Home > Foreign Funding of Israeli Right, Israeli Neoconservatism, Suppression of Dissent > Exposing Gerald Steinberg and NGO Monitor

Exposing Gerald Steinberg and NGO Monitor

Gerald Steinberg of NGO Monitor, and his associates in government, have entered a new phase in their campaign to suppress Israeli human rights NGOs. This morning (November 27 2009) Haaretz’s English edition ran an op-ed by Steinberg. No longer satisfied with de-legitimization, Israeli neoconservatives have begun taking concrete parliamentary action to silence internal dissent. Because of a sense that some of the remaining freedoms of Israeli democracy — expression and association for Israeli citizens — were under dangerous assault I agreed, for the first time in years,  to byline an op-ed addressing Steinberg’s (both op-eds, side-by-side, can be viewed here). Below is an annotated version of the op-ed, with comprehensive links to supporting documentation.

Bring on the transparency

Op-ed, Didi Remez, Haaretz, November 27 2009

The government of Israel is waging an aggressive campaign to suppress internal dissent. Most of its targets have been organizations operating in the occupied territories, and the campaigners would have us believe that they are acting in the interest of “national security.” However, a closer look indicates that they are motivated by a general disrespect for the role of civil society in a democracy. Any NGO in the government’s way seems to have become fair game; indeed, officials have even started calling refugee-aid groups a fifth column.

Civil servants are playing an increasingly active role in this effort. A notable example is Ron Dermer [bio at previous position], chief of policy planning in the Prime Minister’s Office, who led the charge this past summer to suppress any group that dared to advocate on behalf of Palestinian human rights or to question the Israel Defense Forces’ conduct during the Gaza campaign.

Dermer, whose legislative initiative to ban funding of Israeli human rights organizations by allied governments stalled in September, has now passed the ball to a political ally: Prof. Gerald Steinberg, president of NGO Monitor. This organization has now partnered with the Institute for Zionist Strategies, led by Israel Harel, a founder of the Gush Emunim settler movement.

Steinberg is savvier than Dermer. Instead of a ban, he advocates “funding transparency.” Next Tuesday, he is organizing a Knesset conference to “debate” the issue. Israel’s beleaguered human rights activists are bracing for yet another round of demonization and delegitimization.

In formulating a response, some have argued for an appeal to reason. They want to explain to Steinberg and his organization that the suppression campaign is ill-advised and destructive; that it threatens to put Israel in the same camp as Putin’s Russia and other autocracies; and that it may provoke a retaliatory call by a European public, already dangerously hostile, to cut critical funding to Israeli hospitals, universities and R&D projects.

This approach is commendable, but futile. NGO Monitor is not an objective watchdog: It is a partisan operation that suppresses its perceived ideological adversaries through the sophisticated use of McCarthyite techniques – blacklisting, guilt by association and selective filtering of facts.

If Steinberg really cares about “transparency,” why does he not begin in his own backyard? Breaking the Silence, a frequent subject of his organization’s wrath, has financial reports for 2006-2008 posted on its Web site. NGO Monitor’s site lists only one small U.S. charity as its current funder, providing no links for further information. The Institute for Zionist Strategies’ site says nothing about its funding.

Here is another example of NGO Monitor’s intellectual dishonesty: A central theme of its recent critiques has been of NGO “lawfare,” achieving “political” goals through the courts. There are at least three examples of pro-settler Israeli NGOs engaged in “lawfare,” as defined by NGO Monitor: the Legal Forum for the Land of Israel, the Israel Law Center and Regavim, but you will not find even an acknowledgment of their existence among the hundreds of documents on its Web site.

We have another option. Steinberg’s and Dermer’s cynicism has created an opportunity to dismantle the power structure that forces Israelis to continue defending Palestinian human rights, 42 years after the “temporary” occupation of the West Bank and Gaza began.

If Israeli neoconservatives really want “transparency,” why not take them at their word? We could propose to NGO Monitor and its allies that we launch a bipartisan campaign to enact legislation mandating high standards of financial transparency for all local NGOs. This would entail listing all donations of, say, NIS 15,000 and above, prominently on the NGO’s Web site and in its publications, including full donor identity details and any tax exemptions that were applied. Israeli government funding would, of course, be listed as well.

