paying to skew Israel's agenda

July 20, 2013
Sarah Benton

Logo of Christians United for Israel. Run By John Hagee it is the largest Christian pro-Israel body in the US. Amongst its donations to Israelis NGOs was one to Im Tirzu via the Jewish Agency.

Summary of Private funding of right-wing ideology in Israel

By Alternative News
July 01, 2013

Private Funding of Right-Wing Ideology in Israel is a new report issued by the Alternative Information Center (AIC). The report examines Israel’s privatisation of its propaganda functions (hasbara) and increasing reliance on right-wing NGOs to conduct such hasbara work on its behalf. These NGOs often attack local and international rights groups as being funded by ‘foreign interests’. This report demonstrates, however, that funding for these right-wing NGOs comes primarily from American neo-conservative donors and serves American political interests.

The report was researched and written by Israeli economist Shir Hever. [Read extracts from the report below. Click the headline below for the full report.]

Such right-wing organisations and NGOs fall into three broad categories:

1. Direct contribution to Israeli occupation: These organisations include the Ir David Foundation (Elad) and Ateret Cohenim, which buy homes in East Jerusalem in which to house Jewish Israelis.

2. Research institutes: Research institutes and colleges which develop a semi-academic discourse with which to support Israeli government policies and attack critics. These include the Shalem Center and the Reut Institute.

3. Target and attack human rights and left-wing organisations: Organisations working primarily or exclusively to attack and delegitimise human rights and left-wing organisations, creating a discourse that these groups are a threat to Israel. Such organisations include NGO Monitor and Im Tirzu.

Since the 2009 national elections, the Israeli government and Knesset have increasingly adopted the language and discourse of these right-wing organisations, initiating a spate of proposed legislation to even further limit freedom of expression in Israel. While Israel has long limited the freedom of speech of Palestinians, both those in the occupied Palestinian territory and within Israel, this new legislation now includes limits or potential limits on expression by Jewish Israelis.

Right-wing organisations often cite the “foreign interests” funding human rights and left-wing groups in Israel. This report, however, demonstrates that right-wing NGOs receive substantially more funding from international, primarily American, sources, than the human rights and left groups in Israel.

American money flowing to the Israeli political system brings with it neocon ideologies, and serves political interests in the U.S. These donors are often affiliated with the Christian evangelical movement and American neo-conservative think-tanks, which want to exploit Israel as a testing ground for policies. Budgets of these right-wing groups are larger than those of human rights organisations, and their staff members earn substantially more.

Critical NGOs in Israel employ many dedicated activists, but right-wing NGOs are a well-funded industry.

Several right-wing groups have portrayed the left in Israel as enemies of the state and have lobbied the Israeli government to operation against them in various ways, from increased regulation to arresting of members. This report, however, emphasises that right-wing NGOs should have as much of a right to publish their findings and opinions as human rights groups and those on the left. Exposing interests, sources of funding and government ties of NGOs, however can help the victims of slander by right-wing NGOs to defend themselves.

Transparency and an informed debate work in the interest of those organisations that promote freedom over repression, equality over discrimination and justice over injustice.

Private Funding of Right-Wing Ideology in Israel

By Shir Hever, The Economy of the Occupation, No.29-30, Alternative Information Centre
May 2013

Civil society organizations are often seen as representatives of grassroots movements, as defenders of human rights and of democratic values.

In Israel, civil society organizations are at the center of an internal political struggle. While Palestinians are risking life and limb in a struggle for freedom from Israeli occupation and apartheid, the struggle within Israeli society is mostly fought with money and via funding organizations which promote certain ideologies.

