The Stench of European Imperialism
If anyone is still unsure that Europeans have difficulty coming to terms with the fact that Israel, as a sovereign nation, will not let the European Union meddle in its internal affairs, the debacle over the NGO bill should remove all doubts.
Army Radio reported on Sunday that the EU furiously protested the proposed legislation. According to the report, based on what Army Radio said was a leaked internal EU document, EU Ambassador Lars Faaborg-Andersen met with Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked several weeks ago. He called upon Israel to refrain from taking actions that will “make more complicated” the space in which Israeli nongovernmental organizations operate, claiming that this would impinge on freedom of expression and association. According to the report, the ambassador said that while the request for transparency was legitimate, the draft law is aimed at organizations critical of the government.
“This will have a negative impact on Israel’s image and on Europe’s relating to it as an open and democratic society,” he was quoted as saying. Faaborg-Andersen also reportedly said that placing restraints on civil society is something “we see mostly in tyrannical regimes. We call on Israel to remain in the family of democratic states and not to join this worrying trend.”
Naturally, the EU is very unhappy with having its meddling in the internal affairs of Israel limited in any way, especially since it has been able to do so with impunity up until now. However, to claim that Israel would be breaching any human rights, such as freedom of expression or association, by implementing the NGO bill is taking the hyperbole beyond all red lines.
Let’s be perfectly clear: The bill breaches no one’s rights, least of all anyone’s rights to freedom of speech and association. As Israel Hayom reported this week, the bill requires NGOs that receive more than 50% of their funding from foreign entities to detail the funding sources in all their official publications and communications with elected officials. Activists from the NGOs also will be required to wear identifying name tags when working in Israel’s Knesset, as lobbyists do.” This is a reasonable and fair requirement, which in no way interferes with anyone’s right to freedom of speech or association.
Critics of the bill in Israel are also panicking, claiming that the legislation is discriminatory, since mainly left-wing groups receive money from foreign governments. The warped logic of this is just mind-boggling: If anything is discriminatory and a threat to democracy, it is precisely the overwhelming financial support by foreign European governments and the European Union of leftist NGOs, which gives the NGOs an almost unbeatable edge over any other NGOs in Israeli civil society. This is not only true for NGOs but also for the cultural field, where large parts of, for example, the Israeli film industry, are supported by European organizations, as long as they portray Israelis as nasty “occupiers” and Arabs as helpless victims.
It is precisely the meddling of European governments in the internal affairs of Israel through the funding of leftist NGOs, whose agendas are often subversive to the State of Israel, which is in direct contravention of the very principles of international law, democracy and diplomacy that the European Union claims to hold in such high esteem. Foreign governments have no rights under international law to further their own agendas toward another sovereign nation by funding subversive NGOs in that country.
On the contrary, it might actually be in breach of international law. Furthermore, it subverts and distorts the most basic principles of international diplomacy, which are supposed to be the means through which states interact under international law. Finally, the affront to democracy comes not from demanding that NGOs detail their funding sources in all their official publications and communications with elected officials, but from the very idea that these funding sources should not be disclosed in those publications.
In conclusion, let us recall that the EU has explicitly stated its difficulties in accepting the existence of a Jewish sovereign state in the first place. In February 2014, asked what the EU thinks about the Palestinians being pressured to recognize the Jewish state, the EU ambassador to Israel told an Israeli journalist: “I don’t think we have any clear position on that because we’re not 100% sure what is meant by this concept of a Jewish state.”
Europe has a problem with properly grasping the fact that Israel exists as a sovereign Jewish state, whose integrity under international law it must respect in the same way that it respects the integrity of other states. It is furious that it can no longer meddle secretly in Israel’s internal affairs by financing local NGOs that further its agendas to destabilize Israel and ruin its image abroad.
Ironically, this attitude of the Europeans reeks of the colonialist, imperialist spirit that the Europeans perfected and clearly still cannot rid themselves of.
Judith Bergman is a writer and political analyst living in Israel. This article was originally published by Israel Hayom.