Most of NGO Monitor’s Israeli targets already meet these standards. For the few that do not, compliance would be an easy task.

This is certainly not the case for the organizations fueling the settlement enterprise that is destroying our country. They depend on financial opacity for continued operations. Elad, for example, a prime mover of many controversial and provocative settlement adventures in East Jerusalem, has been cited by the Registrar of Associations for refusing to disclose its donor identities.

One can understand their reticence. What would the Israeli public say if the fact that Od Yosef Hai yeshiva, in Yitzhar, is the recipient of generous funding from the Israeli government [primary data here] had to be prominently displayed on the cover of its publications – which include “Baruch Hagever,” an ode to Tomb of the Patriarchs killer Baruch Goldstein, and the “Handbook for the Killing of Gentiles“? How long would the U.S. taxpayer put up with the tax-exempt status of Shuva Israel, a Christian Zionist fund, if they knew that it supports the expansion of settlement outposts, illegal even under Israeli law?

These examples are just the tip of an iceberg. Hundreds of millions of dollars in Israeli taxpayer money and U.S.tax exemptions, mostly hidden from public view, are the driving force of the settlement enterprise. The Steinberg Act would be applauded by progressive Israel and genuine “pro-Israelis” abroad. Transparency is the lifeblood of democracy and our society could use a lot more of it.

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  1. Herdota
    November 27, 2009 at 16:05

    Israel is fast shedding its The Only Democracy in the Middle East® image and revealing its true and ugly image as just your average Middle Eastern oppressive regime.

  2. Assaf
    November 28, 2009 at 04:31

    Amazing article Didi. Right on the money ;)

    Indeed, bring those creeps on.

  3. November 29, 2009 at 15:11

    Good post.

    Something may be added to Taub’s lecturing: I am afraid people like Ehud Barak and Shimon Peres (not to mention Likkud leaders) are fully complicit in this march of folly. They have supported the settler movement for years (Barak is nowadays a true pillar of the community…). Gadi Taub has chosen, as usual, a relatively easy target.

  4. judith green
    November 29, 2009 at 16:35

    Excellent, transparency is “the first step” suggested by NGO Monitor. However, how do you answer the accusation concerning EU governments, and NGOs allied to them, contributing to “opposition groups” etc. in Israel? Steinberg acknowledges the suitability of NGOs receiving private donations; his main complaint is directly against foreign governments supporting selected NGOs, with political agendas, in Israel. This point can’t be ignored. Your point about support from the Israeli gov’t itself for political NGOs is certainly an important issue.

  5. yehoshua rosin
    December 11, 2009 at 00:18

    right win,’ including settlers ngo’s get alot of money from u.s. donation concealed as welfare organisations subsidized by the u.s. tax payer. inthe eyes of the israeli politcal leadership it is o.k. to cheat the ”goyim”(gentiles).

  6. Yitzhak
    February 5, 2010 at 00:29

    This article does nothing to refute Steinberg’s claims, which is a shame. The only way to fight defamation is not with more defamation. I frankly don’t care about whether Steinberg is right wing or left wing or centrist. If his facts are correct, and NIF is indeed funding anti-Zionist NGOs in Israel then NIF’s donor base has the right to know this. And, before I get tarred with the “right wing” label, I say this as an NIF supporter and for further liberalization in Israeli society. But, I draw the line when groups advocating for Israel’s demise receive NIF funding. I hope NIF takes a serious look at its giving practices and protocols.

  7. Pete
    April 28, 2010 at 20:20

    NGO Monitor is a propaganda arm of the Zionist enterprise. Nothing more, nothing less.

  8. Julian
    June 23, 2010 at 14:46

    NIF is allowed to be anti Zionist. The Euopeans will still fund their agenda to delegitimize Israel if they were truthful. This game of deception the NIF plays only increases the stature of Prof. Steinberg.

    • June 23, 2010 at 14:58

      Given that little feat of rhetorical acrobatics, I’d say “remove the beam from between your eyes”, Julian.

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