After the First Intifada beginning in 1987, human rights organizations in Israel multiplied. The outbreak of the second Intifada in October 2000 saw the collapse of the Israeli “peace camp,” which ceased to be a mass movement (Gordon, 2003). It left in its wake several non-governmental organizations (NGOs), which filled some of the void left by the movement. These NGOs continue to advocate for ideas that have become associated with the “left” in Israeli society: human rights, social projects, the end of Israel’s occupation and Israeli-Palestinian dialogue. In the process, these NGOs provide employment to a few thousand Israelis, creating an “activist sector” (Laor, 2010; Feldman, 2011). There are also a few organizations which promote Palestinian rights, full equality within Israel to all citizens, the memory of the Naqba (the Palestinian catastrophe of 1948) and social welfare.

On the other side of the Israeli political map, there are right-wing NGOs which advocate a neoconservative agenda, which in Israel is expressed by continuing rule over the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt), limiting the civil rights of Palestinian citizens of Israel and forming a stronger state, which is less impacted by separation of government branches and by civil liberties. These organizations exert influence over government policies by providing advisors to political parties, Knesset members and ministers (including the prime minister), as will be discussed below in further detail.

Such organizations have launched a wide-reaching campaign against the “left” NGOs, treating social NGOs, human rights NGOs and policy impacting NGOs as if they were the same, and all part of a conspiracyto steer public opinion in Israel into directions chosen by foreign donors (NGO Monitor, 2011c). This campaign became more vocal and forceful following Israel’s 2009 elections, in which the Israeli parliament and government became more rightwing than ever before. The current Israeli government has adopted the rhetoric of the right-wing NGOs. For example, Minister of Strategic Affairs Moshe Ya’alon called Peace Now a “virus” (Moalem, 2009). Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman called Adalah, Yesh Din and Breaking the Silence “terrorist organizations” (Medzini, 2011). Meanwhile, the Israeli parliament has commenced a rapid process of legislation designed to hinder the work of such NGOs (Yaakobi-Keller, 2011).

This raises a series of questions which this study will attempt to answer. Who are the right-wing NGOs? Why have the left-wing and center NGOs been chosen as targets and why is the attack coming now? Who is funding the right-wing NGOs and why?

Methodological Comment

This paper will not include a comparison between right-wing and left-wing NGOs. The focus of this paper is solely the right-wing NGOs, and there is no attempt hereto create a balanced or comparative narrative. Thereason for this focus is that follow-up and criticism of left-wing NGOs is already widespread, with entire organizations dedicated to the task. Leftwing and human rights NGOs are more transparent than right-wing NGOs and their donors are easier to identify. The purpose of this study is to shed light on the economic and political interests of rightwing NGOs and their attack against left-wing and human rights NGOs.

Role of Civil Society in Israel/Palestine and the oPt

Professor Naomi Hazan defines civil society as those organizations which are “independent from the state, but engage the state.”5 Of course, actual independence of civil society organizations is an ideal which rarely stands the test of reality.

Global civil society has seen a spectacular growth following the end of the Cold War (Van Rooy; Phil, 1997). This is surprising, considering the role played by civil society actors during the Cold War, funded by state and private actors to promote ideas relevant to the Cold War (especially those considered “Western”). With the collapse of the Soviet Union, why increase funding to organizations that help fight a public opinion war against a defeated enemy?

Scholar Johano Strasser offers an interesting explanation for this—civil society has become a pressure valve which helps the developed world deal with the social duress caused by capitalism. While modern production methods reduce the need for labor, the middle class can find employment in the “third sector.”

Although average wages may be lower, there are other benefits (such as work satisfaction, or being posted in a poor country with low living costs) which compensate (Strasser, 2003). Civil society provides cheaper consultancy and reports than private companies, giving organizations such as the UN a way to reduce costs.

“Free-trade” policies pushed upon developing countries usually create more benefits to developed economies than to developing countries (and sometimes cause severe damage to developing economies). International aid can also be seen as a (very) partial mitigation of that effect, and a tool that helps the stronger economic powers maintain a semblance of fairness in international trade and the image of philanthropy even though their corporations exploit the developing world (de Waal, 1997; Stiglitz; Charlton, 2006). So following the Cold War a picture emerges in which civil society is funded by developed countries, but spends a great deal of its efforts in developing countries.

