Thursday, January 14, 2016

Vic Rosenthal's weekly column:

When Israel built its security barrier back in 2003, the Palestinian Arabs and their supporters squealed like pigs. Despite numerous changes to its path to accommodate Arab complaints, some ordered by Israel’s Supreme Court, it became a cause célèbre for them, a symbol of alleged ‘apartheid’ and the focus of often violent demonstrations that continue to this day.

The reason is simple. The barrier stymied one of their best weapons, the suicide bombing. It’s often said that the Second Intifada was ended by Operation Defensive Shield, in which the IDF (despite the name) went on the offense against terrorist nests in places like Jenin and cleaned them out. But according to a member of the security forces who spent those dark months frantically racing from place to place to intercept human bombs before they could explode in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, the fence, while not impermeable, greatly reduced the number of possible entry points and made it much easier to stop them.

A similar situation exists today, as Israel moves to render one of our enemies’ most important ‘soft weapons’ impotent. I refer to the Transparency Law that is presently being considered in the Knesset to limit the ability of hostile foreign powers to conduct stealth delegitimization and demonization of Israel by funding Israeli non-governmental organizations. These NGOs, usually claiming to be ‘human rights’ groups, develop and disseminate tendentious data accusing Israel and the IDF of violations of international law and generally atrocious and ugly behavior. 

For example, Breaking the Silence collects anecdotes from soldiers accusing the IDF of war crimes. But these stories often cannot be corroborated, are hearsay, exaggerated, or lack context. BTS refuses to give details to the IDF so they can be checked out and actual violations prosecuted. B’Tselem does the same with accusations that Israel violates the rights of Arabs in the territories, relying on one-sided testimony from Arabs and anti-Israel activists.

This material is then used as ‘evidence’ in dishonest legal proceedings against IDF soldiers and officers, and in UN reports and resolutions condemning Israel. It is used to turn popular opinion against her, so that the ‘international community’ and the US can pressure her for concessions to the Arabs and against muscular responses to terrorism and aggression. It is used as a justification for sanctions on Israel, such as the labeling of settlement products. 

Every group that wants to attack Israel, from Students for Justice in Palestine to the Obama Administration, partakes of the false, exaggerated and context-free ‘facts’ created by these NGOs. In addition, the large anti-state community that is supported by this massive pot of foreign money is an internal political danger, and a challenge to Israel’s sovereignty.

Israel has only recently awakened to the damage that is being done to it on a daily basis. The dimensions of the enterprise are massive. Prof. Gerald Steinberg of NGO Monitor, which tracks foreign money in Israeli NGOs, notes that

…in the past fifteen years, a network of about 30 groups claiming to promote human rights and peace have received large grants from the European Union and individual governments. The scale of this funding, with annual budgets upwards of $1 million, as well as the extreme secrecy and impact, are unique; there are no parallels in relations between democracies. Although the EU has funded a few U.S.-based groups that oppose the death penalty, and there are some other isolated examples, Israeli NGOs are specifically and intentionally targeted. Imagine the response if Europe were to provide $2 billion--the per capita equivalent--to fringe American NGOs focusing on controversial issues, such as abortion or immigration. [my emphasis]

While the groups claim to be impartial, they almost entirely focus on alleged Israeli misbehavior toward Arabs and ignore violations of the human rights of Jews. Recently, grants to Breaking the Silence were made conditional on their finding a minimum number of cases of IDF misconduct. The NGOs are happy to give their bosses what they want.

This is big bucks, and nobody spends this kind of money for an extended period unless they believe they are getting something for it. And of course it is a meal ticket for the large group of activists that directly benefit from it.

