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July 17, 2016 6:23 am

If Israel Banned Burqas

avatar by Judith Bergman

Opinion
A traditional Muslim burqa. Photo: Wikipedia.

A traditional Muslim burqa. Photo: Wikipedia.

Picture this: Israel donates millions of shekels every year to various NGOs in Europe, e.g., in Germany, ‎France the UK and Scandinavia, on condition that they further Israeli foreign policy agendas on European ‎soil. Now imagine the reaction if that picture were actually true: We would all go deaf from the hysterical ‎squealing and breast-beating that would ensue about Israel being undemocratic, imperialistic and using ‎dirty tricks and manipulation in basically buying — because that is what it is — local NGOs in order to use ‎them to promote its own causes on the European continent. If the Europeans passed laws to stop this ‎from happening, everyone in the world would support them in doing so. ‎

Not so when the roles are reversed.‎

‎”The new NGO law in Israel goes beyond legitimate needs of transparency, risks undermining our shared ‎values” wrote the EU embassy in Israel on Twitter on Monday, after Israel’s new law, requiring the ‎disclosure of foreign government funding of Israeli nongovernmental organizations, also known as the ‎NGO law, was passed by the Knesset. The embassy tweet linked to the official statement of the EU, ‎which went on to say that the law may curtail freedom of expression and association and risks ‎undermining the values of democracy, freedom of speech and a diverse civil society. ‎

The EU statement is wrong on so many levels.‎

Firstly, the patronizing, arrogant-old-colonialist tone, implying that the EU gets to decide what does and ‎does not go “beyond legitimate needs of transparency” in the sovereign State of Israel is unwarranted. ‎Who died and made the EU the overseer of internal Israeli matters? ‎

Secondly, it is a bit rich for the EU to lament the possibility of an “undermining” of “our shared values,” as ‎the EU and Israel, as it happens, actually share preciously few, if any values, something that becomes ‎apparent once you scratch the thin veneer of appearances.‎

Israel is indeed an extremely vibrant democracy, where free speech reigns supreme and where diversity ‎is an actual fact, not a high-brow theory. The EU? Not so much. ‎

The EU is an undemocratic, largely unelected, bureaucratic nightmare of a supranational entity. Its leaders, such ‎as European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, European Council President Donald ‎Tusk and foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini, are accountable to no one. Free speech has long ago ‎been de facto sacrificed in favor of an all-encompassing political correctness, which includes most recently ‎the ill-concealed attempts at hammering into place those Central European member states that refuse to ‎endorse the EUs migration policies. Last, but most importantly, democracies that share “our values” do ‎not support terrorists, as the EU does by spending hundreds of millions of taxpayer euros on the ‎terrorist-supporting and inciting Palestinian Authority, apparently in contravention of its own ‎rules on aiding and abetting terrorism. ‎

That the EU funds Israeli NGOs with the express aim of furthering a very specific and anti-Israeli EU ‎agenda is beyond doubt. This can be ascertained by simply taking a look at the EU’s “Guidelines on the ‎eligibility of Israeli entities and their activities in the territories occupied by Israel since June 1967 for ‎grants, prizes and financial instruments funded by the EU.” It follows from these guidelines that their ‎‎”aim is to ensure the respect of EU positions and commitments in conformity with international law on ‎the nonrecognition by the EU of Israel’s sovereignty over the territories occupied by Israel since June ‎‎1967.” Someone please explain what this insidious, anti-Israeli agenda has to do with “our values” such as ‎diversity and democracy? As law professor Eugene Kontorovich has pointed out, Israeli NGOs only ‎get funding from the EU if they declare that their activities promote EU foreign policy, and the EU agrees. ‎This is not democratic and certainly not diverse. It is outrageous.‎

As Kontorovich has also pointed out, the Israeli law is comparable to the American Foreign Agents ‎Registration Act, which only applies, in law and practice, to donations from foreign governmental ‎actors and not, as critics of the Israeli law — groups like J Street and Americans for Peace Now — falsely charge, ‎equally to all sources of foreign funding. ‎

Finally, you would be forgiven for asking whether entities that receive so much foreign government ‎funding actually still qualify as nongovernmental organizations. Personally, I find their nongovernmental ‎character rather dubious and their commitment to Israeli civil society highly questionable, when they let ‎themselves be bought by foreign government entities in order to further those entities’ agendas. ‎

Meanwhile, in Switzerland, albeit not a member of the EU but a country just around the corner from it, ‎the burqa has been banned in one of the cantons with fines as high as 10,000 Swiss francs (about $10,200) for contravening the ‎ban. Imagine the outcry if Israel were to ban the burqa: The EU would be all over the place, issuing ‎statements condemning the move and lamenting and eulogizing the end of Israeli democracy. Most ‎likely, the UN Security Council would have to convene for an emergency session to issue a resolution ‎condemning Israeli attacks on cultural diversity.‎

As it is, since it is only Switzerland, neither the EU nor anyone else is showing notable concern. Move on, ‎nothing to see here, Israel is not involved.‎

Judith Bergman is a writer and political analyst living in Israel. Twitter @judithbergman.

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