Israeli civil society is an interesting phenomenon seen against this backdrop. Israel is considered to be a developed country (and is a member of the OECD), but has a very large third sector. As of 2011, there were an estimated 52,000 third sector organizations in Israel. In 2002 they accounted for 7.2% of the GDP in Israel, and for 8.5% of all wages paid (Israeli Center for the Study of the Third Sector, 2005). The third sector in Israel is estimated to have double the relative weight compared to the average of developedcountries (Reut Institute, 2008).

These figures do not include large organizations such as the Jewish National Fund, the Jewish Agency and the World Zionist Organization, which have traditionally operated outside of official government departments, but also not as private companies. These organizations do not provide reports on their funding and operations like other NGOs, but their third-sector nature allows them to channel funds for projects designed only for Jews, without the transparency which exists in the budgets of governments and NGOs.

A comparison with the third sector in the oPt is in order. In the oPt, the third sector has become the most important sector of the economy. 2,126 NGOs were registered in the oPt in 2009. In 2008, Palestinian NGOs reported that 78.3% of their revenue came from external aid (DeVoir & Tartir, 2009). Palestinian NGOs often face strict conditions on their funding. Donor definitions of certain Palestinian political groups as terrorist organizations limit the political freedom of these organizations (Ma’an, 2011).

Israeli human rights NGOs, by comparison, receive close to 95% of their funding from foreign donors (Berkovitch & Gordon, 2008). This means that the local ratio of funding for human rights issues in Israel is even lower than in the oPt!

Two important conclusions can be drawn from this. One is that the NGO sector is very vulnerable in Israel because of its foreign funding dependency, especially regarding NGOs with policy impacting or human rights focus. It helps to understand why the right-wing NGOs concentrate their attack on that sector, and it also helps to understand that for many Israelis in the “moderate left,” activism is not merely a political choice but also a source of livelihood.The second conclusion is that the civil society sphere in Israel and the oPt is yet another arena in which international interests clash. Donors choose to support NGOs not merely out of kindness, but also to promote certain interests.

Indeed, an analysis of the area of donations to Israeli human rights NGOs found that U.S.-based donors spent 77.7% of their funding on organizations which focus on human rights issues within Israel itself, and only 22.3% on organizations dealing with human rights issues in the oPt. European donors, by contrast, spent 25% of their donations on organizations dealing with Israeli human rights issues and 75% on organizations dealing with oPt-related human-rights issues (Berkovitch & Gordon, 2008).

The interests of European governments in supporting the peace process, or at the very least the appearance of a peace process (for as long as possible), in the hope of forestalling a violent eruption, has been described and written about in detail (European Union, 2011). However, the interests poised to intensify the conflict, prolong the occupation, sharpen inequalities and justify repression of Palestinians deserve a closer study, which this paper will try to help understand.

The Israeli government wields a massive and powerful military and security apparatus almost unrivaled in the world. The state budget for Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs alone (which can stand as a proxy for Israel’s expenditure on public relations) was almost NIS 1.6 billion in 2011, dwarfing the combined budget of all human rights and left-wing7 NGOs by a factor of a hundred (Israeli government, 2011). In light of this, the Israeli state treatment of human rights and leftwing NGOs appears paranoid and irrational.

The government’s actions speak of its view that Israeli civil society organizations pose a serious threat to its policies. The government is concerned that even small and underfunded organizations could publish embarrassing facts, and that such publication could undermine its legitimacy and international support.

Yet by the very fact of repressing (or attempting to repress) dissenting voices, the Israeli government gives more material for civil society organizations to publish, strengthening the same international criticism which the government was initially trying to prevent.The Israeli government accordingly does not have a coherent strategy
for dealing with the challenges posed by civil society. Lacking such a strategy, many policymakers have tried
to give credibility to the accusations of right-wing NGOs that civil society criticism is a conspiracy funded by enemies of Israel in an attempt to undermine Israel’s status (regardless of the reasons for such criticism, and regardless of whether it is justified) (Harkov, 2011). Politicians who believe such a conspiracy, or pretend to believe it, cannot then leave the arena only to the rightwing NGOs. If an unseen “enemy” coordinates the campaign against Israel, this “enemy” must be fought.

