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December 7, 2011 4:18 pm

Israel is Right: Limit Foreign Government Funding of Internal Anti-Israel Groups

avatar by Morton A. Klein

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A Knesset meeting. Photo: Sven Kindler.

Israel is facing growing existential threats from throughout the world and within her own borders. Increasingly radicalized Islamic neighbors call for Israel’s destruction. The present threats also include boycotts, sanctions and divestment; delegitimization; and abusive use of legal systems to wage war against Israel (lawfare). Operating within Israel, several dozen largely foreign-government-funded organizations which falsely claim to be “human rights NGOs” (non-government organizations) are at the forefront of the propaganda, lawfare and economic war against Israel. To defend herself from these onslaughts, Israel recently proposed legislation to limit foreign government funding of “NGOs”, adopt “legal standing” rules similar to those in the U.S., and provide democratic checks and balances on judicial selection.

As their name indicates, “NGOs” (non-governmental organizations) are supposed to not be affiliated with any government. However, according to the highly respected NGO Monitor, foreign governments – not merely private foreign individuals – furnish over NIS 27 million each year to the anti-Israel NGOs operating in Israel. Several NGOs receive three-quarters of their massive budgets from foreign governments.

The NGOs operating in Israel frequently falsely accuse Israel of “war crimes,” bring lawfare cases on behalf of terrorists against Israeli officials, provided the false allegations comprising much of the later-discredited Goldstone report (the Goldstone report cited “NGO” Adalah 38 times), and lobbied against the U.S. Congress’s condemnation of the Goldstone report. The purported NGO “Breaking the Silence,” which received 76.3% of its NIS 1,983,472 budget from foreign governments in 2010, creates and disseminates vicious propaganda exhibits falsely accusing the Israel Defense Forces of committing brutal atrocities. Purported NGO B’tselem, which received 62% of its NIS 5.4 million budget from foreign countries in 2009, accused Israel of “committing Humanity’s worst atrocities” and “devotion to Nazi values,”  opposes Israel’s needed security checkpoints and other security concerns, and supports sanctions campaigns against Israel.  The NGOs also frequently bring “lawfare” suits in Israeli courts opposing Israeli land rights and security measures, even though the NGOs have no real connection to the parties involved.

This situation is dangerous and untenable. No other nation in the world has foreign-government-funded NGOs working within its midst to undermine the country’s security. There are many avenues available to foreign governments that wish to criticize Israel, including diplomatic channels, UN speeches, and their own media. Foreign governments do not need to also secretively fund “fifth column” NGOs to do their dirty work. Israel should adopt limits on the ability of foreign governments to wage war from within Israel.

Shamefully, Anti-Defamation League President Abe Foxman recently wrote that the proposed Israeli legislation would be “an assault on Israel’s vibrant Democracy.” Reform Judaism President Eric Yoffie and AJC President David Harris made similar appalling statements.

This is nonsense. The proposed limits on foreign government funding and lawfare-without-standing will not harm Israel’s vibrant democracy.  Every Israeli citizen will continue to enjoy freedom of the press, speech and religion, the right to vote, and the right to bring lawsuits affecting his own rights. Israelis will all still be free to demonstrate, and to write and publish articles and letters in Israel’s independent media. The proposed laws do not prevent any Israeli from belonging or contributing to any NGO they wish, or engaging in any political activity.  The proposed law does not even prevent foreign individuals from contributing to the anti-Israel NGOs.

In sum, the proposed legislation does not restrict Israeli democracy.

Nations have every right to protect themselves from dangerous internal interference by foreign governments. The United States has long done so. In 1938, Nazi propaganda prompted the U.S. Congress to pass the Foreign Agents Registration Act. U.S. campaign finance laws prohibit foreign nationals (other than green-card holders) from contributing to any U.S. election.

Nations also have the right to protect their courts from abuse. U.S. courts are only accessible to plaintiffs who have “standing” to sue.  “Standing” means that the plaintiff has or will suffer concrete injury or be personally affected by the lawsuit or challenged legislation. While NGOs can assist proper plaintiffs, NGO-initiated lawfare does not belong in the courts. Proposed Israeli legislation to make sure that, as in the U.S., lawsuits are brought by those with standing, is both democratic and needed.

Checks and balances on the judiciary are also the essence of democracy. Prospective U.S. Supreme Court judges are nominated by the president, undergo rigorous questioning by the Senate Judiciary Committee and must be approved by the entire U.S. Senate, to assure that the Justices’ credentials and biases are carefully vetted before they are appointed. Israel’s democracy would be enhanced by similar executive and legislative vetting of its Supreme Court appointments, instead of continuing Israel’s current system of judicial self-appointments.

All of us who care about Israel, including the ADL, the AJC and the Reform movement, should be working to stop the defamation of Jews in Israel. At the least, we should not harm Israel’s ability to do so. The Israeli government is both entitled to and needs to protect itself from the multi-pronged war being waged against Israel from within, which is funded by foreign governments.

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