So when Israel threatened to pass a law that will require NGOs that receive more than half of their funding from foreign governmental sources to document this fact on all material that they produce, the Israeli Left and their allies abroad went bonkers, pulling out all the stops in their attacks on the law.  Here is one example at random, from journalist Mazal Muallem:

Since [Justice Minister Ayelet] Shaked wants to brand left-wing groups with a “mark of Cain” of sorts, a far more appropriate name for her proposed piece of populist legislation could be the “Selection Law,” a reference to the way Jews were marked to distinguish them from other Europeans during World War II in Nazi camps. The justice minister never even considered postponing her efforts to advance this provocative and divisive piece of legislation so that it would not coincide with the 20th anniversary of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination on Nov. 4, 1995. Instead, she decided to fire it off like a poison dart, right at the heart of Israeli democracy.

Opponents of the law note that it only applies to funding from foreign governments, whereas right-wing groups receive funds primarily from private individuals like Sheldon Adelson. But other than Adelson’s ownership of the Israel Hayom newspaper and his generous contributions to Birthright Israel, both of which are matters of public record, there is very little right-wing money going for propaganda purposes in Israel. And note that the so-called ‘human rights’ industry receives plenty of private money itself in addition to its subsidies from hostile governments.

This law, which Muallem called “a McCarthy-style brutal, ugly and wild persecution that is reminiscent of regimes best forgotten,” does not prevent anyone from speaking their mind and does not punish anyone for doing so. The argument that it is “anti-democratic” is an inversion of reality: what is profoundly undemocratic is hidden foreign funding of organizations which try to influence opinion and policy in ways which are contrary to the general will of the citizens of a country.

It can be argued that Israel has actually been at war with much of the Muslim world since its founding in 1948, with periods of extreme violence interspersed with cold war, all against a background of terrorism such as the flareup we are now experiencing. Despite this, Israel has maintained a very permissive public culture, in which Israelis are permitted to say and write almost anything with impunity – numerous Ha’aretz writers call Israel an “apartheid state” and accuse it of genocide on a regular basis, and the authorities do not punish them or the newspaper in any way.

During its quiet times, Israel’s long-term war is reminiscent of the cold war between the US and the Soviet Union, in which proxy conflicts predominate, and in which the world’s nations take sides with the powers in conflict. Despite public statements to the contrary, it’s clear that the European Union and many of its members are firmly on the anti-Israel side. 

The Israelis who have chosen to become paid agents of foreign powers on the other side of the conflict are skating very close to treason, usually defined as “aiding the enemy in time of war.” It is a testament to Israel’s commitment to an open society that they are not treated as traitors, and now may merely be required to tell whose payrolls they are on. Benedict Arnold, Guy Fawkes and Vidkun Quisling would have welcomed such an opportunity!

The NGOs have called upon all of their friends abroad to help fight the ‘menace’ of transparency. Even the Obama Administration has stepped in, with US Ambassador Dan Shapiro meeting with Justice Minister Shaked and expressing his administration’s concern that the law would impact “free expression and peaceful dissent.” Shaked responded that she appreciated his concern, but as Israel’s democracy is in fine shape, there is “no need for other nations to intervene in internal legislation” (she might have added “…like you tried to intervene in our last election”).

Along with the big gun, some others (Mao would have called them ‘running dogs’) close to the administration have chimed in. For example, the Union for Reform Judaism, the Anti-Defamation League and the  American Jewish Congress have all opposed it, using similar – and equally unpersuasive – language. 

Possibly an indication of how important this issue is to the EU is the fact that B’Tselem received a 30,000 Euro grant from a group associated with it, specifically to fight the law in Israel. 

It’s not surprising that the recipients of tens of millions of Euros every year are upset about anything that might threaten their gigs. Indeed, if it were possible to somehow stop the flow – which the proposed law unfortunately does not do – the government would have to create a new poverty program for the legions of activists, some of whom have never held actual jobs, who would become unemployed.

The ‘soft weapon’ of NGO money is wounding Israel no less than the suicide bombings of the Second Intifada. Like the security fence that stopped terrorist infiltration, we can build a legal fence against it. The squeals of those feeding at the trough of EU money must be ignored, and the Transparency Law passed by the Knesset.

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