The head of Israel’s secret police, or ISA, announced in 2006 that the ISA will work against “subversive” organizations, even if those organizations commit no crimes (Laor, 2007; Izenberg, 2010). This was a clear and official statement that the Israeli security forces will be employed to limit the freedom of expression in Israel. In 2010 the ISA admitted for the first time that it conducts surveillance against international activists in the West Bank (Levinson, 2010). That year it was also revealed that the ISA conducts surveillance against candidates for Muslim religious posts in Israel.

The ISA argued that regulations which permit it to conduct this activity are state secrets, and thus refused to reveal them (Eldar, 2010). Several examples exist of how the state attempts to suppress civil society activities: Military intelligence: The Israeli,military intelligence department, Aman, has formed a special military unit charged with collecting information on left-wing and other organizations operating in Western countries. This unit coordinates its activity with the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

In fact the Israeli military intelligence is thus recruited to help the Israeli government justify its policies, by using espionage methods against civil society activists (Ravid, 2011a). Ironically, the creation of this new unit is an example of the use of the military to silence political debate, one of the key criticisms directed at Israel by the same civil society organizations which have come under secret surveillance.

Clarification talks: The Israeli secret police often invite Israeli activistsfor a “conversation.” The invitation is arranged by the police and activists are strongly encouraged to cooperate, although what punishment they may receive should they refuse is unknown, and they are not presented with an arrest or interrogation warrant. Although theISA has no official authority to enforce political conformity in Israel, in practice no legal instance exists to protect citizens from the organization (Hass, 2010).

Attacks against Palestinian NGOs:
Although this paper deals with attacks against Israeli NGOs, one must remember that political activism and freedom of speech are permissible (officially) only for Israeli citizens.

Palestinians living under Israeli occupation in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip were never allowed to organize public protest. The Israeli authorities published regulations forbidding the right of demonstration, and prohibiting groups of ten or more people to assemble for the purpose of hearing a political speech (Gordon, 2008a). Palestinian residents in East Jerusalem are restricted in their rights, despite the fact that Israel annexed East Jerusalem, and are not considered Israeli citizens. An example of this was the closure of the Palestinian Media Centerin May 2009 (Refworld, 2009).

To give but one example out of many, the Palestinian organization Stop the Wall has been targeted by the Israeli army for daring to criticize Israeli occupation policies and for exposing facts about the Separation Wall through the organization’s publications. In 2009-2010 Jamal Juma’, the organization’s coordinator and Mohammad Othman, its youth coordinator, were both arrested and held for months without charges. After their release, the offices of Stop the Wall were raided by the Israeli army and materials and computerswere destroyed (Al-Jazeera, 2010). Another raid of Stop the Wall’s office in Ramallah, in which laptops, hard-drives and photos were seized, took place on May 8th, 2012 (Stop the Wall, 2012) Palestinians with Israeli citizenship, who comprise approximately 22% of all Israeli citizens, are only slightly more free to express political opinions. Restrictions, surveillance and punishment for political activism have been implemented against Palestinian citizens of Israel since the founding of the Israeli state (Cohen, 2006).

A more recent example is the imprisonment of Ameer Makhoul, who was secretly arrested in 2010 (the press was issued a gag-order), prevented from seeing a lawyer, and eventually sentenced to nine years imprisonment on charges of “espionage”, with the main evidence against him being his own confession, which was extracted through torture, as well as “secret” evidence his lawyers were not allowed to examine. It should be noted that Ameer Makhoul was the General Director of Ittijah—the Union of Arab Community-Based Associations and the Chairman of the PublicCommittee for the Protection of Political Freedoms. He was probably targeted by the ISA for his efforts to expose Israeli repressive policies, the lectures which he gave in different countries around the world and the articles which he published criticizing Israel’s actions (Lendman, 2011).

When it comes to right-wing NGOs, however, the government tends to turn a blind eye to violations of Israel’s NGO laws and transparency regulations. NGOs which openly collect funds in defiance of Israeli law to rebuild illegal outposts11 ivn the West Bank or by monitoring the movement of the Israeli army in the West Bank in order to prevent the evacuation of these outposts. At least in one proven case, such an NGO even received a tax-exemption benefit from theIsraeli tax authorities (Blau, 2012a).

The recent change in Israeli policy is that repression of freedom of speech and protest is expanding to include Jewish Israeli activists. This expansion is not a qualitative but merely a quantitative change in Israeli policies. However, it is seen as a qualitative change by external observers, who were willing to believe that Israeli repression against Palestinians in the oPt is “temporary” (until the occupation will eventually end), and that repression against Palestinian citizens is merely an “anomaly.” The expansion of repression to include Israeli Jews is yet another mask taken from the face of the authoritarian nature of the Israeli regime.

Government Treatment of NGOs
Parliament Treatment of NGOs
Collaboration between Government and NGOs
Why are NGOs Perceived as a Threat?
Who are the Right-Wing NGOs?

Who is funding the right-wing NGOs?
The right-wing NGOs operating in Israel are far better funded than the left-wing and human rights NGOs combined.

The organization “SOS Israel” (see above), for example, offered 1,000 NIS per day of jail time to Israeli soldiers who refuse to evacuate colonies. They gave 20,000 NIS to every soldier who demonstrated against colony evacuation, and NIS 1,800 in reward to Zakhi Kortzi, a soldier who shot a Palestinian in the Kiryat Arba colony. This organization is registered in Israel, despite its direct call to soldiers to defy military orders. Much of the funding of the organization comes from American donors, who receive tax benefits from the U.S government (Ibid.).

The Im Tirzu organization received a donation of NIS 375,000 from the Jewish Agency in 2009. The Jewish Agency is an organization which played (and still plays) a key role in Jewish colonization of Palestine, and is closely tied to the Israeli government ( Jewish Agency for Israel, 2011). This was the biggest contribution to Im Tirzu that year. The money came originally from CUFI—Christians United for Israel, an organization headed by John Hagee, who has made several anti-Semitic statements in the past (Avital, 2010). NGO Monitor is also funded by Evangelical Christians (Baskin, 2010).

Upon examining the financial reports of the main right-wing NGOs, the picture emerges that most of the funding for these NGOs comes from American donors. The U.S gives tax benefits for donations to charity, and right-wing NGOs often receive this status from the U.S government by dedicating part of their budget to social projects for Jews in the West Bank colonies, making the U.S organizations convenient channels via which the NGOs can raise money (Hasson, 2011b; Doherty, 2012). The organization Settlements in Palestine tracked 183 U.S-registered NGOs which have transferred approximately US$ 274 million to Israeli colonies in the OPT in the years 2002-2009, all the while enjoying American tax benefits. Although a prohibition exists for using U.S government funds on Israeli projects outside of Israel’s international borders (i.e. the 1967 borders), the tax-breaks to non-profit organizations effectively encourage and even subsidize donors who wish to support the illegal colonies (Settlements in Palestine, 2009).

Despite Israeli law which stipulates that NGOs publish a full financial report every year, and give the names of each donor who gave more than NIS 20,000 (Israeli Corporations Authority, 2010), some of the NGOs fail to comply with these regulations, publish partial reports and/or publish them infrequently and even when they do—they do not give the full list of donors.

It should be noted, however, that U.S regulations are less strict, and an easy to way to circumvent the requirement to reveal donor names is to channel donations through U.S NGOs, or through the Jewish National Fund (JNF), which keep their own donors secret. This way, the Israeli NGOs need only mention the U.S NGO or the JNF as the source of their money.

Let us revisit the list of NGOs above and map the amount of funding which they receive, according to their submitted financial reports (see table in pp. 52-53).

In order to understand the source of funding for right-wing NGOs, we should also look at NGOs registered in the U.S. The information about these organizations was collected from Guidestar website, and their 990 Forms submitted to the U.S federal authorities (see table in pp. 54-57).

It should be stressed that the list above is merely a sample out of a much larger number of organizations. Settlements in Palestine identified 183 U.S-registered NGOs operating between 2002-2009 (Settlements in Palestine, 2009).

American Friends of New Communities in Israel claim in their tax report that they are “assisting communities in Israel in absorption, social and educational needs,” but are actually funding projects in the oPt (Ma’an and Jordan Valley Popular Committees, 2010).

Center for Jewish Community Studies is an NGO closely tied to the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, and also a major donor to NGO Monitor, having donated NIS 3.2 million (Blau, 2012b).

Christian Friends of Israeli Communities is an organization which claims to assist Jews who are persecuted and at risk, including Jewish “refugees” from Gaza. The organization spends its funding on developing cultural projects for Israeli colonies in the occupied Jordan Valley (Ibid.).

Stand With Us is a pro-Zionist organization in the U.S that publishes pro-Israeli propaganda and which prepared a lawsuit against the Olympia Food Co-op in the U.S which organized boycott action against Israel. Close coordination with the Israeli government in Stand With Us activities has been revealed (Abunimah, 2011a).

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) is a well-known and powerful organization which claims to defend human rights. Yet the organization does not criticize human rights violations in Israel, and conflates criticism of Israel with defamation of Jews (Eldar, 2011).

The American Israel Public Affairs Committeee (AIPAC), is a large pro-Israeli lobby in the U.S which does not only lobby U.S politicians to support Israel, but also lobbies them to promote policies which are associated with the Israeli right-wing (such as the expanded colonization of the West Bank) (Eldar, 2011).

The Central Fund for Israel is especially noteworthy as it focuses on funding the colonization efforts in the West Bank (and previously the Gaza Strip). It funds organizations such as Women in Green (a right-wing colonialist spoof on the left-wing Women in Black), Im Tirzu (Gurvitz, 2011b) and others (Gaon, 2011). It also funded an emergency unit to defend Israeli colonies in the occupied Jordan Valley (Ma’an & Jordan Valley Popular Committees, 2010).

PEF—Israel Endowment Foundation was established long before the state of Israel was founded, and its acronym stands for Palestine Exploration Fund. Its stated goal is to fund charitable organizations in Israel, but in reality it funds ideological organizations such as the Institute for Zionist Strategies and the Reut Institute. It also funds the New Israel Fund and the Hebrew University.

The total budget of the ten rightwing NGOs mentioned above for which financial reports are available (and one must remember, they are merely a sample of the total number of right-wing NGOs) for 2008 was NIS 148.39 million, or US$ 39.03 million.

By comparison, a study of 13 of Israel’s most prominent human rights NGO found that their combined funding in 2002 was US$ 7.4 million (Berkovitch & Gordon, 2008). In 2008 the seven biggest left-wing and human rights NGOs received a combined total of NIS 37 million, or US$ 9.68 million (Hasson, 2011b).

In 2010, European funding to organizations in Israel was Euros 158 million. Of that amount, left-wing or human rights Israeli NGOs received only Euros 1.76 million (Sheizaf, 2011).

This report focuses only on NGO funding, but right-wing activities can also be funded directly or through private companies. The U.S millionaire Iving Moskowitz, for example, unds settlements activities by direct
donations, and is developing a hotel (a private company) in occupied East Jerusalem (Yahni, 2012).

In addition to the donations to NGOs, individual politicians in Israel who managed to raise NIS 50,000 or more in donations, received more than 50% of their campaign financing from foreign donors. The politicians who received the largest proportion from foreign donations were Moshe Ya’alon (100%), Binyamin Netanyahu (96.8%) and Limor Llivnat (94%), all of them from the right-wing Likud party (Levinson, 2012).

What are the Foreign Interests Involved?

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